Ryan Bader will defend his heavyweight title against Cheick Kongo at Bellator 226, open to a Light Heavyweight Grand Prix afterward.
Los Angeles, CA — Ryan Bader will make his first post-Heavyweight Grand Prix appearance this September in San Jose. At Bellator 226, “Darth” Bader will defend his heavyweight title against the darkness that is Cheick Kongo. By then, it will have been about nine months between fights for Bader, longer than he’d like — but with no grand prix on the go for now, it’s back to the tedium that is scheduling fights for the double champ.
“We tried to fight a little sooner. We tried to fight in June,” Bader told Cageside Press about what the hold-up has been. “I’d ask you the same question.” Clearly, Bader, who also holds Bellator MMA’s light heavyweight title, did not want to sit this long. “But here we are, we’ve got a fight lined up, so that was a good day.”
The difference between booking single fights, and competing in the heavyweight grand prix, is significant, Bader explained. “I’m always itching, chomping at the bit to get this fight, next fight. Coming off a year of doing the heavyweight tournament, where I knew exactly who I was fighting and when, then to go and have no fight, not a mention of a fight forever, it kind of sucked, but it is what it is.”
“I’ve been in this game a long time, that’s what usually happens. I was just spoiled the last year,” he added.
Bader stayed ready during the down time, focusing on training and family. Now, he’ll return against Cheick Kongo at Bellator 226. It will be a big fight, but it’s hard to imagine it being any bigger that the finale of the grand prix, where Bader knocked out a legend and idol in Fedor Emelianenko.
“The moment doesn’t get any bigger. That’s like the pinnacle, especially being a fan of Fedor,” said Bader. “Doing all that, having it be in a grand prix tournament, heavyweight, winning a second belt and doing it against one of my idols and a legend of the sport in Fedor, and knocking him out in that fashion.” So many factors combined to make it an incredible night for the former two-time Division I All-American wrestler. “My family and friends were there, it was 35 seconds, the crowd was erupting and all that, had three belts on me [including a special grand prix belt], it doesn’t get any better professionally in your career.”
But despite having hit the pinnacle of the fight game, Bader doesn’t worry about motivation. “I don’t need motivation. When there’s a guy across the way that wants to kick your ass, I’m going to train my butt off, go in there, 100% dedication, body, mind, go in there and do what I need to do,” he said. “Motivation has never been problem with me in my career.”
As for light heavyweight plans, there have been rumblings of a 205lb grand prix. “That’s the first I’ve ever heard of it!” Bader claimed. “We’ll see. I don’t know. It all depends. I’ll go out there, defend the heavyweight [title]. I plan on dropping back down. I’m open to cool stuff like that.”
In fact, that’s how Bader wound up holding two belts: being open to opportunities. “I’ve never fought heavyweight in my life, then they asked us to come fight heavyweight. We said yes immediately, before we knew who it was. If they put up some money and all that for a light heavyweight tournament, I’m all for it. Why not?”
A big part of the decision will be what happens with his belts. When Bader moved to heavyweight, he was assured he’d hang onto his light heavyweight belt. With his plan being to defend both titles, it’s likely he’d want the same assurance in reverse.
First up, however, is Cheick Kongo. Plenty have written this off as a fight where Bader just needs to get his opponent down. Bader doesn’t see things as being that simple. “No, you never know in a fight. His wrestling game has been looking good lately. His striking has always been there. Big boy. He’s won eight fights in a row, it’s commendable.”
“Every fight you go out there, it’s going to be tough. There’s no gimmies in this sport,” Bader continued. “He’s obviously won those fights for a reason. He just beat a tough, tough guy who held the heavyweight belt prior.” That would be Vitaly Minakov, who Kongo defeated in February at Bellator 216. After the fight, Kongo campaigned hard for a title shot.
He got just that, and will now meet a Ryan Bader who is keen on building his legacy. “For me it’s all about going in there, competing, and now too, getting older, it’s building that legacy. When we were first starting this sport, financially, it wasn’t very lucrative. And now it is. So now I want to go in there and continue to be the best, continue to earn that and up that, get new contracts and do different stuff.” Different stuff like grand prix tournaments, perhaps.
“It’s a good time to be in MMA right now. A good time to be a two-belt holder.”