The first round of the Bellator World Grand Prix is almost complete, and Ryan Bader and Muhammed Lawal will be the last to battle for a spot in the semifinals at Bellator 199.
The Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix is just five months old, but already it has been one of the biggest storylines of the MMA world in 2018. Chael Sonnen kicked things off with an upset of the bigger Rampage Jackson, furthering his underdog story of being a middleweight in a heavyweight competition. Tournament-favorite Matt Mitrione went through to the second round in workmanlike fashion. Most recently, the long-awaited bout between Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir ended with “The Last Emperor” turning back the clock with a vintage finish performance. Now, Ryan Bader and “King Mo” Muhammed Lawal will collide in the final quarterfinal of the Grand Prix at Bellator 199.
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The harsh truth is, Ryan Bader had been written off of ever becoming a UFC champion when he signed with Bellator. His impressive 15-5 mark in the company where he had been one of the most consistent fighters of the last decade was forgotten in lieu of his stumbles along the way. Fans were quick to point out his setbacks against the likes of Jon Jones, Anthony Johnson, and others. Lost was his five-fight win streak against perennial contenders and a former champion to get back into the title picture. He competed at the same time as several formidable forces in the weight class, and he’d proven himself to be a dangerous threat amongst them.
Bader has the most momentum of any fighter in the tournament, and he carries it with him as he enters the most dangerous quarter of the competition. “King Mo” is among the most dangerous contenders at both light-heavyweight and heavyweight whom Bader himself admitted would likely have been the next challenger for his belt had the tournament not taken place. If he is victorious, he will have to face tournament favorite Matt Mitrione to reach a final where he would face either Chael Sonnen or heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko. Bader is too skilled to be able to call a tournament victory an underdog story. But make no mistake, a heavyweight championship for Bader in this tournament would be nothing less than one of the most impressive twelve-month campaigns by any fighter of the last several years.
Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal flies under the radar as the participant with the lowest profile, but he enters the bout with Ryan Bader as one of the few fighters remaining with a proven heavyweight record. He owns victories over fellow participant “Rampage” Jackson as well as recently named alternate Cheick Kongo. His ten-year career has also seen his hand raised against the likes of Gegard Mousasi, Roger Gracie, and Linton Vassell. Once considered just a wrestler, Lawal has gained confidence in his power and has used it to usurp competition around the world.
In Bellator, Lawal has built a name as one of their most active fighters. Between 2013 and 2015, he fought four times in each calendar year. His run has been punctuated by his rivalry with Jackson whom he faced in Bellator’s inaugural event on pay-per-view. However, championship gold is something he has yet to experience in Bellator. He came up short against Emanuel Newton for the interim belt in 2013 and injury kept him out of the finals of the light heavyweight tournament in 2015. His last major win came in the RIZIN grand-prix finals later that year. Now in Bellator’s biggest tournament to date, he has a chance to go for a two for one as he would largely be considered the uncrowned light heavyweight champion if were to eliminate Bader from the tournament.
Stylistically, the battle looks to pit the more technical striking of Bader against the brawling of Lawal. While both men have shown the ability to finish fights with one shot, Lawal’s power is more proven and exchanges in the pocket would look to favor him. Mo does his best when he’s the aggressor and he should look to control the center of the cage and force Bader to fight off of his heels.
Conversely, “Darth Bader” should look to get in and out behind crisp punches and take care not to remain stationary in front of King Mo. Muhammed Lawal is a talented wrestler so the best way to get the fight to the mat would be to get in under him when he commits to his strikes on the feet. Even if he fails to get the takedown, the threat of it will make Lawal hesitant to commit to his punches and open up Ryan Bader to throw more combinations.
The winner would be in arguably the toughest fight of the semifinals with a bout against Matt Mitrione. If they were to upset him, however, they would be heavily favored in the final against either the much smaller Chael Sonnen or the surprisingly resurgent Fedor Emelianenko. After witnessing the last three bouts of the tournament, Bader and Mo will be looking to send a message as they attempt to punch a ticket to the semifinals.