At UFC 119, Ryan Bader succeeded in pulling off a unanimous decision against Antônio Rogério Nogueira—but the win came without much glamor.
Lil' Nog won many of the exchanges with Bader, who often sealed the important rounds with crucial takedowns.
In round one, it was looking bad for Lil' Nog after Bader took him down and gave him a ground-and-pound.
However, towards the middle of round two, Bader showed a slower pace, something that lasted the rest of the fight possibly foreshadowing his potential for success in the upper ranks of the light heavyweight division.
True, Bader was affected by a knee that Lil' Nog landed, but even after the round's end, Bader's pace slowed considerably going into round three.
So now the question is, who will Bader eventually have to face to achieve his goal, the light heavyweight championship title?
As for now, the rumor is Jon Jones.
Jones recently destroyed UFC veteran Vladimir Matyushenko in round one, making the statement that not only is he set on fighting for the light heavyweight belt, but he also needs more of a challenge.
If Bader intended for this fight to be a statement, it was a big one, though certainly not in the way he more than likely intended.
Lil' Nog certainly showed why he's one of the best MMA vets still in the game. He took a lot of punishment, but it was to the detriment of Bader's energy level and technique.
Although Bader did enough to seal a victory, one wonders what the outcome of the fight would have been had he not scored as many takedowns. He could have still won a split decision—perhaps still even by a unanimous decision.
The troubling fact is, takedowns look good, but if you can't submit your opponent, your chances are doubtful if not altogether slim. Jones historically never gives up ground control and is usually always on top, and is tough to submit.
Many may think that it's still too early to tell who would fare better between Bader and Jones, and before Bader's match with Lil' Nog, they were probably right. Now that we've seen Bader lose a few key exchanges and struggle to keep his energy level up for all three rounds, more question marks than certainty arise about his future in the division.
Still, credit goes to Bader for beating Lil' Nog.
Lil' Nog is no doubt a very tough opponent at light heavyweight. Though he kept coming in Jason Vorhees fashion, the Rocky Balboa punch-to-head taking approach showed that Lil' Nog still has a lot of heart.
More importantly, it shows that Bader had better become better conditioned if he's expecting to match the likes of Jones, Evans or Shogun.
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