Ryan Bader claimed the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix title here at The Forum with a devastating left hook, right hand combination to finish legendary Russian Fedor Emelianenko and write himself into history. It made Bader, of Arizona, a champ-champ in the burgeoning fight league owned by media conglomerate VIACOM. Bader’s ascent to become both light heavy and heavyweight champion was shown simulcast on Paramount with OTT streaming service DAZN also airing the event.
Emelianenko dropped to 38-6, Bader wracking up his twenty-seventh victory. Bader was magnanimous in victory.
“He’s one of the best to ever do it … ,” Bader said in his cage interview with John McCarthy following the quick finish.
“To win the heavyweight title against that man … .”
Bader, 35, said he had blocked out the historic performances Emelianenko has enjoyed during his career as a former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight champion who reigned with 27 consecutive victories over a decade before a 2010 loss to Fabricio Werdum in San Jose.
“I was trying to keep [those thoughts] away … not only that, there’s a lot at stake with the title on the line,” Bader said. “It’s surreal. What a night.”
Bader, who had prepared to use his standout wrestling skills and renowned cardio to nullify Emelianenko revealed that he had consistently practiced throwing the left hook off his jab. “I saw him go down pretty hard. We practiced that [punch for when] he was setting up that right hand,” Bader said.
The new double champion also added that he is prepared to defend both belts when the time and opponents presents themselves. Scott Coker, CEO of Bellator, said that Bader now belongs in “the top three pound for pound in MMA”, adding that “his striking is getting better and better. It’s up to Ryan (where he fights) as long as light heavy is not jammed up. We will give him leaway to defend, but he will defend the light heavyweight title first.”
On the potential retirement of Fedor, Coker added: “My job is to put the best fighters in there. Fedor seemed to be ok afterwards, not seriously hurt, but it is never easy to see your friends get hurt off knocked out. It is up to him (whether he retires or not). He fought for me in Strikeforce. It’s up to him, the truth is he does not need to fight again. His contract is over.”
Coker was insistent that the Russian fighter remains one of the greatest ever, if not the greatest. “That one run, undefeated for ten years, in boxing MMA or combat sports in general, he did not dodge anybody. He’s the GOAT, that’s it. He fought everybody.”
“The tournament very good piece of business, it went out in 160 countries around the world. We didn’t just have a tournament, but we had 8 of the great names, and brands in the sport.”
Coker later told The Telegraph that he would like to see Fedor have a retirement tour. “Maybe he fights in Tokyo, New York, Moscow, having fights not against 30-somethings in their prime, but matched with fighters who fans want to see.”
As in the main event, there was another brutal finish recorded in the co-main event.
Henry Corrales responded to a knockdown uppercut from fellow Whittier fighter Aaron Pico, his counter right hand punch landing flush on Pico’s jaw, the brutal fight ending 67 seconds into the first round. Pico might have used his fine wrestling when Corrales was hurt, but the bout became a defining moment for Corrales, trained in Arizona by John Crouch and Benson Henderson. They are some team.
“What’s done is done. Who the [heck] is next?” Corrales asked inside the cage. “That’s five straight [victories while training in Arizona]. I’ve got my stuff together.” Corrales, Coker commented, put himself into title contention with the triumph.
Earlier, with UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, former UFC title challenger Joe Stevenson and UFC featherweight Cub Swanson in his corner, Juan Archuleta claimed a controversial bantamweight victory against New Jersey’s Ricky Bandejas.
The judges awarded Archuleta (22-1) victory by unanimous-decision scores of 29-28. Archuleta now wants a showdown with Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell later this year.
Former soldier Adel Altamimi (8-5) opened the nationally televised portion of the card with a first-round submission by armbar of Brandon McMahan. On his Bellator debut, Altamimi was accompanied in his post-fight interview by actor Chris Pratt, who has befriended the fighter while training alongside him at a gym in West Hollywood.
Former WWE heavyweight champion Jake Hager, making his MMA debut on the Bellator card, defeated J.W. Kiser by submission.
“I feel like hard work pays off,” Hager said. “I was trying to slow everything down in my mind. Keep control. I wanted to lay on him … I knew I was going to get that big elbow in there. It was just a matter of keeping my posture and just a matter of time before I slipped that arm and got that arm triangle [choke].”
— Gareth A Davies (@GarethADaviesDT) January 27, 2019
Elsewhere, Bellator made it official that its incumbent welterweight champion Rory MacDonald will face Jon Fitch on April 27 in San Jose, where the title will be defended within the welterweight grand prix tournament. Additionally, Veta Arteaga will challenge Ilima-Lei Macfarlane for the women’s flyweight world title on the same card.
MacDonald, present at The Forum last night, also commented to The Telegraph on the February 16 all-British match-up involving Paul Daley and Michael ‘Venom’ Page. “I’m excited to see that fight and see how good MVP is. I’ve beaten both of them (Daley and Lima) so I would like to fight MVP,” said Macdonald. “But I don’t know who wins that (Daley/MVP). I’m not a good judge of fights. But I’d like to fight Lima again and properly beat him this time.”