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Ryan Bader believes he’s ‘one fight away at all times from getting a title shot’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Ryan Bader got close to a shot at the UFC light heavyweight championship after winning six straight inside the Octagon, but a loss to 205-pound contender Anthony Johnson set him back in the title picture. Back to the winning column, "Darth" thinks he’s once again close to the belt.

Following a devastating second-round knockout victory over Ilir Latifi in Germany, Bader returns to action on Nov. 19 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in a five-round main event versus Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. He feels that a shot at the gold could come at any moment.

"I’m right there, you know," Bader said during a media day to promote UFC Fight Night 100. "I’m ranked No. 4, but rankings don’t really mean that much. I believe I’m one fight away at all times from getting a title shot and being up there. I’m one of the top guys. I have to beat one of those top three guys."

But even though he thinks he’s right up there, Bader won’t think about it right now. Instead, he just wants to have fun with fighting.

"I got to a point I was so focused on getting a title shot all the thought in my head was to go out there and win at all costs," he said, "so maybe it made me fight a certain way, maybe take a lot of risks and stuff like that. To be able to have fun with it, I’m just kind of free out there. If I do that, fight to my potential, I have better shot at winning than I am going out there with a sole porpoise of just winning this fight."

Bader wasn’t Nogueira’s original opponent in Sao Paulo, and took the fight on less than two months’ notice after Alexander Gustafsson pulled out due to an injury. The Ultimate Fighter season 8 winner defeated "Minotouro" back in 2010, and doesn’t think the Brazilian became a better fighter than him over the past six years.

"He’s always been a great fighter. He’s been a great fighter throughout his whole career," Bader said. "I think there’s more change in me than in him. I think I’ve evolved more than he has since the first time. I think you see that in my fights. I’m more comfortable standing up, more well-rounded.

"When I fought him, that was like my first big name fight, and I was pretty much a wrestler that has some heavy hands, but I didn’t really know what to do on the feet. I feel I have evolved more than he has."