Ryan Bader was always the bridesmaid, never the bride when it came to title shots in the UFC. Now, he’s embarking on a journey to capture a second championship in Bellator MMA.
‘Darth’ Bader pretty much needed to use the force to get a whiff of gold back when he was in the UFC. Yet after jumping to Bellator MMA in 2017, he immediately went on a roll. He quickly beat then-champ Phil Davis to win the 205lb title, then successfully defended the belt at Bellator 186 last fall against Linton Vassell. After that bout, Ryan Bader expressed interest in taking part in a potential heavyweight tournament.
The Bellator brass obliged. And on Saturday night at Bellator 199 in San Jose, Bader will make the jump up in weight against another man best known as a 205’er, King Mo Lawal. Lawal is the man many expected Bader to face next, with lightweight gold on the line. Instead, they’re in a three round main event to see who moves on in the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Bader vs. Lawal is the last quarter final scrap in the grand prix. And for Bader, sitting on the sidelines has been entertaining, at the least. “It’s been fun, being the last fight you get to see how it all plays out,” he told us ahead of Bellator 199 this weekend. “You get to look at the bracket from a bird’s eye view and see potential match-ups. Who I’m going to fight next, I already know. There’s really one match-up on the other side. So you can really watch your progress throughout the thing.”
“But that being said,” he cautioned, “I gotta focus on that one fight ahead, do my part, go out there and win on Saturday night. Then I can worry about the next guy, and then I can worry about the next guy after that after a win.”
As for any surprises in the other three quarter final bouts, “it’s MMA, nothing surprises me in MMA anymore,” Bader said. “The Fedor fight was interesting. I thought Mir was going to be too big, he looked in shape. I thought that fight was going to go differently, so it was exciting to see when Fedor went out and beat him, mixed it up a little bit. Other than that, it’s MMA, like I said, you never know. That’s what makes a tournament like this very fun, competitive, great for the fans, great for the fighters.”
Opponent King Mo has been known for a little trash talk over the years, and while it hasn’t gotten too nasty ahead of Bellator 199, Mo has criticized Bader’s supposed lack of rhythm. Specifically, he alluded to Bader being the type of guy to dance to the Macarena. “I’ll do the Macarena after I get my win in the cage,” said Bader in response. “That’s a good thing. I am awkward. It makes it hard to fight [me]. If you look at my record, it speaks for itself. I’m not really worried about too much what he has to say. I’m going to go in there and do what I have to do. If he says I have no rhythm, who cares. I win fights.”
Win fights he does. Bader’s only loss since December 2013 came to Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson a couple of years ago. He’s 9-1 in that stretch, and has won four straight between the UFC and Bellator. Despite all his experience against top flight competition, he’s not sleeping on Lawal. “I think he’s one of the tougher guy’s in the tournament,” he estimated. “He’s a good boxer, he’s fast, he obviously has great wrestling.”
He also has experience in the weight class. “He’s been here before, he’s been a heavyweight, he’s fought these bigger guys,” Bader continued. “Nobody should overlook him. I feel like this match-up right here is definitely a tough one, and one of the harder ones in the tournament.”
Still, Ryan Bader is confident that in the end, he’s getting his hand raised. “I’m just at the perfect time of my career for this tournament,” Bader said. “I feel great, my cardio is better than it ever has been. I’ve fought nothing but tough guys my whole career.”
“I’m motivated to win this tournament, so I look to go in there and get a finish.”
Don’t miss Ryan Bader vs. King Mo in the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix this Saturday, May 12 at Bellator 199 in San Jose, CA. The event’s main card airs live on The Paramount Network.