The second heavyweight title unification fight in little more than a week arrived Saturday at Bellator 273 in Phoenix.
Bellator’s heavyweight division has never had the prestige of its UFC counterpart, or even that of Scott Coker’s old promotion Strikeforce. Since Ryan Bader captured the title as part of the heavyweight grand prix several years back, the focus has been on other weight classes: light heavyweight, featherweight, and bantamweight, all with their own grand prix tournaments.
On Saturday, the focus turned back to heavyweight, however, with Bader and interim champ Valentin Moldavsky looking to get the division moving again.
In the opening seconds of the Bellator 273 main event, Ryan Bader made things very, very interesting. He lit Moldavsky up on the feet, landing three consecutive right hands that rocked the Russian. Moldavsky was hurt, in serious trouble, but he’d tie up Bader and land a key takedown. From there, Bader had to struggle to make it up, and when he did, he was taken right back down. Another gruelling effort to regain his feet, and Bader managed to reverse and land a takedown of his own in the final minute of the round.
In round two, Moldavsky launched a wild punch that sailed wide. After a bit of back-and-forth on the feet, Bader closed the distance and pressed Moldavsky into the fence. The Russian reversed, but a Bader knee landed low, bringing the action to a halt. Restarted at center, they’d take some big swings before clinching up by the fence. Bader tried a trip, but Moldavsky landed on top, Bader sitting against the cage.
Every time Bader would make it back up, Valentin Moldavsky would force him back down. The interim champ would finish the round in control.
Moldavsky would go back to the well early in the third, getting a body lock on Ryan Bader just as soon as he could. He’d get Bader to his knees a few times, but mostly tied him up along the fence. Not a ton of action, as draining as it was. In the final 90 seconds of the third, Moldavsky did get Bader down, firing a knee to the thigh. Moldavsky would control the round to the bell, without scoring much damage.
Ryan Bader looked for his own takedown early in round four, but it wasn’t there. He’d touch Moldavsky on the feet once or twice, and add a couple of kicks that fell short. When Moldavsky shot for a takedown out in the open, Bader stuffed it. A second attempt had Bader tied up against the fence again. He’d reverse, and land a double leg takedown with half the round remaining. Bader landed in half guard; Moldavsky nearly gave up his back trying to free himself. A couple of fence grabs by Moldavsky saved him from ending up in a worse spot. He’d eventually get up, aided by another fence grab, only for Bader to take him back down.
Moldavsky was hunting the takedown early in round five, with Bader fighting off multiple attempts, and landing a left. There was a very real possibility that the fight was tied up to this point. Moldavsky fired a punch that landed, Bader answered with a right hand. Bader then shot for a takedown, wound up low, and had to scramble. He looked like he was free, only to wind up with Moldavsky on his back a moment later. Bader tried to power up, corner urging him on, but Moldavsky was on him like a wet blanket. Bader powered up, and landed some heavy elbows as Moldavsky pursued another takedown. Bader added in a knee; a few more elbows followed. Moldavsky would scoop Bader up and slam him down in the last few seconds, closing out the fight.
A close one, with all three judges giving it to Bader 48-47. Immediately following the win, Cheick Kongo entered the cage, with a rematch between himself and Bader announced for May 6 in Paris.
Official result: Ryan Bader def. Valentin Moldavsky by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)