The Heavyweight Grand Prix Resumes after a four-month hiatus with the biggest match of the tournament as Matt Mitrione takes on Ryan Bader at Bellator 207.
It has been several months since the Heavyweight Grand Prix last saw action, but the tournament will finally resume in a big way at Bellator 207 as Matt Mitrione faces Ryan Bader in what is expected to be the most dangerous matchup of the entire tournament.
Tournament favorite Matt Mitrione has made it clear that he feels his size and skills are too much for the rest of the competition. His confidence is well validated. He rides a four-fight win streak going into Friday’s contest that includes a victory over fellow semifinalist Fedor Emelianenko. Of everyone in the tournament, he is the only natural heavyweight who is still seen as having years remaining as a top fighter.
While much attention has been given to the other participants in the tournament, it is overlooked how much experience Mitrione carries. A former defensive tackle who saw playing time in the NFL, Mitrione has fought his entire professional career in either the UFC or Bellator. All of this made more impressive considering that he did not have his first professional fight until he was 30 when he made his debut on The Ultimate Fighter. In February, he showed how much he had grown with an excellent performance over grizzled veteran Roy Nelson in the first round of the Grand Prix.
Opposing him, however, is another UFC standout who has excelled in Bellator. Ryan Bader claimed the light heavyweight championship in his promotional debut in June of 2017 and has already notched one title defense and a victory in the Heavyweight Grand Prix with less than a year in the company under his belt. While Mitrione’s size and performances have many pegging him to be the one to win it all, Bader is favored for his skill-set. Of everyone in the tournament, Bader is seen as the most refined in terms of his abilities. His blend of athleticism, boxing, and wrestling make him a handful for everyone in the field to deal with.
A perennial top-five contender while in the UFC, Bader entered Bellator as one of their biggest free-agent acquisitions in 2017. He also has the opportunity to capitalize on the options available to him. With Rory MacDonald coming up short for the middleweight title last month, Bader could become Bellator’s first two-division world champion if he is able to win the tournament. He has said he will decide on which weight class he will compete in following the tournament, but already fans wonder if he will have a contender like middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi waiting for him in 2019 if he returns to the light heavyweight division.
Stylistically, Mitrione’s size and physicality stand to pose the biggest threat to Bader. Mitrione tends to pick his spots on the feet and use a multi-faceted, high volume attack. But, he may well look to walk-down Bader using his size and physicality. To fully neutralize the light heavyweight champion, the best route to victory would be to get Bader onto the mat and use ground-and-pound to deliver devastating damage.
The biggest disparity will be the size. For his fight with Roy Nelson, Mitrione weighed in at 255 pounds. Bader for his heavyweight bout weighed 225. The thirty-pound differential means that Bader will need to use his speed to get in-and-out against Mitrione. He should get inside behind the jab and commit to throwing several punches each time he engages. While Bader’s wrestling has been impressive throughout his career, Mitrione’s size and takedown defense could make getting the fight to the ground a tall order. If Bader is looking to get the fight to the mat, his best approach is to get Mitrione by feinting with punches and going for a double-leg takedown rather than try to overpower him in the clinch against the fence.
Either man will be favored in the final against Chael Sonnen or Fedor Emelianenko. For Mitrione, his size and skills would grant him a significant advantage in a fight with either man. For Bader, his wrestling and power figures to overwhelm the slightly smaller Sonnen and his youth would figure to be the difference against Emelianenko. But first, they both face the toughest fight of the tournament in each other to reach a shot at gold at Bellator 207.