Opinion: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Ryan Bader 2 Is The Fight To Make

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Ryan Bader and Fedor Emelianenko
Ryan Bader and Fedor Emelianenko Credit: Bellator MMA

Fresh off the heels of his destruction of Tim Johnson, Fedor Emelianenko has hinted he wants one more fight, and there’s a clear one to make.

Fedor Emelianenko’s Bellator retirement tour has had highs and lows, but nothing has been as high as his victory over Tim Johnson at Bellator 269. Emelianenko was an underdog in his home country as he faced off against Johnson, who was fresh off a title fight and ranked number two in Bellator’s heavyweight division.

Despite the odds being stacked against him, “The Last Emperor” decimated Johnson, and in the process gave his best performance in years as he flattened the former title challenger in the very first round. Emelianenko has hinted more than once about wanting one more fight, likely back in America. And there’s exactly one fight remaining on his Bellator contract. With his win over Johnson, there’s a clear fight to make.

That fight is a rematch with Ryan Bader for the undisputed Bellator MMA heavyweight championship. The two notably fought back at Bellator 214 in the finals of the Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix, where Bader defeated the legend via a first-round knockout. While the defeated was one-sided, things are much different now than they were in 2019 when the pair first met.

When the two fighters faced off back in 2019, Bader was in his still prime and had by far been on the best run of his career. Bader at the time was riding a six-fight win streak with none of those fights even being close. Since then, however, Bader has fallen on hard times. He’s officially no longer the light heavyweight champion after being knocked out by Vadim Nemkov last year, and was just recently knocked out by Corey Anderson earlier this month.

That loss bounced Bader from the ongoing light heavyweight grand prix, removing any possibility of “Darth” Bader reclaiming double-champ status.

With Bader having been so viciously dominated by the two top fighters at 205, he’s going to have to go back up to the division where he’s still champion, unless he really wants to try and climb the ladder at light heavyweight again. Given his age and the ongoing tournament, that doesn’t seem likely.

It’s worth noting that the interim champion at heavyweight in Fedor’s absence is Valentin Moldavsky, a protege of Fedor Emelianenko himself. But it’s likely that Moldavsky would step aside for Fedor, given the fact that Emelinaneko is a friend and teammate under the Team Fedor banner.

The fight writes itself: one last chance at gold for “The Last Emperor.” It’s either a repeat for Bader, reestablishing him as the man to beat at heavyweight, or redemption for Emelianenko. It even creates a very marketable second fight should Emelinaneko lose, as in that case, he can have his protege in Moldavsky attempt to avenge the loss. On the flip side, if Emelinaneko wins and retires, you already have an interim champion who just pick up the mantle for Team Fedor.

The ball is ultimately in Scott Coker and Bellator’s court, but it’s rare that a storybook situation like this can just fall into place in MMA.

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