Flashback to Aug. 4, 2012. The UFC was still in the early stages of its FOX deal and Machida was fresh off of a failed bid to regain the light heavyweight title from Jon Jones. “The Dragon” was paired up with Bader, a rising contender whose only previous losses were to Jones and Tito Ortiz. Bader was the underdog, but his right hand and powerful wrestling were expected to keep things competitive with Machida.
After being picked apart in round one, a frustrated Bader charged in and immediately ate a straight right that caused him to crumple to the mat. There was no need for any follow-up strikes.
Present day, Bader is a dual-division champion in Bellator, holding the light heavyweight and heavyweight belts, and Machida is looking for his second win in the promotion after parting ways with the UFC last year. Bader has won 12 of his last 13 fights including a World Heavyweight Grand Prix run that saw him take out the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Mitrione, and Muhammed Lawal.
Machida, who turned 41 just two weeks ago, fights Chael Sonnen on Friday in the co-main event of Bellator 222 at Madison Square Garden, and with a win, he could be in position to set up a rematch with Bader. Could history repeat itself, this time with a title on the line?
“Definitely [Bader]’s a different fighter. He’s a completely different fighter,” Machida recently told MMA Fighting. “He improved a lot, I can see his improvement. But I’m a different fighter as well. And we train to do something different, to make a different move in your career, to improve your ground game, improve your wrestling, and I consider myself a better fighter than I was years ago.
“Ryan Bader is a different fighter as well. I saw the grand prix. He did a very good job, I say congrats to him for what he did. He put his name in the history of this sport. But a fight is a fight, you never know what is going to happen. So I’m just gonna say that I’ll be well-prepared for my fight if I have the chance to fight Ryan Bader.”
In his Bellator debut, Machida took a split nod over former middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but keep in mind that Machida had another significant win in the UFC over now-Bellator middleweight champ Gegard Mousasi five years ago and one can understand why Machida has nothing but gold in his sights.
Given that he could be competing for both 205-pound and 185-pound belts at some point, Machida was asked if he might consider also fighting Bader at heavyweight for a third title, but he believes that’s a bridge too far.
“I would fight in 205 because I’m not a heavy guy,” Machida said. “I walk around about 215, 218, that’s my heaviest weight that I can have. And I’m going to drop a little bit to 205, and fight at middleweight, I don’t want to fight at heavyweight.”
On the subject of avenging past UFC losses, like the decisions he dropped to current Bellator fighters Phil Davis and Quinton Jackson, Machida put those suggestions on the back burner for the time being.
“It’s too early to say something because I want to fight Chael Sonnen and my next fight probably going to be for the belt,” Machida said. “I’m not sure if it’s going to be 185 or 205, I still believe I have to focus more on that fight. I have two fights that can happen right now against Mousasi, against Ryan Bader, after this fight, so you never know what’s going to happen.
“Now I just want to focus on this and I want to be a champion, I want to have the belt.”