The term “gatekeeper” is often used to describe a combat sports athlete that is unable to break through and become a champion. This label becomes even more damaging when matchmakers place a fighter into bouts against surging opponents with the hope that the “gatekeeper” loses, in order to validate those opponents. Ryan Bader has an opportunity to shake that tag off at UFC Fight Night 28. Yet doing so will not be easy.
There was a time when Bader was considered a 205-pound prospect that could eventually become a champion. At the conclusion of the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Bader had developed from just a wrestler into a competitor who could score with his hands as well. His knockout victory over Vinny Magalhaes began a UFC win streak that helped him get into what was considered a number one contender's bout at the time. Unfortunately, he would run into Jon Jones, and the wheels nearly fell off the train.
The defeat to Jones at UFC 126 was one thing, but in his next bout he was stopped by Tito Ortiz in a fashion that was just as shocking for the man who finished him. Bader would bounce back with two victories, the win over Quinton Jackson at UFC 144 being his most valuable. However, running into Lyoto Machida at UFC on Fox 4 would once again raise the question of whether Bader will ultimately falter against the top tier fighters at light heavyweight.
Enter Glover Teixeira. In Teixeira, Bader is facing a competitor that has won 19 straight and has looked very good during his tenure in the UFC. There are some individuals who believe he has what it takes to unseat Jones as the 205-pound titleholder, but to do so he will have to get through the former All-American wrestler.
Bader is the clear underdog going into this fight. Ortiz, Jones, and Machida either rocked or finished him with strikes at some point in their bout, so it’s certain that Glover will look to handle him in a similar fashion. Bader cannot get locked into a firefight on the feet with the Brazilian; instead he has to find a way to take Teixeira to the mat. Of course, even this isn't a safe move, because Glover has been known to have a very dangerous grappling game once fights hit the mat. Bader will have to stifle Teixeira while working towards a grinding-style victory. It may not be exciting, but Bader has to take the best route possible in order to pull out this important win.
Ryan Bader is only 30 years old with a record of 15-3, but this fight on Wednesday is a career-defining challenge. If he is to be considered more than just a “gatekeeper,” he has to find a way to defeat Glover Teixeira and place himself back on the short list of eventual title challengers. Another defeat at this point, and Bader will be locked into that role in the 205-pound weight class; it would be hard for him to be seen -- whether by the UFC’s matchmakers or its fans -- as anything but.