Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix Semi-Finalists Give Their Take on the UFC 229 Brawl

Fedor Emelianenko, set to headline Bellator 198
Fedor Emelianenko Credit: Dave Mandel/

Everyone’s got an opinion on the chaos at UFC 229, and that includes the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix finalists — including the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, and former UFC stars Chael Sonnen, Ryan Bader, and Matt Mitrione.

Bellator 207 and Bellator 208 go down this weekend, back-to-back shows in Connecticut and Long Island, New York respectively. Atop each will be a Heavyweight Grand Prix Semi-Final: Ryan Bader vs. Matt Mitrione at Bellator 207, then Chael Sonnen vs. Fedor Emelianenko at Bellator 208. It’s a massive weekend for the company, coming hot on the heels of their MacDonald vs. Mousasi Super-Fight and DAZN debut with Bellator 206 last month.

Yet as luck would have it, Bellator’s big weekend is coming hot on the heels of the biggest UFC event of the year: UFC 229. As every MMA fan knows by now, the event spiraled into chaos after lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov scaled the octagon fence and sparked a brawl following his win over Conor McGregor. At Tuesday’s media call for Bellator 207 and 208, the main event fighters were asked for their take on the controversy.

Pride legend Fedor Emelianko initially was mum on the subject, saying (via translator) that he’d only arrived in the U.S. on Thursday, and hadn’t seen the fight. “Usually I don’t watch fights during my camp,” he exclaimed. “I heard actually, about the fight. I heard that Khabib won. But as I haven’t watched it myself, I won’t give any comment about that.”

Asked later, more generally, about how fighters should carry themselves, Fedor spoke to the strength and skill athletes possess. “It’s very important to be able to control yourself. To be accountable in everything that you say, and never use your strength in everyday life. And you have to be able to control yourself in maximum ways.”

“Sometimes you have a glorious moment, and sometimes you have to hang your head like a skunk at a garden party, but either way, you shake hands and you walk away.” — Chael Sonnen

Chael Sonnen, meanwhile, admitted to being surprised at the scene. “I think just in human life in general, it’s important to be civilized,” he started, before admitting that the disruption at UFC 229 “was a really big shock.”

“I don’t know why it happened,” he said, then suggested that nearly everybody, “in every office or every job site in the world has somebody, some co-worker that if they could get away with it, they would like to fight.” That said, those who have the privilege of actually doing it, “when the bell rings, you shake hands and walk away. That’s the way it goes. You settle your dispute there, and sometimes you have a glorious moment, and sometimes you have to hang your head like a skunk at a garden party, but either way, you shake hands and you walk away.”

Ryan Bader felt “the whole thing was kind of unfortunate, what happened with Khabib and Conor.” The Bellator light heavyweight champ and Heavyweight Grand Prix semi-finalist continued by saying that “we kind of get a bad rap anyway, we’re still not a hundred percent mainstream, people look at us like we’re hooligans or whatnot, even though we’re not.”

Still, the commotion at UFC 229 was no surprise to Bader. “The whole thing, it was part of the story line. You had the whole bus incident in the story line, in the promos, and they’re running with that. So it was expected, when Khabib goes out there and wins that fight, he’s going to do something. His cornermen are going to do something. Stuff like that happens. You have guys that think they’re the toughest guys in the world, and they are, you get a lot of guys around each other that are like that, stuff’s going to pop off a little bit.”

“It is what it is, it happens sometimes. I think it’s bad for the sport. Is it entertaining? A lot of people were talking about it,” Bader added. “Me personally, I’d like to see the sport keep evolving to the point we’re looked at like other professional sports organizations — Major League Baseball, NFL. We have a long way to go though.”

Matt Mitrione said simply that “I echo their same sentiments.” He’d later added that “once the fight’s over, the fight’s over. There may be bad blood about something that went on or whatever else, but I’ve got an active normal life. I’m a father of three busy kids. I don’t really care enough about somebody else I just beat to worry about it.”