On April 1 Ryan Bader makes his first UFC appearance since knocking out Vinny Magalhaes to win the last season of ďThe Ultimate Fighter.Ē The former Arizona State wrestling standout now has to live up to his billing with a victory in his first post-TUF bout against experienced vet Carmelo Marrero. But as Bader told us in our exclusive talk with him, heís aware that winning is necessary, though it isnít enough by itself. He also has to entertain, and therein lies a difficult conflict for a wrestler trying to dazzle knockout-happy crowds.
CagePotato.com: Thanks for talking with us, Ryan. Now that youíre the TUF winner and getting ready to start your UFC career, is it how you though it would be when you first started on the show?
I went into the show and set high goals for myself. My goal was to make it to the finale. That was as far as I thought. Then I did that and there was six months until the finale, and obviously my goal was to win the whole show. But I set little goals for myself and accomplished them one at a time, and then set bigger goals. After I won the show, my goal became to keep winning the fights in front of me, and thatís where I am now. Eventually my goal is to have the belt. I donít want to be just another fighter. I want that belt. I know itís going to take a long time. I need to grow as a fighter and thatís all a long way off, so my immediate goal is to win each fight and chip away at the division.
I read recently where you said you thought too many wrestlers were taking unnecessary risks to win fights in exciting fashion. When you fight, do you struggle with trying to be exciting and also not taking too many chances?
Itís kind of a double-edged sword. You have to be exciting, but you also have to win. If youíre a great wrestler standing toe-to-toe with a guy, trying to be exciting, youíre kind of playing roulette out there. That doesnít mean you just have to go and shoot right away, but you should use your wrestling to set up other stuff. The UFC, itís hard. Thereís a demand for you to be exciting, but if you lose they can cut you at any moment. You have to be exciting and you have to win, so thatís a lot of stress.
How does that affect your mindset going into a fight?
You donít go in there thinking ĎIíve got to get him down no matter what.í It depends on your opponent. In this fight, I feel comfortable wherever it goes. Iím just going to try and put it all together, go in there with no gameplan, and be ready to fight wherever. My last fight with Vinny, I wanted to keep it on the feet because thatís where I felt I had an advantage. But this time, thereís no one area I think I need to stay in.
You must be aware that there are a lot of guys in the UFC who made it there without the benefit of a reality show who would love to beat a TUF winner.
Yeah, thatís true. I think I might have a bullís-eye on me in some ways. They want to knock down those guys who they think took an easy path. But it wasnít easy. I went on the show and fought my first two fights a week apart from one another. There was a lot of stress on us. But I think once I win a couple fights and show that Iím for real Iíll be regarded like anyone else. But right out of the gates, yeah, guys want to knock off one of the winners from the show.
One guy who wasnít a winner from the show but still garners his share of headlines in Junie Browning. Do you think this was all part of his goal on the show, to get noticed one way or another?
He mentioned a few things about how this might not be entirely how he regularly reacts, but he was trying to stand out on the show to be the star. Itís worked out for him, you know. I wouldnít want to portray myself like that, but hey, he was on the main card for the finale, heís on the main card for this event. People want to see him, whether they love or hate him. It worked out. I wouldnít want people looking at me like that or for those reasons, though.
Weíve heard before that some past TUF fighters were unhappy with the contract terms that they got from the UFC after the show. How about you, are you happy with the money and the length of the contract right now?
Obviously, it could always be better. But coming from fighting for $500 in a barn somewhere, this is definitely a step up. Even if youíre making ten and ten for while, I canít complain. I just have to win my fights and prove myself and weíll see where things go.
Where do you think it puts you if you beat Carmelo Marrero?
Coming off the show I think Iím at the bottom of the totem pole right now. I think I have to win three or four fight before I start fighting the middle or top tier guys. Thatís going to be a while. I need time to grow as a fighter. Iím not looking to go right out there and fight Rampage or anything. I need to get my ring time in, win my fights, and get better. Beating Carmello, I donít think it really puts me anywhere. It just shows that I belong here. Carmelloís a tough dude. I watched him fight live before. He fought my training partner (Steve Steinbeiss) in his last fight and he was tough.
Isnít that a real career risk, to fight a guy where a win doesnít have a big upside, but a loss would be really damaging? Like you said, heís a tough, experienced guy, even if most fans might not know much about him.
It is what it is. I donít get to pick my opponents. They come to you, say, ĎWill you fight this guy?í And you say yes or no. We said yes, and this is my job. You go out there and fight who they put in front of you. Yeah, it can hurt you if you lose a fight like this, but Iím not looking to lose at all. Iím looking to go win, collect my paycheck, and then get back in the gym and prepare for my next opponent.
Whatís been the strangest part about how your life has changed following the stint on TUF?
It was kind of weird to get the recognition for a change. Being a collegiate wrestler, you go out and win your match, you become an All-American, and you get a high-five from your coaches and your teammates and thatís about it. Coming into the UFC, people recognize me now, they know who I am and they cheer for me, so thatís kind of crazy, honestly. Youíre not used to that as a college wrestler, I can tell you.
Thanks, Ryan. Anything else you want to add?
I just want to thank TapouT, and tell people to check out RyanBader.com.