“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”
The words of Aristotle. And indeed, the words and wisdom that fit perfectly across the 15-year fight career of Ryan Bader, the American mixed martial artist who defends the Bellator heavyweight title this weekend against interim champion Valentin Moldavsky.
Bader, fighter and father, has been a two-weight world champion at light-heavyweight and heavyweight in Bellator, and the 38-year-old who graduated with a degree in Justice and Social Inquiry told the BBC he is relishing the challenge posed by the Russian.
Bader, articulate and highly intelligent, has fought at the highest level in the UFC, won The Ultimate Fighter, and latterly, with Bellator, has grown into a truly, deeply successful gentleman fighter.
He has one of the biggest gyms in the world, a fantastic family and wealth beyond normal means, both from his personal life and as a professional cage fighter, and yet, he says, the warrior desire in him still burns bright.
Bader said his defence of the Bellator heavyweight crown against Moldavsky will be the apex of his career as the headline event. He added fighting “is just so much fun” and “retirement is not even a thought” after years of angst in the UFC, and never gaining a title shot.
Bader lost the Bellator light-heavyweight crown to the young Russian Vadim Nemkov, but has beaten faded great Fedor Emelianenko to become heavyweight champion, and is far from laying down his 4oz gloves and walking away from the sport.
The Footprint Center arena will be replete with raucous support for the adopted son of Arizona, and Bader will put it all on the line.
“At this stage, I’m enjoying life – training, developing myself – and although I’m 38, I feel better now than I did at 25. Train hard, train smart, fight easy,” he explained.
There was a rough, tough period in the UFC. But life has been different in the Bellator league. Bader amassed a formidable resume at light heavyweight before he went on to win the Bellator heavyweight tournament.
“There was a period for sure [in the UFC], when I was on a five-fight winning streak and Alexander Gustafsson got a title shot off a knockout loss. But after that I stopped thinking about that. I had a loss after that, and thought I’m just going to have fun out here, fight to my best ability and see what happens.
“Then my mental game caught up. From then on out, I knocked out (Ilir) Latifi real bad, I finished (Antonio) Nogueria in Brazil. Then I came over to Bellator, won the belt, defended the belt. Then I won the heavyweight grand prix.
“But the sport has changed a tonne. When I started it was more underground, I started at the tail end of that. But now it’s so accepted and part of the sporting culture with the NFL and NBA. It’s also great that our fights are being shown live around the world, such as on the BBC.”
His mindset, he explained, was hardened in the school of hard knocks – American collegiate wrestling. It was an early feature in his life.
“That’s how I came up. From seven years old, I was wrestling. I was like that as a kid. My dad wrestled in high school, that’s how I got into it. The first couple of years there was a lot of learning and a lot of losses. Traveling around for different tournaments, you make your bones in those losses. It’s the perfect segway into MMA.
“Yeah, there’s punches, elbows and submissions, but other than that it’s pretty similar.”
As Bader told me in one of our many interviews: “You might be fighting for the title or you might be on a loss. I’ve always come from that background where you’re in the back and walking out, this is the biggest fight of your life. The titles are awesome, but they’re not with you inside the cage. You’re competing right then and there. Every fight in front of me is the biggest of my life.”
He added: “It’s a lot of work holding two [belts]. It might get to a point where I want to slow down a bit. Who knows? But I definitely can leave holding the title.”
Now ‘Darth’ must do just that to complete his legacy.
Will Francis Ngannou ever fight in the UFC again?
On the subject of heavyweights in MMA, will we ever see Francis Ngannou fight in the UFC again, and defend his heavyweight title belt ?
A chasm appears to have opened up between the Cameroonian and UFC president Dana White, over contracts and payment. But it was ever thus. The promoters have always been akin to the emperors. Power lies with them.
White flatly denied he snubbed Ngannou after his title win over Ciryl Gane.
“I wasn’t out there for the main event — I actually walked out of the arena right after the co-main event because there was stuff going on backstage that I was dealing with,” he said.
“For anybody to think that I was showing any type of disrespect towards Francis — I saw Francis all week, you idiots. I shook his hand, I said hi to him, I was out there for the staredowns, the whole thing.”
Ngannou, built like a truck yet with an enduring gentility and modesty as a human being, rose to fame and the pinnacle of the sport after teenage years digging dust in quarries in his homeland.
Ngannou has talked about a boxing match with Tyson Fury, the WBC heavyweight champion. Pastures new? Given the boxing/MMA crossover fights in recent times, not least between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr, the prospect of Ngannou-Fury would bring both fight sports together once more, and would undoubtedly be a huge money spinner.
Birmingham’s Aiden Lee back in explosive match up
Aiden Lee, the Birmingham-based featherweight who trains alongside brothers Leon and Fabian Edwards at Team Renegade, also fights on the Bellator 273 main card against Henry Corrales.
Ignore Lee’s 10 win, five loss record – the rangy, awkward fighter has garnered a reputation as a fan-favourite and crowd pleaser, and with Corrales being a come-forward, aggressive cage warrior, this could be a show stealer.
Coming off a victory in Moscow last year, Lee laughs: “Getting that experience, fighting internationally, it was great for me in 2021.
“I fought in America against an American and I fought in Russia against a Russian and obviously I didn’t win the first one but they were both very valuable experiences when it comes to my growth as a fighter.
“Now I’m about to go to Arizona to fight a guy that lives and trains there so it’s a similar experience and I’m looking forward to it.
“Henry Corrales is an experienced guy, he’s game. He likes to throw his hands and he’s got a bit of power. That’s pretty much it. It’s pretty simple. He’s a game power puncher that’s had a lot of fights. I honestly feel like I’m technically better than him everywhere.”
Lee is self-effacing too… “I’m a boring guy,” he said, laughing again. “I really don’t have any major interests outside of fighting. I’m passionate about what I do and I’ve dedicated my life to it.”
As they say, styles make fights, and this match up is set to be explosive.