Ryan Bader: 5 Defining Moments

By Guy Portman Feb 20, 2019

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Ryan Bader (27-5) is the first two division champion in Bellator MMA history. In his most recent outing, the 35-year-old Arizona native stopped all-time great Fedor Emelianenko in the final of Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix.

In the aftermath of Bader’s tournament triumph, here are five moments that have come to define his career.


Bader was a contestant on the eighth season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Three consecutive wins saw the up-and-coming fighter qualify for the season finale. His official Ultimate Fighting Championship debut took place Dec. 2008 against multiple time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Vinny Magalhaes. A former collegiate wrestling standout in his own right, Bader was successful in keeping the action on the feet where he looked to land heavy punches. The finish came via an overhand right, which dropped the Brazilian to the mat. After some ensuing ground and pound, the bout was called off at the 2:18 mark of the first round.


Bader entered his UFC 126 tilt versus Jon Jones with an unblemished 12-0 record. From the outset, Bader struggled with his adversary’s long reach and unpredictable striking style. The second frame was nearing its end when Jones latched onto a guillotine choke from top position in half guard, which left Bader no choice but to secede defeat for the first time.


Following protracted contract negotiations, Bader left the UFC and signed with Bellator. In his debut, the now 18-4 combatant was matched with light heavyweight champion Phil Davis at Bellator 180. The fight was a rematch of their UFC on Fox 14 clash, which Bader won by split decision. This time around, the two talented wrestlers largely cancelled each other out. After a competitive twenty-five minutes, it was Bader who once again eked out the victory by split decision. In his first bout with his new promotion, he had claimed the light heavyweight crown.


In 2018, Bellator’s 205-lb champion jumped up a weight class to compete in Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix. After vanquishing Muhammed Lawal in the tournament’s opening round, Bader met friend and former training partner Matt Mitrione in the semi-final. Many were of the opinion that the striking acumen of his heavier and longer opponent would prove to be problematic for “Darth.” However, Bader utilised his strong wrestling game to ground his rival at will. Mitrione was overpowered by his opponent’s superior grappling, and soon began to tire. After fifteen minutes of lopsided action, the judges all sided with the Arizona native.


The finals of the grand prix pitted Bader against the legendary Russian Fedor Emelianenko at Bellator 214. From the moment the bell sounded on Jan. 26, it was apparent that the 35-year-old American was not in awe of the all-time great. In the early going, a composed Bader gauged his distance. The fight was nearing the half-minute mark when Bader threw a leaping left hook that dropped “The Last Emperor” to the ground. After a right hand to the chin of his dazed and grounded adversary, the referee dived in to prevent further damage. It only took 35 seconds to become a champion in his second division. Advertisement


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