When Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament kicked off a year ago, it seemed like a bit of overly ambitious venture. It was full of older fighters, a few had never fought at heavyweight before, and many objected to the time-table of the tournament. Yet a year later, after big knockouts, a few clutch performances, and mostly entertaining fights, one man emerged as the champion last night.
UFC veteran and Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader completed an amazing run in the tourney, needing just thirty-five seconds to knock out MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko to win the tournament and end Bellator’s nearly three year vacancy atop the heavyweight division. It was a shocking end to what has been a magical year for Bader, who has been excellent since coming over to Bellator from the UFC three years ago.
Bader (28-5, 5-0 Bellator) came out highly energized, switching stances and feinting at Fedor with his left hand. After falling short on a few left jabs, Bader came in with a short half jab/half hook that dropped Fedor and followed up with a huge right hand on Fedor as he was on the ground, opening a huge cut across the Russian’s forehead. The few little hammerfists that followed were unnecessary and referee Mike Beltran stopped the fight.
It was the culmination of a year of dominance for Bader, who needed only fifteen seconds to finish King Mo last May. After that win, he spent fifteen minutes dominating the much bigger Matt Mitrione in October. But he needed none of the wrestling he employed that night against the MMA legend, who is widely considered to be the best heavyweight in the history of MMA.
Fedor (38-6, 2-2 Bellator) had finished former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in forty-eight seconds last April, then rolled through MMA bad boy Chael Sonnen in a round in October. But he never even landed a punch against Bader, who fighting at 228 pounds, looks to be one of the best fighters pound for pound in the world. “Darth” has now won seven fights in a row, five since joining Bellator in 2017. Only Anthony “Rumble” Johnson has beaten Bader in the past five years.
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) January 27, 2019
With this victory Bader becomes the first fighter in Bellator history to win titles in two different weight classes at the same time. He also collected two belts tonight to go with the 205 title he already owns, one as the Bellator Grand Prix champion and one as Bellator heavyweight champion. Within hours, MMA’s ultimate opportunist, Chael P. Sonnen, had called Bader for a fight, even though he lost to Fedor three months ago. Meanwhile, the winner of a fight between veteran Cheick Kongo and undefeated Russian Vitaly Minakov next month is thought to be a de facto number one contenders’ bout. Whether he fights next at 205 or heavyweight, Bader will have no shortage of opponents.
Bader’s win also sets up a bit of an ultimate dream fight against the other champ champ in the weight neighborhood, UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. The two were ironically set to meet in May 2015 in New Orleans, yet Cormier was pulled out to fight Rumble Johnson for the vacant UFC 205 title. The rest, of course, is MMA history…
I mean we can dream, right?