You can turn only so many corners in a career before starting to wonder if all you're really doing is running in circles.
UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader has turned his share of corners. Since coming off "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series in 2008, Bader has had several moments in which it looked as if, maybe, he was about to truly arrive; reach that next level.
And yet, despite all the clips on his highlight reel and the time he has spent within the top 10 rankings, Bader (16-4) is still without that one special, defining, vindicating win. The closest thing he has is a decision over an injured Quinton Jackson in 2012.
Bader, who meets Rafael Cavalcante at UFC 174 on Saturday in Vancouver, is aware of this. He also knows he hasn’t strung together a win streak beyond two since 2010. He's at a bit of a crossroads here and he admits it.
“This is a fight I’ve got to go out and win,” Bader told ESPN.com. “It is a crossroads. I’m either going to keep fighting the best or I’m going to be one of those guys who just go out to put on exciting fights; go down that road. I need to get this win.
“Every fight, there is pressure -- but there’s a lot of pressure on me. I’m at that place where if I want to be the best, I have to beat 'Feijao' [Cavalcante].”
In September, Bader came tantalizingly close to scoring that big win that has eluded him. Midway through the first round of a fight against Glover Teixeira, Bader landed a stiff counter left hook and a right uppercut that had the Brazilian staggered.
Bader opened up with punches looking for a finish and ended up eating a straight right, left hook from Teixeira that essentially knocked him out.
It was just another lesson to learn in a sport that’s always teaching you, but at this point in his career, Bader knows he can’t afford many more lessons if he realistically wants to hold a title.
“I’ve fought some of the best guys, Lyoto Machida and Glover, but I need to get over that hump,” Bader said. “ I had [Glover] on the ropes and then I got careless. I’ve learned from these losses, but I have to start a win streak now.”
Coming off a decision win over Anthony Perosh in December, Bader says a win over Cavalcante won’t necessarily shoot him up the 205-pound rankings, but it will put him on a win streak and hopefully earn a top name in his next fight.
Cavalcante (12-4) is a former champion in Strikeforce -- a title he earned in a TKO win over Muhammed Lawal in April 2010.
“I like the matchup,” Bader said. “I think he’s underrated. He’s tough. I’m not looking at this fight in terms of rankings. Obviously, there are certain guys where if you beat them, you jump way up, but I feel like fighting Feijao and fighting the No. 6 or 7 guy in the division -- there’s no real difference.
“The thing that comes to mind in this fight is momentum. I need to get momentum going from my last fight to this fight. My ultimate goal is win the UFC championship. I have a tough fight standing in my way. This is the kind of fight that puts you on one of two roads. Take a loss and you’re out of the top 10, whereas a win gets me closer to that fight against a top-five guy.”