Ryan Bader looks to take another step towards a light heavyweight title shot this weekend at UFC 192. But before facing Rashad Evans in the Octagon, he wanted to do some good outside the cage by supporting military veterans returning home from active duty.
Bader has become a huge supporter of veteran services over the last few years donating large portions of his fight purses and sponsorship money to organizations who work with the military, and most recently he's aligned himself with Hire Heroes USA, a non-profit headed up by former UFC middleweight Brian Stann that helps returning veterans find work after leaving the military.
Bader has donated $10,000 previously but ahead of his fight this weekend even before he wins or loses, which will obviously affect how he's paid, the former "Ultimate Fighter" winner has teamed up with his sponsors at American Ethanol to make another $5000 donation to Hire Heroes USA.
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"The men and women of the military are the real warriors. I am very appreciative of their efforts and the sacrifices that they make so that I can live out my dream," Bader told FOX Sports. "I've got great people around me and I'm lucky to have blue chip sponsors like American Ethanol, Sanford and Cytosport that give me the financial flexibility to make these donations. American Ethanol has supported me for years and for them to step up and make this donation on my behalf means so much to Brian (Stann) and I."
Stann knows better than most how volatile the sponsor market in MMA has become over the last few years, especially in the wake of the recent Reebok partnership with the UFC, and the fact that Bader is willing to give up money out of his own pocket to support his organization is just further proof of the light heavyweight contender's good character.
"I can't believe because I just finished doing a show on FOX with a guy who is a star in the UFC who does not have a sponsor," Stann revealed. "For Ryan Bader to continually do this and what he's basically done now is do development for us because he's donated $10,000 himself and now he's gone straight to a company and the company's donating an additional $5000 and they want to do more. They are going to meet with me Friday night at Ryan's fight and they are going to look to potentially make us their charity of choice because our mission is so in line with what their brand wants to do.
"It's huge that he wants to leverage his name and his career and his brand for an organization that he really believes in."
Bader chose to work with Hire Heroes USA after fighting alongside Stann and fellow military veteran Tim Kennedy and seeing the work they did with veterans whenever they had time to spare.
"First of all, I am a huge fan of Brian Stann. Guys like Brian and Tim Kennedy inspire me to support our military," Bader said. "Brian's organization is incredible, but the fact that we even need this organization is troubling to me. It blows me away that the unemployment rate of veterans is so high and I love the fact Brian and Hire Heroes is doing something to fix this problem.
"I also like that with Hire Heroes USA I know where my donation is going. This is very important to me. I know by this donation by American Ethanol that a veteran will get hired and that's awesome. I encourage everyone to check out Hire Heroes website and do what you can to help the cause."
According to Stann, the work Bader is doing by promoting his organization with his donations and publicly speaking about the work Hire Heroes USA has already led to veterans reaching out to the organization for help. He even got a personal email from one veteran who named Bader specifically as the reason he found Hire Heroes USA and now has a job following the end of his military service.
"We actually had a veteran who emailed us after we helped them find a job that said 'hey could you send this to Ryan?' because he found out about us through Ryan Bader. He watched Ryan's fight, read an interview and that's when he went online and registered and got the assistance from us, found a great job after he was struggling and that was really cool to see," Stann said.
"That's what we do this for. Every week we're helping about 100 veterans a week find a new career but it was really cool to see that this little venture with Ryan has had significant effect, even down to the personal level."
Stann knows it's not easy for any UFC athlete to willingly give up the kind of money Bader has sacrificed for his organization, but he said for all the negative stories that come out about fighters, this is one competitor who is doing the right things over and over again, and he should be commended.
"We've got a guy doing the right thing and doing the right thing consistently," Stann said. "I think that's just awesome and it's great for the sport."