At first, Ryan Bader held out hope that his Oct. 3 win over Rashad Evans would be enough to warrant a UFC title shot. In most cases, it would have been. Bader is the winner of a division-best five straight contests, after all, and has a natural rivalry with UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier stemming from the pair's UFC 187 post-fight press conference scuffle.
But Bader has been down this road before. He was the division's assumed No. 1 contender before Alexander Gustafsson snuck in through the back door and seized a title shot at UFC 192. Now with Jon Jones likely to pull the same trick in 2016, Bader was left with two choices: either sit and wait from the sidelines, or fight on against the next toughest guy.
He chose the latter.
"They didn't have to convince me. We said yes right away," Bader said Monday on The MMA Hour. "For me, looking at it from my viewpoint, nothing is guaranteed. No title shots are ever guaranteed. I'm going to sit there and wait? Cormier is saying he doesn't even want to think about it until next year and I have no clue when they're going to fight, maybe in April, maybe later. And then what happens if the champ breaks his hand and gets hurt? Then I'm waiting even more. Then I'm waiting for what? May, potentially getting a shot? You never know. They could throw somebody in there, they could do Gustafsson-Jones 2. You never know what's going to happen.
"I'm just kind of done thinking about it. It'll happen when it happens, and all I can do is go out there and beat the next guy, and that's it."
That guy, for better or worse, is Anthony "Rumble" Johnson, who meets Bader on Jan. 30 in the main event of UFC on FOX 18 in Newark, N.J. While it's silly to predict the bout's stakes considering the erraticism of UFC title shots, it would be hard to deny Bader his opportunity if he notches a sixth consecutive win over an established contender and devastating striker like Johnson.
Bader is already instilled as a sizable underdog in the fight, but it's a feeling he is used to. Bader closed as a near two-to-one underdog in each of his fights in 2015, and despite upsetting Phil Davis in January, Bader watched his doubters grow ever louder in the lead-up to the Evans fight, with both Evans and Cormier repeating the mantra that Bader was the easiest fight in the 205-pound division.
All of the talk meant little though, as Bader handed Evans his most lopsided defeat since the former champ lost at the hands of Jones in 2012.
"I've never had people really talk like he was talking, like Cormier was talking," Bader said. "I kind of felt like I was the butt of a joke between those two, because they're all buddy-buddy and whatnot. So basically, just a lack of respect. I can take the smack talk and I don't care about that. But there's certain things, like what Cormier said, and that's why I got pissed off -- that I'm the easiest fight in the division, and Rashad was talking like that.
"For me, I feel like every time I go out there, I have to prove something, because whether it's fans or the fighters I'm going to fight potentially or am scheduled to fight, there's always an excuse of why I won. There's, ‘oh, Rashad has been out for two years.' The fight before, ‘he had a bad weight cut.' There's always something for why I won, so I just want to keep this rolling. Just keep proving people wrong. That's what I love about it."
This time around is no different, as Johnson vowed to reporters over the weekend in Brazil that he would "take [Bader's] soul" and run through the 32-year-old. Bader, though, is unimpressed.
"My gameplan is to go in there and make him quit," Bader said. "Do what DC did to him. He's been chatting on Twitter, trying to get me to respond to him back, and I wasn't going to let him and his camp dictate what we're going to do in our fight. He keeps saying how I have to beat a top-three guy or I haven't beaten anybody to deserve or warrant a title shot, when these other guys are just getting thrown in off losses and stuff.
"It's just a lack of respect. And I don't care. I like that, because I get to go out there and prove people wrong. If I get to do that every single time, with my opponent, the fans and whatnot, then that's what I'm going to do. I like being in that position. I'm a big underdog in this fight and I love being in that position. I love proving people wrong and proving myself right and my coaches."