Ryan Bader backs Jon Jones waiting for Stipe Miocic, anticipates doing the same for Francis Ngannou

Ryan Bader knows that he’s at a point in his career where fights have to mean more than just a paycheck.

His upcoming fight to headline the first-ever PFL vs. Bellator card certainly qualifies as he prepares for a champion against champion clash with Renan Ferreira on Feb. 24 in Saudi Arabia. Of course, Bader has always been willing to face the best fighters in the world — he’s done that over and over again through 39 fights and 17 years in the sport — but now he’s seeking matchups that will really add something special to his résumé.

That’s why Bader understands why a legend like Jon Jones is waiting for a showdown against Stipe Miocic rather than facing interim UFC heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall.

“We’ve been in the sport — Jon, Stipe, myself — forever, and so I get these younger guys, you’re going to call out the best guys, you’re going to call out the champ,” Bader told MMA Fighting. “But you get to a certain point in your career, you do want these legacy fights. Jon wants Stipe. It’s nothing against the other guys at all. You want something for your career. You want to go out there and fight that name. You want that big moment, that big show.

“Of course, everybody else is going to be calling you out and trying to get that fight with you, but I 100 percent agree with Jon. He should wait. That fight should happen.”

Jones has stated repeatedly that he believes taking out Miocic, who is the longest reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history, will help to further cement him as the greatest fighter of all-time.

Bader hopes to do something similar. His plans are to dispatch Ferreira and then target a showdown against former UFC champion and top PFL star Francis Ngannou.

Right now, Ngannou is preparing for a boxing match against Anthony Joshua in March, but he continues to plot his eventual return to MMA, and the winner of Bader vs. Ferreira is expected to serve as his debut opponent in the PFL.

“This was kind of a perfect set up situation,” Bader said. “Although, our belts are not on the line, you go out there and beat Renan, you can consider me the PFL champion.”

Despite earning a reputation for never turning down fights, Bader admits that just taking on any other heavyweight after beating Ferreira wouldn’t really mean that much. He already cleared out almost all of the top contenders in the Bellator heavyweight division and beating Ferreira would add a PFL champion to his win column as well.

Anything other than Ngannou after that just doesn’t make sense to him.

“It would be a paycheck,” Bader said. “I’ll take it if that’s what it comes down to, but I want these bigger fights. I don’t have 10 fights left. I want them to mean something to me. Not just, ‘OK, this guy should be next in line, go out there and fight, whatever.’ I want to have those big fights at the end of my career where I can look back on, be proud of, and that I got in there, that we got this huge fight and made it happen, and potentially go out there and beat one of the better combat athletes of all-time [Ngannou].”

Bader isn’t thinking too far down the road, especially with a monster like Ferreira standing in front of him, but he’s definitely contemplated the future where Ngannou is next.

Even if that requires him sitting on the sidelines longer than expected as Ngannou pursues his boxing dreams, Bader believes it’s just the better move for his career and legacy.

“I am at that point in my career, 40-something fights now, that’s what I want to do. I want these bigger fights,” Bader said. “This fight came along and it’s a big fight, it’s something new. It’s champ vs. champ, so that was awesome. [Ngannou] is something you wait for.”

The same goes for Jones vs. Miocic, which is now expected to take place sometime in mid-to-late 2024 once Jones recovers from a torn pectoral muscle.

“We’re fortunate enough in our career that we don’t need to fight two or three times a year, money-wise,” Bader said. “We can wait for those legacy fights. I think we’ve all earned that right to sit back, and I’m going to wait for this big fight.”

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