Bellator two-weight champion Ryan Bader spoke with Cageside Press before his first heavyweight title defense against Cheick Kongo at Bellator 226.
To say that Ryan Bader is surging right now might be a gross understatement. The reigning Bellator light heavyweight champion entered the loaded Heavyweight Grand Prix last year with a chance to be crowned the organization’s first two-weight champion. The former UFC standout ran through his opponents with ease winning the title. He knocked out his first round opponent, Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal in 15 seconds. He followed that up with a lopsided decision of Matt Mitrione in the semi-finals. He was crowned the new champion after brutally knocking out the legendary Fedor Emelianenko in 35-seconds in the tournament final. The string of impressive victories have many people to believe that Bader might even be better at heavyweight than light heavyweight.
“I don’t know if it is because I’m at heavyweight,” Bader told Cageside Press. “I think I just improved overall. I feel like I have hit my prime physically and mentally. It just happens that the last three fights have been at heavyweight. I think it is just the perfect storm and everything just came together.”
Since losing to Anthony Johnson via knockout back at in January 2016, “Darth” has handled his business in seven-straight appearances with five of those victories coming by way of KO/TKO. During this span, the 36-year-old left the UFC for Bellator through free agency and then captured both the heavyweight and light heavyweight straps in his new organization.
“I just think my mindset changed, believing I’m the best, believing I’m going to get it done,” Bader said. “In the past, I think I limited myself. After the Johnson loss, I decided to have fun, to enjoy the entire process during fight week and training. Ever since then I have been undefeated and I have a bunch of KOs and TKOs… There is also a lot of work behind that. The last three or four years, I have worked my butt off.”
Bader is starting to get some recognition as one of the pound for pound best fighters today. These lists are usually just compiled of fighters competing in the UFC. While the Bellator double-champion is an outlier, he believes he should be even higher on these lists.
“I think the fans will always be on the UFC side and think their champions are the best across all platforms and organizations,” Bader pointed out. “That isn’t necessarily true. They have been around for a long time and are popular, so fans are going to think that. Speaking for just me, I don’t give a sh*t. I don’t need anybody to tell me I’m number one to feel good about myself. I believe I’m the best heavyweight, most around me believe it, that’s all that matters… I do believe I’m the best. If I didn’t, I shouldn’t be here fighting these heavyweights. I always believed I could beat anybody on any given night.”
Ryan Bader returns to action at Bellator 226 on September 7 when he battles Cheick Kongo in the main event of the evening. Kongo enters the competition on the heels of eight straight victories. The former Arizona State University wrestler respects Kongo’s skills but is heading into the competition very confident.
“I feel very good no matter where the fight goes,” Bader stated. “I have a lot of power in my hands. He is more of a counter-puncher, he doesn’t like to get hit. Obviously, I feel like I have a big wrestling advantage… His weakness is definitely being on his back. My cardio is a huge advantage too. I don’t think light heavyweights and especially these heavyweights can keep up with that.”
Though he doesn’t like to make predictions on his fights, the Power MMA representative broke his rule and gave his prediction for his fight against Kongo.
“I think I get a stoppage within three rounds.”
With the former Ultimate Fighter winner nearing two years without defending his light heavyweight title, many question if he will ever return to his original weight class in Bellator.
“I do everything that Bellator asks me to do.” Bader said. “I am not trying to hold a division hostage. I think the plan is to go down to 205 pounds after the fight.”
Bader acknowledged that he has several worthy contenders in both weight classes. He mentioned the red-hot Sergei Kharitonov as the next possible contender at heavyweight and sees teammate, Tyrell Fortune eventually making his way to the top of the division — he stated that he wouldn’t entertain a fight against Fortune until he doesn’t have any other options.
At light heavyweight, Bader mentioned a possible matchup with the winner of Vadim Nemkov and former middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho, who scrap at Bellator 230 in October, but he appears to have his eyes set on a familiar foe.
“I would love to get that [Lyoto] Machida fight back for sure,” Bader said. “I will fight anybody they want me to. Machida is one of those guys that I definitely want to get back and it would be a big fight. It will definitely be at 205.”
Machida defeated Ryan Bader by TKO back in August 2012. The Dragon is currently scheduled to fight Gegard Mousasi at Bellator 228 on September 28.