Ryan Bader needs to win the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix. I don’t think this is a shocking or surprising statement. He’s the youngest of the four remaining fighters. The only one still in his prime and the only one who has a pedigree worth respecting anymore. While guys like Fedor Emelianenko have a substantial pedigree and history, guys like him don’t have the youth or ability to keep fighting into their prime, like Bader has. Sure, Fedor has a better career, so far, than someone like Bader but Bader is the one to lead the company going forward.
At only 34 (soon 35), he’s the current Bellator Light-Heavyweight champion, and has gone undefeated in Bellator since joining up last June, where he won the Light-Heavyweight Championship from Phil Davis. The thing that makes Bader so valuable though isn’t just the age and the current championship status but the fact that unlike so many other Bellator stars, Bader left the UFC on his own free will. When you opt not to re-sign, and debut elsewhere, you aren’t a “reject”, you’re a defector. Bader defected from the UFC to join Bellator. That’s something no one can take away from Bader or Bellator. Bader signifies the possibility of the end of the “freak show fights” era.
Now, admittedly, Bader isn’t perfect. He was inconsistent early in his career, losing back to backs against Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz. The Jones lost isn’t so damning, even though Jones is a known doper, he still has his share of fans. However, losing to Tito at that stage in Tito’s career wasn’t a good thing.
He would then go 1-2, dropping bouts to Lyota Machida and Glover Teixeria.
However since 2013, Bader has gone 10-1, and is the verge of his second straight championship title. If Bader was in the WWE, the WWE would be finding a way to push him similar to the likes of Roman Reigns and John Cena. In which I mean that Bader “looks” like the guy. He comes across as earnest, respectful and likeable.
Something future-possible opponent Chael Sonnen is everything but. Sonnen has Fedor next, and the two 41 year old’s couldn’t be further apart. Fedor is an accomplished pro, with multiple titles to his name from respectable outlets and had one of the strongest runs in the history of the, admittedly young, sport. Chael Sonnen though is the exact opposite. He has earned his name value through trash talking and out of the ring antics. While this has made him an entertaining commentator, it isn’t like he’s in Fedor’s league with regards to their professional accomplishments.
It’s Fedor’s legacy that should drive the finals. If Fedor is able to get past Sonnen, and move on to the finals; and Bader gets past Matt Mitrione, then Bellator would get the best situation possible. You’ll have a major showdown between the game’s greatest and Bellator’s current golden boy.
Ideally Bader would go over Fedor but not easily. You want a win that leaves no doubt but not one that makes Fedor look old. A three-five round fight, where Bader is able to win via KO or submission would be the best case scenario. It makes Fedor look legit still, despite his age and Bader won’t be seen as a lucky champion who just happened to run into the legend who was better off staying retired. Should that go down, ideally, Fedor then keeps his legacy and people stop mentioning that he’s “done” and Bader gets to crack into the top ranks of the MMA elite.
Bader is currently ranked anywhere from 3rd in the Light Heavyweight by USA Today’s MMA rankings, to (formerly) second in the Fight Matrix rankings,while also getting a top five positioning in their heavyweight ranking. Being a double champ would bump him up and the higher he rises in these fight rankings the more clout and respectability it brings Bellator. While Fedor is starting to sniff the top 15 in the Heavyweight side of things, for how much longer? Bader brings 3-5 strong years as a champion/contender. He becomes a big fight guy and someone who can either eat other top names to consistently improve his standing or be able to (hopefully) take a loss to a young talented up and comer in order to start them on their path to being a top guy.
Either way, Bellator needs younger, more respected fighters than just these 40+ sideshow acts.
That being said, I’d be lying if I said i wouldn’t be hyped to see the un-retired Chuck Liddell return to MMA via Bellator.