Risky Business

Is facing Ortiz worth the risk?

Saturday night in Las Vegas, Ryan Bader needs to be very careful.

The hulking light heavyweight will step into the Octagon opposite Tito Ortiz at UFC 132 in a fight that doesn’t make very much sense, at least on the surface. Compounding the curiosity is the fact that Bader doggedly pursued this pairing.

What would push you to chase down a fight that amounts to a no-win situation?

Bader is justly regarded as a top 10 light heavyweight, boasting a 12-1 record with victories over veterans Keith Jardine and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. The lone blemish on his resume came at the hands — and feet, knees, elbows, length, power and speed — of current king of the UFC 205 pound division, Jon Jones.

While coming out on the wrong side of any battle is demoralizing, if you’re going to lose, losing to the best in the world is the way to go.

Having starred on — and won – Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter, Bader is already an established household name. He’s already held down the co-main event slot of a UFC pay-per-view, and fought on the main card in each of his last three appearances.

Isn’t gaining access to a greater stage the only real reason a fighter would need to call out someone like Ortiz at this stage in his career?

That’s what makes Bader’s pursuit of this fight all the more confusing; he’s already proven to be a solid main card contributor. So what does he stand to gain from pummeling Ortiz?

The answer is nothing. Actually, it might be less than nothing.

Though Ortiz’s past success has been unfairly picked apart over the years, even his best, most entertaining excuses can’t explain away the facts as they stand heading into this fight. The former light heavyweight champion hasn’t earned a victory since 2006. His last two wins came over Ken Shamrock, a fighter whose legacy and standing in the sport continues to corrode with each absurd fight he takes.

Everyone has heard Ortiz proclaim himself perfectly healthy only to turn around and blame a “broken skull” or some other nagging injury for his tepid performance in the cage.

As such, this bout has Bader cast as the Harlem Globetrotters to Ortiz’s Washington Generals. He’s expected to not only win, but demolish “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” and perhaps send him out of the Octagon for the very last time.

The trouble is that even if Bader meets expectations, he’s not really accomplished anything of note beyond adding another win to his resume.

Few will regard a victory over Ortiz as any kind of accomplishment, since the only similarity between the man Bader will face and the man who was once the biggest star in the sport is their name. Outside of being like Nic Cage stealing cars with Angelina Jolie, a win for Bader will be be scrutinized and explained away until there is nothing left to show for it other than the uptick in his win column.

At this point, beating Ortiz is less significant than a win over Eliot Marshall. At least Bader’s fellow TUF 8 alum has had his hand raised in recent years, unlike Ortiz.

Now here’s where it gets sticky: what if Bader should lose?

The odds are stacked in his favor, but they were the night Georges St. Pierre met Matt Serra at UFC 69 in Houston, Texas as well. At least when it comes to MMA’s equivalent of Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson, this sports’s champion could also point to his opponent coming in off a victory.

Bader doesn’t even have that working for him; the last time Ortiz earned a win in the Octagon, Bader was racking up his third Pac-10 wrestling title at Arizona State.

As it stands right now, Bader rests comfortably in the top 10 of the division. Future bouts with guys name Griffin, Machida, Davis or Evans are possibilities, depending on how things shake out. But a loss on Saturday night takes those high profile opportunities off the table, and sends Bader careening down the rankings into preliminary card purgatory.

At this point, taking a perceived step back and rolling the dice against an Alexander Gustafsson or Cyrille Diabate makes more sense than fighting Ortiz. With greater risk comes greater reward, and while beating one of those two hypothetical foes wouldn’t necessarily catapult him up the rankings, neither does beating Ortiz, and a loss wouldn’t hurt Bader neither as much either.

This fight feels like Bader betting $50,000 on a sure thing at the track and being ecstatic when his horse crosses the finish line first, earning him an additional $2,500.

Yes, you won your bet, but at the end of the day, was the risk worth the reward? One wrong step, one bad decision and you’re out fifty large.

Saturday night, Bader is betting on himself. He just better hope the favorite wins this time too.

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