Ultimate Fighter Winner Ryan Bader: “I’m not here to be mediocre and collect a paycheck.”

Remember when Rich Franklin kind of became the corporate face of the UFC a few years ago? When you needed a fighter to convince a skeptical member of the media that all cage fighters weren’t brutal cro magnons, Rich was the go to guy. Ryan Bader has that same feel to him. He’s got traditional good looks, smarts, and just enough tattoos to be edgy without scaring the cougars on a mom’s night out. Bader is very careful about what he says and looks at MMA as more of a sporting competition than a blood feud. He talked with our own Jonathan Snowden about The Ultimate Fighter, why he isn’t on the main card, and whether or not he is in it for the money.

Heavy.com: How’s the knee doing, man?

Ryan Bader: The knee is 100 percent. I’ve been doing everything on it for awhile now. I’ve been rolling Jiu Jitsu for three or four months now, kickboxing, everything. It’s not even a concern or an issue.

Heavy.com: I was at the fight and I was surprised to hear how badly you had hurt it. During the fight, were you worried about fighting through it? Did you do that mental calculus, trying to weight losing the fight with the long term damage you could do?

Ryan Bader: I didn’t really think about it. I knew something was wrong, but it was the middle of the fight. I heard it pop when I was passing his guard to the sidemount and my toe caught on his knee. It start really hurting until immediately after and it immediately started to swell up. It got to be about twice its normal size. Before that, it really wasn’t much of a concern because I had winning on my mind. I wasn’t about to stop the fight and throw in the towel. I just got through it and did what I had to do.

Heavy.com: Does it help you preparing for this fight that you had already gone through a training camp for Vinny Magalhaes? I see Vinny and Eric Schafer as similar fighters, guys who are really essentially Jiu Jitsu fighters more than anything else. That’s my armchair analysis.

Ryan Bader: He’s a good Jiu Jitsu guy no doubt, and a step up in overall competition as well, as far as being in the Octagon and having that UFC experience. With Vinny, I never had to go to the ground with him. Fortunately, I got the knockout. But I’ve been in with other high level black belts. Eliot Marshall, I pretty much fought him on the ground the whole time. I know he poses some dangers, but at the same time I’m going to look to impose my will and pose some dangers myself.

Heavy.com: Are you surprised, considering the way they’ve promoted past Ultimate Fighter winners, that you’re on the undercard of this show?

Ryan Bader: The UFC has so many great guys and so many fighters under their watch. It’s going to be up to me. I’ll just have to go in there and prove myself more and work towards getting on that Pay Per View card. Maybe get a knockout or have a real exciting fight. It kind of gives me motivation. I don’t mind it that much, because I think I’ll get a knockout and end up on the show either way. Finish the fight fast and then kick back and watch the rest of the fights.

Heavy.com: There’s two different fighters that come out of The Ultimate Fighter. Some like Forrest Griffin, really improve a ton after they leave. The show opens up their minds to what kind of potential they possess and they get much better. Others have already reached their level and are as good as they are ever going to be. Which are you?

Ryan Bader: I’m definitely the one who’s going to keep improving. I’m very, very young in this sport. I’ve only been doing this for about two years. When I went on the show I only had six fights. I still feel like I’m going to improve every time. Ultimate Fighter is a different situation You’re in the house and you’ve got the stress of performing and ultimately trying to win to get that contract. But you’re also away from your home and your friends, and your gym. Now I’m in a gym, Arizona Combat Sports, where I fell like I’m going to be improving all the time. I’ll be bringing new skills into the Octagon and I think you’ll see that in the fight I have coming up. I think you saw that in my last fight, despite the circumstances.

Heavy.com: Tell me about the Lally brothers who run Arizona Combat Sports.

Ryan Bader: They’re just two hard nosed Irish brothers. They grew up fighting They’ve trained at AMC and in Japan and they’ve built a lot of good guys. Myself, Jamie Varner and a lot of other guys. They’re great because they know what to expect from the fight game. They know how to implment a game plan and then train us, prepare us, to execute that plan. We do alot of heavy sparring too, which a lot of gyms don’t do. It makes you tough. That way, when you’re in a fight you aren’t shying away from everything. I think that’s one great thing. Plus all the great sparring partners.

Heavy.com: The Hammerhouse, the Lion’s Den, Miletich Fighting Systems, Greg Jackson’s. Will Arizona Combat Sports join that iconic group of fight camps?

Ryan Bader: I think we’re definitely coming up and are a camp to watch. We’ve got a bunch of great guys. CB Dolloway just won, Aaraon Simpson looked great beating Ed Herman, I’m coming up, Jamie Varner is the world champ. Aaron Simpson is making some noise in the UFC.

