Bellator 290: Deja Vu as Bader and Fedor Meet at Unique Time in Their Careers

Ryan Bader and Fedor Emelianenko face off before Bellator 290. Photo: Lucas Noonan/Bellator MMA

In what will be his final MMA bout, Russian great Fedor Emelianenko will return to The Forum in Inglewood, CA to face reigning heavyweight champion Ryan Bader at Bellator 290.

Almost four years ago to the day, Ryan Bader stopped Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko in the seminal moment of his career.  A perennial top ten contender in the light-heavyweight division of the UFC, Bader flourished in Bellator as he won the title in his promotional debut in 2017, defended it, then went on to move up in weight and dominate the heavyweight Grand Prix.  His run led to that night at Bellator 214, where he faced biggest name in the bracket in Emelianenko.  Most expected a final hurrah from the Russian legend, but Bader would find the opening to knock out Emelianenko early and become a two-division champion while absorbing virtually no damage throughout the tournament.

His first defense of the heavyweight title was marred by a No-Contest due to an eye poke in a bout he was winning, and the pandemic of 2020 led to him being out of action nearly twelve months before returning to light heavyweight that  August and subsequently losing his title to current champion (and Emelianenko teammate) Vadim Nemkov.  Bader would alternate a win and loss after that before electing to remain at heavyweight for the rest of his career.  While there was question that “Darth” might be approaching the end of an amazing run, he showed that he had plenty left in the tank by defending his belt against interim champion Valentin Moldavsky and Cheick Kongo.  While Bader dismissed the idea of a rematch at first, he has since changed his stance as he sees the opportunity to hand a second loss to Emelianenko in another high profile bout.

One could be here a long time discussing the career of Fedor Emelianenko.  The stoic veteran was one of the cornerstones of the now defunct PRIDE organization and dominated the competition en route to being considered one of the best mixed martial artists of all-time. While his legend was cemented for his work in Japan between 2000 and 2007, he has since added a significant chapter to it in American promotions as part of the short-lived Affliction, Strikeforce, and now Bellator.  Though not as dominant as his run in PRIDE, Emelianenko continues to draw large crowds and great interest with every appearance.

Going into his rematch with Bader, Emelianenko is 46 years-old and has not competed in over a year.  The international situation in Russia scrapped plans to bring him back home for his career finale, so now he gets the chance at a poetic ending by returning to the site of one of his most disheartening losses and avenging it against the same man who handed it to him.  While Bader enters as the heavy favorite, Emelianenko and his fans take hope in the fact that his power looked as formidable as ever as he scored first round knockouts in his last two fights.

Bader enters as the younger fighter once again who has proven himself more recently against elite competition.  His blend of physicality and wrestling has proven to be handful for opponents throughout his career and Fedor is no exception.  That said, Fedor’s best weapon is his deceptive speed and power as he has been highly effective in landing devastating shots when exchanging in the pocket.  It is expected that a Fedor upset on his final night will see him look to force such scenario’s once again.

Currently, two of Bader’s former foes are scheduled to meet as former interim champion Valentin Moldavsky and Linton Vassell will be fighting on March 10. A rematch between either man and Bader would make the most sense given the rankings.  While a title defense may be enticing for Emelianenko if he were to prevail on Saturday, it is doubtful he would entertain the notion considering he is a training partner of Moldavsky.