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Ryan Bader: 'UFC has a special place in my heart, but there are intriguing fights in Bellator'

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Bader has yet to ink a new contract with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) after he opted to fight out his existing deal rather than sign an extension last year.

A move that proved to be the right one for "Darth," knocking out Antonio Rogerio Nogueira last November to secure his second straight win, seven of eight overall. Whether or not that equates to big bucks for Bader, remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though, if his longtime employers don't pay him, he'll gladly go to a company that will.

Bellator MMA included, as he recent told Flo Combat.

"I know I'm in a spot where there aren't too many guys who can say they bring what I bring to the table. I've won seven of my last eight, I have back-to-back finishes over tough competition, and I'm ranked No. 4 in the world in my division. I haven't received a title shot yet with the UFC, and I believe that's something I've earned. That and a few other things made me realize fighting out my contract was the best move and that's what I did. In any other sport this would be a regular thing, but in this sport that isn't the case. Things are changing now and that's great for the fighters, and I'm at the point in my career where I really need to do what is best for me and my family."

Bellator MMA has made it a habit to pick up the hottest free agents on the market, most -- if not all -- coming from UFC. And if Bader's path leads him to the Viacom-owned company, so be it, as there are good fights for him there, including a rematch against the promotion's current 205-pound champion.

"There are some really intriguing matchups for me over in Bellator and I love it. I have 20 fights in the UFC. I started my career there and it has a special place in my heart, but at the same time, I have to look at right now and the things I want. I got into this game to become a champion, and winning the title in Bellator or the UFC would be a dream come true. I believe I deserve the opportunity. I'd love to step in and fight Phil Davis again for the Bellator title, or barring a fight between Anthony Johnson and Daniel Cormier, I'm right there as well. But there are a lot of really interesting matchups for me in Bellator. They have a guy I beat in Phil Davis holding the belt, but there are a lot of other names on their roster I'd love to mix it up with."

Should Bellator offer Bader a good offer financially -- which they are known to do -- UFC will have a chance to match it or offer "Darth" more. Anyone think Bader's days as a UFC fighter are long gone? Or will the wrestling standout continue his quest for gold inside the Octagon in 2017?

Time will tell.

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