In the UFC’s light heavy weight division, there are the big four, and then there is everyone else. Daniel Cormier is the current champion, and right below him are Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira. Beyond the obvious ranking system, these four have been in the title contention mix regularly for some time now. They form up the elite class of the division. On September 3rd, UFC Fight Night will take place in Hamburg, Germany. Ryan Bader will fight Ilir Latifi in what will be his second attempt at entering that elite class at the top. With a failed attempt at a title fight in his rear view mirror, light heavyweight Ryan Bader still has more to lose than Latifi in this match up.
Training with Power MMA Team out of Gilbert, Arizona, Bader brings a serious wrestling background to this fight. The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 winner found success prior to entering the UFC at both the high school and college levels. A two-time state champion and then a three-time Pac 10 champion at Arizona State University, Bader is not one to shy away from taking a fight to the ground. He brings excellent take-down skills as well as consistently improving stand up striking. The grind seems to be where Bader is most comfortable. Ten of his 20 wins have come via decision, with six KO’s and four submissions for the other wins.
Latifi brings his own strong wrestling pedigree to this fight as well. Training out of Pancrase Gym in Sweden, he is one of the smaller 205-pounders in the division at 5’8″. Latifi began wrestling at a young age. He continued wrestling on a national level within Sweden before pursing an MMA career. What he lacks in height, he more than makes up for in strength. While his background is found in wrestling, Latifi will seek the KO more so than Bader. Latifi brings a 13-4 record to this fight with five wins by KO, four by submission and three by decision. He has recently won five of his six and is on a three fight win streak.
So Close, Yet So Far
Prior to his most recent loss, Bader was on a five-fight win streak and consistently moving up the division ranks. It all came crashing down quickly in his most recent fight against “Rumble” Johnson at UFC on FOX 18. Bader made a very early takedown attempt against Johnson, likely fearing some of the biggest knockout power in the UFC. Johnson defended it well and ended up on top of Bader. After establishing position, Johnson rained down some vicious groundand pound putting Bader’s lights out at 1:26 into the fight. It was a momentum killer for Bader’s ascent up the ranks, and he cannot afford a second-straight loss.
Bader is still currently the fourth ranked fighter in the division. In looking back on the loss to Johnson, Bader feels he was looking ahead to future fights. “I was too worried about the likely title shot after that fight. I was hoping to keep the win streak alive. It was just a terrible night for me.” Putting that loss behind him and bringing a new mindset to this fight is what Bader has been focusing on. “I’m having fun again, I’m not worried about what might come after this fight. I feel much more free, I don’t feel that win streak looming over me like I did before.”
What’s At Stake?
Bader is currently ranked fourth in the division, and Latifi is ranked twelfth. A loss to an opponent outside the Top 10 would send Bader tumbling in the rankings. Latifi brings a big challenge with serious knock out power; therefore Bader will have to be careful in this fight. Latifi is a grinder—a short and stocky wrestler who tries to put you in bad positions up against the cage. He throws primarily hay-makers.
For Bader, avoiding the big bombs and defending against cage pressure will be a key. He has consistently improved in his striking and this should open up opportunities for the takedown. Latifi presents many dangerous possibilities for anyone facing him. But if Bader truly takes this fight seriously, he should be victorious in Hamburg.
While Latifi is quickly making a name for himself within the UFC as a dangerous fighter to reckon with, Bader has much more to lose in this fight. He’s currently on the outside looking in at the elite fighters of the division. Another win or two should put him right in that class competing for a title. He can ill afford a loss to a twelfth-ranked opponent. If he comes in prepared, he should win, wiping away the past and putting himself right back in title contention.
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