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Ryan Bader in 'best shape ever' ahead of his UFC on Fox showdown against Lyoto Machida

(Light heavyweight contender Ryan 'Darth' Bader faces former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida on August 4 at the Staples Center, L.A., live on FOX. This is part 1 of an exclusive four-part series from Bader.)

I have a little less than two weeks to wait until fight night at UFC On FOX in L.A. on August 4 and I feel amazing. You get better and feel better from fight to fight, and experience is on my side right now. I'm not the same guy who was on the Ultimate Fighter; I feel I am a true contender now. I've fine tuned everything during this particular camp and I'm in the best shape possible. The best shape ever, in fact. I've added stuff like road cycling to my training program and that has really helped a lot, as it's provided me with a bit more aerobic work.

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Ryan Bader has won his last two fights in the Octagon. (Getty)

At this point, I'd happily fight Lyoto Machida tomorrow. That's how good I'm feeling. The key is to now manage that, be smart and wait for the right moment to peak. I know my body well enough to know when to step off the gas a little and not get too excited with the way things are going. It's sometimes important to do a little less or take a day off completely if you're feeling as good or as ready as I feel at this stage. You don't want to be using up all your best stuff three weeks out from fight night.

When I get a bit of downtime I like to hang out with my son, who is just three months old. The birth has changed a few things, not least of all the way I think about life and my career. I see this sport more as a career now, and something I need to excel at in order to provide a better life for my son. Having a child changes your outlook on life; MMA is now more than just a hobby and a sport I love to compete at, it is how I provide for my family. And I need to be more than just an also-ran to give my kid the best start in life that I can. I’d fight and compete just for fun, but now at the same time I have even more motivation to get better and achieve.

It's tough being away at training camp while he's growing up, as you notice little changes every single time you see him. The rate of development is really quick and I try to be around as much as possible. It's quite nice to know that one day he will grow up and know exactly what I do for a living and maybe come watch me at the gym. I get a real kick out of that. Every father wants his son to be proud of him.

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To be honest, I wasn't at all surprised when the UFC told me they were thinking of pairing me with Lyoto Machida for this FOX card. I figured they'd either have me fight Lyoto or Shogun Rua. They both seemed to be the next logical progression from ‘Rampage’ Jackson, who I beat last time out in February in Japan. It's not often you'll see a UFC fighter take a step back, or even remain at the same level, so I knew I'd be looking at fighting another dangerous former champion in my next fight. In the end Machida got the call and I couldn't be any happier with the fight.

It's fun going from Rampage to Machida, as both are completely different stylistically. It's a real test of my ability to adapt. Machida is a slick and quick fighter who uses lots of kicks and karate moves to befuddle opponents, whereas Rampage is a pure powerhouse, very heavy-handed and very hard to faze. The one thing they do have in common, though, is the fact they are former champions and very high-profile names in the sport of mixed martial arts. I hope, come August 4, they will also share another thing in common - a loss to me.

Back-to-back wins over Rampage and Machida would do my career a world of good and will really catapult my name into the upper echelons of the division. It's an exciting proposition, because I like going out there and showing people I can figure out puzzles inside that Octagon. A lot of fans questioned whether I had the ability and durability to defeat Rampage in February, but I went out there and showed both. I'm sure those same people are questioning whether I have the speed and punch power to keep up with and make a dent in Machida. I have more questions to answer on August 4, but, as with Rampage, I will do my very best to provide those answers and come out with my hand raised.

Follow me on Twitter @RyanBader

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