When Ryan Bader misplaced his Bellator MMA mild heavyweight championship to Vadim Nemkov final August, he felt sorrow and deep disappointment. The primary emotion comes with the territory of shedding your home on the high of the mountain. The second emotion was self-directed letdown. On his method to a second-round TKO defeat, Bader had spent an uncharacteristic period of time through the battle not transferring ahead, his typical path to success.
“That was not me,” Bader, who’s at his greatest when pressuring his opponent, informed ESPN this week. “However it’s what it’s. You have to present up on the evening of the battle.”
Tempering his heavy coronary heart, nonetheless, was an odd feeling of lightness. Bader’s preventing life abruptly was simplified. Bellator’s first two-division champion nonetheless dominated at heavyweight, in any case, and Bader discovered himself warming to the concept of creating that weight class his sole focus.
Bader had competed at 205 kilos for all however 4 of his 34 fights in a professional profession going again a dozen years. However at age 37, weight cuts had gotten outdated. Even previous to MMA, he’d sweated off kilos for all of his athletic life as a collegiate and highschool wrestler. And now he was questioning what his future held, questioning: What’s to be gained by going small, anyway?
“I really feel simply as robust because the heavyweights,” Bader reasoned, “and I really feel tremendous quick within the cage with them. I actually have not acquired hit even as soon as in my heavyweight fights, and that is interesting to me. I believed perhaps I would follow heavyweight.”
Then the cellphone rang, and Bader’s newly mapped out profession trajectory took an abrupt U-turn.
Bellator, which had a Featherweight World Grand Prix in progress, was placing collectively a light-weight heavyweight event subsequent. Was the previous champ ? Sure, he was.
Bader will kick off the eight-man Bellator Gentle Heavyweight World Grand Prix on Friday evening in a quarterfinal towards former UFC champion Lyoto Machida. It is the primary occasion of Bellator 256 at Mohegan Solar Area in Uncasville, Connecticut, and it is proper the place Bader needs to be. The event format has renewed his pleasure for a run at 205 kilos.
“It is superior, unexpectedly superior,” Bader stated. “I had been planning on defending the heavyweight title in early March, however then this chance got here alongside, and I simply could not say no. That is what introduced me to Bellator — the prospect to do cool stuff like tournaments.”
It is sensible that that was what drew him again in. It was a event that had made the native of Reno, Nevada, a double champion within the first place. On Jan. 26, 2019, Bader, who on the time reigned at mild heavyweight, knocked out Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko in simply 35 seconds within the closing of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix to earn the title in a second division. Earlier in that tourney, he had defeated Muhammed Lawal and Matt Mitrione.
To win again the sunshine heavyweight title, Bader must navigate a bracket that features Machida, Nemkov, former champ Phil Davis in addition to new signees Corey Anderson, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Yoel Romero.
It was the arrival of these final three former UFC contenders, actually, that gave delivery to this Grand Prix.
“That is the best mild heavyweight division on the planet, and it is even better now than it was six months in the past,” Bellator CEO Scott Coker informed reporters in February. “How might we not do that event?”
Taking that urgency a step additional, Coker matched up his new energy couple — Rumble and Romero — within the opening spherical fairly than merely hoping for that pairing to fall into place later within the bracket. Coker has been round MMA lengthy sufficient to have seen many a dream matchup not find yourself taking place.
“Issues change shortly,” he stated. “When the battle is there on this sport, you have to do it.”
Johnson and Romero will shut out the quarterfinals Might 7. The opposite two fights — Nemkov vs. Davis and Anderson vs. Turkmenistan fighter Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov — will happen on April 16.
Half of the Grand Prix subject is in ESPN’s divisional rankings. Anderson is No. 6 at mild heavyweight, adopted by Nemkov (No. 7) and Bader (No. 8). Romero is ranked fourth at middleweight. Bader is No. 9 at heavyweight.
Regardless of all of that rankings positioning in a UFC-centric sport, Bader does not get too caught up in debating how Bellator’s 205-pound division stacks up. Previous to becoming a member of Bellator in 2017, he fought within the UFC for almost a decade. He understands the terrain nicely sufficient to know there isn’t any definitive reply to who’s greatest and there by no means can be.
“Individuals like to speak about that stuff, however we’ll by no means know as a result of there’s by no means going to be a cross-promotional battle,” Bader stated. “However I will say this: Any certainly one of us on this event can defeat the UFC champion on a given evening. Me, Corey Anderson, Anthony Johnson, Phil Davis — after we left the UFC, every certainly one of us was within the high three. And one of many solely guys ranked above us was Jon Jones, one of many biggest fighters of all time — and now he is left the UFC’s 205 division as nicely. Individuals must respect Bellator’s mild heavyweight division.”
This event is a good highlight for the 205-pounders, however how does it have an effect on the heavyweight division? Bellator remains to be within the means of sorting that out. Bader was anticipating to defend his belt in March towards Timothy Johnson, winner of 4 in a row. That battle didn’t materialize as soon as the sunshine heavyweight event was booked, and a Bellator spokesman informed ESPN this week that there as a substitute can be an interim heavyweight title battle if Bader advances within the event and is tied up at 205 kilos till the autumn.
That sounds high-quality to the champ. “It’d simply deliver extra hype to my subsequent heavyweight battle — two belts on the road,” Bader stated.
However that is about all the vitality Bader will dedicate to a heavyweight dialogue right now. He is not even wanting forward within the mild heavyweight event bracket, not with the person standing proper in entrance of Bader proudly owning a knockout victory over him. Then once more, Bader does not dwell on a loss to Machida that occurred 9 years in the past.
“I used to be only a wrestler again then. I actually did not know what I used to be doing on my ft,” Bader stated of the 2012 UFC bout. “You go in there with one of many higher strikers, a man who’d been very puzzling for lots of people, and dangerous stuff occurs.”
Machida is 42 now and has misplaced two fights in a row. However each defeats got here by break up determination, and previous to the skid the Brazilian karate technician had received 4 straight, together with his closing two UFC fights earlier than the 2018 transfer to Bellator.
So Bader just isn’t permitting his focus to float past Friday. If something, he is wanting backward — to not that first Machida battle almost a decade in the past, however simply a few years again to his first Bellator grand prix expertise.
“One factor I took from that heavyweight event was, do not stress concerning the massive image,” Bader stated. “‘One battle at a time’ is sort of cliche, however that is how it’s a must to strategy this. It is enjoyable for followers to think about what matchups is perhaps forward within the Grand Prix, however for us fighters, it is vital to compartmentalize. Maintain each minute of each battle, and also you’re gonna get your hand raised and a belt put round your waist.
“For me to get my belt again and once more be a two-division champ by getting previous a stacked subject like this could be candy. Successful a second grand prix — it does not get a lot larger than that.”