Heavy.com: Recently, one of your teammates, Jamie Varner, has been kind of feuding with Donald Cerrone. It’s threatened to get a little out of control at times, even to spill outside of the cage into street violence. Is there a place for that kind of thing, for a feud that might go too far?

Ryan Bader: I approach the fights differently. I don’t like to get into all that kind of stuff. Those other guys can do what they want to do. They can act all serious and whatnot. It’s not me, but I’m not going to talk bad about anybody. They can pretty much do what they want. The UFC is probably pushing a lot of that stuff. That’s probably not the answer you were looking for.

Heavy.com: But are you concerned at all about violence outside of the cage? In a lot of ways that could be one of the worst things that could happen to the sport.

Ryan Bader: Absolutely. You can’t be doing that. You can’t be fighting outside the cage. You don’t get paid to do that. So why fight somewhere besides in the cage? If you did that in the UFC, you’d be gone. You’re getting paid to fight, so there’s no reason to do it in the street and give a black eye to the sport of MMA. It’s dumb.

Heavy.com: The 205 pound division has traditionally been the wrestlers division. There are still a ton of great ones there like yourself, Mark Coleman, Couture, and others. Is there kind of a hierarchy among the amateur wrestlers? A totem pole if you will? Where do you fit in?

Ryan Bader: There are a lot of guys out there that would win on pure credentials. But then you have age becoming a factor and what not. At the top though would have to be your Olympic guys, like Randy Couture, and Dan Henderson, and Coleman. Mark Coleman has those credentials and showed in his last fight that he still has it. Those guys made wrestling their life, even after college. They worked at it for years and years to get in a position to earn a medal. Those guys are at the top. Then you have your Division 1 National Champs, then the NCAA All-Americans, and down from there.

Heavy.com: What’s been the hardest part about transitioning from wrestling to MMA? What that you learned from the wrestling room has helped you in MMA? I always thought that being on your back was the hardest thing for a wrestler to get used to because it is so counter to every wrestling instinct.

Ryan Bader: The hardest for me was probably starting off on my back. In the beginning I’d rather turn my back than pull guard you know? The other hard part for me was the stance. It’s been hard to stay loose so you can do standup when you’re used to being so compact. You have to loosen up or you’re going to get beat up. So those are probably two of the hardest things.

The beneficial thing I’ve taken from wrestling is hard work. I was in wrestling for a lot of seasons. It’s grueling. I’ve been around hard work, I know how to work. I know how to push through things. When other people say “Oh my God I’m tired,’ I’ve been there a million times before. You get through it. You know you’ll feel better in a couple of minutes. Hard work, the mentality, and just the competition. So many big matches. I’ve been in the Pac-10 Finals four years in college, I wrestled on ESPN. I’ve been around the competition and the crowd.

Heavy.com: We talked to Josh Koscheck, a great wrestler himself, and he says he hardly trains wrestling anymore. To me that’s crazy. Wrestling is what got you there. Are you still working wrestling?

Ryan Bader: I definitely still work on wrestling. Josh is good enough that he can work on 90 % standup now. I need to continue with my wrestling at least to keep my skills up to what they were. I wrestle every week for an hour and a half, if not twice a week. And it’s who I’m wrestling. I’m wrestling Aaron Simpson who was Olympic level and a two-time All American. I’m wrestling C.B. Dolloway, wrestling All American. I’m wrestling those kind of guys. And once a week I’ll go into ASU wrestling practice and work through a practice there. At least once a week I like to wrestle full blown. If anything, there’s nothing like wrestling conditioning. It lets you know where you’re at in your training camp. You can use that as a basis for deciding where you are.

Heavy.com: I’ve talked to a lot of fighters and there are two things that motivate guys. One is being the best, the other is money. Which is more important to you?

Ryan Bader: What motivates me is championships. Because the money will come with that you know? If I go to the gym and grind it out, grind it out, maybe one day I’ll get that championship. That’s my ultimate goal. I’m not here to be mediocre and collect a paycheck here and there. I want to be the champion. We’ve been talking about wrestling. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I didn’t do it for money. I didn’t do it for the praise or the glory, because there was none in wrestling. Your teammates and your family share in your glory, but that’s about it. I’ve brought that mentality into the fight game and it makes it awesome. To get paid for what you’re doing is amazing. Just to be able to get paid and make a living from being an athlete makes me very fortunate. In wrestling there wasn’t anything like that.

You can see more from Ryan Bader, chilling with his boys and working out, at his website ryanbader.com. Check out his new Tapout shirt coming soon.

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