Heavyweight champ Ryan Bader got the job done on Friday at Bellator 280, but by his own admission, it wasn’t his best showing, or his “prettiest” win.
After a grueling, grinding five-round decision, Bader (30-7, 1NC) won a unanimous decision against Cheick Kongo, in the latter’s backyard in Paris, France. But early on, Bader knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.
“I knew in the first round, I’m going to have to gut this one out. Didn’t feel like I should, ate something, whatever it was. My stomach was on fire, all crazy, and after that first round I was like alright, gotta grind this one out, get that win,” the heavyweight champion told Cageside Press following the fight. “I did, it wasn’t the prettiest win. Kongo’s a great striker, he impressed me on the cage.”
The French fighter’s wrist control and body awareness in particular stood out to Bader. Less impressive, some blatant fence grabs by Kongo, which at least at one point early in the fight appeared to prevent a takedown.
Fouls such as that are no doubt frustrating for any fighter, especially one with a wrestling background like Bader’s. Even more so because the fighters had been warned not to do it just prior to the fight.
“We’d just had a conversation with the ref in the back,” Bader recalled, adding that the ref warned that if either fighter were to grab the cage in a way that looked like it was going to change the outcome of the fight, or the outcome of a specific sequence, the ref would take away a point. “And it was twice. He said he’d give him a warning, then [Kongo] grabbed it again when he had his knees in the air, and he was hanging on the fence. I was talking to the ref a little bit during that. But it didn’t mess with the outcome, so whatever.”
After the victory, Bader brought up Linton Vassell as a possible next challenger for his his heavyweight belt. The pair have met once before, when Bader was light heavyweight champ. Bader won that night, but sees the heavyweight version of Vassell as a different challenge.
“Yeah I really do. He was a tough guy at 205, I know he was a little big for 205, cut a lot of weight, and he was scrappy. He’s one of those heavyweights that’s kind of like me, he isn’t really a smaller heavyweight but he moves like a smaller heavyweight. He’s very dangerous, I was very impressed with his last four wins or whatever it was, and the guys he has beat. He’s been on my radar for a while at heavyweight, there’s been a lot of talk, and so it seems like the viable next fight.”
Watch the full Bellator 280 post-fight press conference with Ryan Bader above. More coverage can be found below.