Friday, July 1, 2011 | 10 p.m.
The third featured bout on the main card of Saturday’s UFC 132 is billed as the possible last stand of future Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz.
Ryan Bader has a different theme for the matchup. Ortiz’s opponent would entitle the fight “The Reinvention of Ryan Bader.”
Bader (12-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) suffered the first loss of his career, to Jon Jones at UFC 126, in his last bout. He’s changed most of his game since.
“It made me re-evaluate everything,” Bader said. “I was getting by, winning with a certain skill set and a ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’-type of thing. It brought me back to the drawing board. It made me start over and was rejuvenating.”
That would seem like an over-reaction after one loss to the current light heavyweight champion of the world. But not to Bader.
He recalled sitting dejected in the Mandalay Bay Events Center locker room minutes after the second round submission loss and wanting to get back into the octagon as soon as possible. It took a couple weeks before he could get out of bed in his home in Phoenix depressing over the loss.
Bader eventually realized what bugged him so much about the performance. It wasn’t necessarily as much the defeat as it was feeling he could have done more.
“I definitely made a lot of mistakes I can correct,” Bader said. “I was pissed off at myself mainly because I felt I didn’t fight to my full potential.”
Bader relied on two things to open his mixed martial arts career with 12 consecutive victories and capture “The Ultimate Fighter” season 8 crown — top-of-the-line wrestling and a powerful right hand. Both failed him at UFC 126.
Jones’ game plan was to demoralize Bader by out-wrestling him. It worked, as Jones took down Bader first. He also stuffed every one of Bader’s takedown attempts.
Bader decided to ditch his wrestling and swing away at Jones. That didn’t help, either, as Bader found it too hard to get inside of Jones’ 10-inch reach advantage.
“He’s a frustrating fighter to fight because he’s so long and has so many tools,” Jones said. “He’s good in all aspects of MMA.”
During the Ortiz training camp, Bader has focused on becoming more well rounded. He’s made slight adjustments with his footwork and technique to fix holes that he said Jones exposed.
Bader said he had also gotten rid of the mentality of throwing one massive punch to end the fight. Based on Ortiz’s comments, he’s the perfect combatant to test all of this out on.
Ortiz has made it no secret that he hopes to copy Jones’ game plan to get by Bader.
“I ain’t going to let him take me down,” Ortiz said. “Do I break his spirit by doing that? I see a lot of mistakes from him when he fights. I’ll push the tempo.”
Bader said he was prepared for Ortiz to fight like the man he was when he won six straight UFC fights a decade ago to cement himself as the best 205-pounder at the time. Bader might be the only one to expect that out of Ortiz.
Oddsmakers have made Bader a 5-to-1 favorite. Bader still can’t believe some of his friends’ responses when he first told them he was fighting Ortiz.
“They’re like, ‘oh, you’ve got this. You don’t even have to train,’” Bader said. “Are you kidding me? He’s lost his last couple fights, but those were top competition. He’s been in all those fights and he’s hard to finish. He’s going to come after me and it’s do-or-die for him.”
Bader is adopting the same mentality. It’s difficult not to after how hard he took the loss to Jones.
“I never want to feel like that again,” Bader said.