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Darth Bader’s Mental Block

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  When Ryan Bader took a unanimous decision over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in September of 2010, his future seemed destined to be at the top of the light-heavyweight division.  The win marked five straight in what is arguably the UFC’s most competitive weight class. With the victory, Bader went to 12-0 as a professional and looked primed for a championship opportunity.  But since his follow-up loss to Jon Jones in February of 2011, Bader has not been the same fighter. Since winning five straight fights to start his career in the UFC, he has never been able to put more than two straight wins together.  On August 16, he will look to make it three straight wins and secure another high-level opponent in his next outing, when he takes on former Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Ovince St. Preux in the UFC Fight Night 47 main event.  For everything Bader has accomplished, he has consistently faltered at the highest level of sports. It’s not just a curse that haunted him throughout his mixed martial arts career, but also seems to have impacted him during his wrestling days.  Bader was a 197lb. wrestler for Arizona State University, where he teamed with Cain Velasquez and C.B. Dollaway. He won three Pac-10 championships (2003, 2004, 2006) but when he made it to the national championships, he failed. He finished fourth in his 2004 campaign and seventh as a senior in 2006. Maybe his losses to Damion Hahn in 2004 (the eventual winner) and Chris Weidman in 2006 (finished sixth) were just a case of losing to the better wrestlers on that night. Maybe the deep divisions that included Hahn, Weidman, Phil Davis, Jake Rosholt, and B.J. Padden were just too much for him, or perhaps it was the beginning of a psychological frustration. As a mixed martial artist, Bader’s path has followed a similar structure. He won The Ultimate Fighter tournament to earn himself a UFC contract. Following five wins, he lost to Jon Jones. In what many considered a gimme fight, he lost in dramatic fashion to fading, former star Tito Ortiz.  When Bader has been given a chance to shine both in wrestling and in mixed martial arts, he’s faltered.  It’s impossible to see inside of someone’s head, but there does seem to be a mental block when Bader reaches the highest levels.  In his two most recent losses to Lyoto Machida and Glover Teixeira, Bader has gotten away from his wrestling mentality and tried to exchange strikes, which isn’t his forte. As Machida began to outpoint him on the feet (which was predictable), Bader seemed incapable of altering the plan and changing things up.  Against Teixeira, a known knockout striker, Bader came straight forward and exchanged power shots. Although he was able to tag Teixeira (Bader’s not a small man), it was Teixeira who got the eventual first round finish.  At 31, it’s now time for Bader to capitalize on his opportunities. Against St. Preux, he’ll have to use his wrestling instincts and underrated ground and pound to finish his lanky, athletic opponent.  A knockout puncher with improving submissions, St. Preux presents numerous challenges to Bader. His only loss since 2009 is a unanimous decision defeat at the hands of Mousasi and with five straight wins, St. Preux knows a win over Bader propels him towards the top of the division.  Bader enters this fight as the gatekeeper. Ranked eighth, he’s become the challenge one must overcome to put themselves in line for a top five opponent. He’s the gateway to the title.  But unlike so many gatekeepers of the past, it’s not too late for him to separate himself from the pack.  If Bader can defeat St. Preux, he’ll have accomplished his third straight victory. He’ll have overcome that obstacle.  When he steps in the cage on August 16, he’ll need to forget about his shortcomings of the past. Forget about the national championships that could have gone a different way, about the Teixeira fight that could have been his coming out party had he landed one more good shot.  Another loss will relegate Bader to permanent gatekeeper status. A win gives him hope.   Check out these related stories: Jon Jones versus Glover Teixeira: Defanging the Snake Rumble on the Rails

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