On Friday night at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, the Russians are coming for Ryan Bader
Ryan Bader toughs it out with the best of them. But he just happens to be one of the gentlemen of MMA as well. On Friday night at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, the Russians are coming. Coming for him. Or at least one of his two Bellator belts. They come smiling. Shaking hands. But they assassins. One he has beaten, one is chasing the honour code of restoring dented pride.
Bader beat Fedor Emelianenko, and one of his pupils, from his hometown, Vadim Nemkov, is looking to reverse the first loss to their stable by the man from Arizona. Bader’s victory over Fedor – he of the crushing long run as one of, if not the greatest heavyweight MMA has ever seen – raised his profile enormously. But Nekmov now wants what Bader holds. That 205 belt as well. A belt Bader defended in 2017 against Britain’s Linton Vassell.
Bader knew his next fight was scheduled, but was not sure which weight class it would be in. All he knew “I’ve been keeping my head down and really didn’t know which weight class I was going into until two weeks ago. So I’m just ready to do it. it’s been on my mind for a while and it’s back to the original opponent after the press conference in New York on March 9. So here we go.”
“Nemkov can’t bring Fedor into the cage, and the thing about revenge doesn’t bother me at all. He starts fast, I know that, and I’ve watched a lot of tape of him. He is legit. Every fight for me now is huge and there’s no added pressure at all for me. There might be for him just because it’s his first five round fight, his first title fight, but I really am good to go.”
“The one thing you’ve got to say about him is that he certainly deserves a title shot. He has climbed the ladder, I’ve been watching him for a while, he’s beaten, I think, three former champions and he has proven himself. He hasn’t answered the bell for round four before, so there are some things I can exploit.”
As veteran combat sports observer Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports suggested this week, with Jon Jones vacating the UFC 205 crown, there is an argument that Bader could be the best 205-er in the world right now (Jones defeated Bader in one of his five career loses in 2011) and has without doubt developed a rounded, smothering style which is formidable.
As Bader told Yahoo Sports: “I feel like I’ve been top three in the world for a long time, but I haven’t fought 205 since 2017, so this is a chance for me to prove it again” explained the fighter from Arizona who is also Bellator’s heavyweight champion, having defeated Emelianenko in the heavyweight grand prix final last year.
From heavyweight he returns to the division below, a full 25 pounds lighter, on just a few weeks notice, yet with no great concern. If Bader is a small heavyweight, he is a huge light heavyweight.
“I feel more agile and fast when I’m not carrying that extra muscle. When I fought Fedor [Emelianenko], California does those same-day weight checks and I was 225” Bader, one of the sport’s quiet, yet deeply respected ambassadors, explained to Iole.
“My body likes being in that range. When I’m a little lighter, I feel faster and I feel better. I thought I needed to be big, but I learned that I’m better off being quicker and more agile, because I still have strength.”
But since coming to Bellator, Bader has certainly begun to find the peak of his fighting maturity. “I can’t control what people say or what they think, but I feel like I should be right there in that conversation [as the world’s best light heavyweight],” Bader said.
“I’ve learned from my time in this sport that you only worry about the things you can control. I can control my performance and how I fight. I hope that I show that I deserve to be in that conversation, and I believe I will, but all I can do is give my best effort and then it’s in other people’s hands.”
He needs to control Nemkov on Saturday night. More experienced or not. Nemkov is coming for gold, and Bellator’s champ-champ must defend the castle to hold on to the jewels in one of the most talked about title contest in the fight league for some time.