This Saturday night (June 14, 2014), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweights Ryan Bader and Rafael Cavalcante will battle on the main card of UFC 174, airing live at 10 p.m. EST on pay-per-view (PPV) from Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
No. 9-ranked Bader has been out of action since a decision victory over Anthony Perosh at UFC Fight Night 33 in December 2013. Prior to that, Bader lost a heartbreaking UFC Fight Night 28 bout to Glover Teixeira, suffering a vicious knockout after having the Brazilian slugger on the ropes.
"Darth" has two wins and two losses in his last four mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts, so the pressure is mounting for him to pick up a big win.
No. 12-ranked Cavalcante has gone through a similar bout of inconsistency, posting a 2-2(1) record in his last five bouts. "Feijao" has also been out of action for a while, his most recent effort being an impressive first round finish of Igor Pokrajac at UFC Fight Night 32 in November 2013.
With Bader and Cavalcante owning18 combined knockouts in 28 total wins, this bout should continue the trend of heavy-hitting match-ups at UFC 174. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Bader vs. Cavalcante:
Record: 16-4 overall, 9-4 UFC
Key Wins: Quinton Jackson (UFC 144), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC 119)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 126), Lyoto Machida (UFC on Fox 4), Glover Teixeira (UFC Fight Night 28), Tito Ortiz (UFC 132),
Keys to Victory: Knockout slugger Bader has the potential to end any light heavyweight's night with one punch. He also brings a background as an NCAA Division All-American 1 wrestler. Training at Arizona's rising Power MMA gym, "Darth" is still improving his overall MMA acumen.
However, despite his well-rounded mix of skills, he's shown a tendency to get overzealous in big-level match-ups, something that has resulted in some devastating losses. He rushed in with little caution against Teixeira and Machida and was knocked out for his mistakes.
A similar situation will unfold if he gets careless against "Feijao," who has knocked out his opponent in 11 of his 12 wins. Cavalcante hasn't lost much, but three of his four defeats were knockouts, meaning that the potential will be there for Bader.
He just has to look for it in a calm, controlled manner. He may be able to win a slugfest with Cavalcante, but that's a strategy akin to flipping a coin.
Instead, Bader should probably look to take this fight to the ground and control "Feijao" while softening him up with ground and pound. Cavalcante has never tapped out, but will be far less dangerous while neutralized on the mat.
Bader needs to win now if he wants to become a legitimate contender. Fighting a smart fight in Vancouver is his best way to do that.
Record: 12-4(1) overall, 1-1 UFC
Key Wins: Muhammed Lawal (Strikeforce: Houston), Yoel Romero (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov), Igor Pokrajac (UFC Fight Night 33)
Key Losses: Dan Henderson (Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson), Thiago Silva (UFC on Fuel TV 10)
Keys to Victory: Cavalcante brings even more explosive knockout power to the cage than Bader, no easy task to be sure. "Feijao" doesn't have near the wrestling acumen that "Darth" does, but he has been training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu since the young age of 10.
While Cavalcante has only notched one submission due to strikes in his entire career, Bader proved he could be submitted when he was choked out in back-to-back bouts against Jones and Ortiz. If he gets taken down, Cavalcante should be on the lookout for an opening to slip on a guillotine choke.
But this fight will most likely be contested mainly on the feet, so you can bet that "Feijao" will unleash his vicious Muay Thai strikes in an effort to end it quickly. Maintaining sharp takedown defense will be paramount to his success.
Like Bader, he has to fight intelligently because overcommitting could see him knocked out. "Feijao's" chin has failed him on multiple occasions in the past, and that doesn't bode well for a fighter who is willing to stand in the pocket and see whose strikes hit home first.
Training with one of MMA's most respected families at Team Nogueira, Cavalcante has the support, skills, and power to score his biggest-ever win this Saturday. He'll need to put together a complete performance to do so.
Bottom Line from Vancouver: The bottom line for this fight is that it presents a crossroads in the career of both fighters.
With Bader and Cavalcante similarly ranked in a talented division, wins over top competition are going to come at a premium, so neither can afford a devastating loss right now. Problem is, given their massive fight-ending power, there's a good chance that the finish to this bout could unfold along those lines.
Bader has always been on the cusp of being one of the world's best fighters at 205 pounds, yet he's failed when faced with true elite competition. While Cavalcante may not be quite at that level, this is a huge fight for "Darth." A win will have him knocking on the door of another big fight, so the pressure is mounting.
Cavalcante, on the other hand, has to prove he can perform in his biggest bout in the Octagon. If he shows up sharp and focused like he did against Pokrajac, then a propelling win could be on the horizon. If he fights carelessly like he did against Silva, it could be a short night for the former Strikeforce champion.
No matter who wins, this bout should be a firefight. As the old saying goes, "live by the sword, die by the sword." Expect Bader and Cavalcante to do just that.
Ryan Bader and Rafael Cavalcante are set to throw down at UFC 174. Which slugger's power will come out on top?