Since making the jump to Bellator in the summer of 2017, Ryan Bader has completely run through the competition. In addition to going 2-0 at light-heavyweight, he’s also gone 3-0 as a heavyweight. Knowing this, Bellator has a tall order in front of them. They need to provide competition for a man who is arguably the best fighter on their roster. Lucky for Bellator, Bader’s double champ status compels him to defend in multiple weight divisions.
For instance, he can fight middleweights and light heavyweights at 205 pounds. But he also must defend the heavyweight belt against the giants at 265. After thoroughly dominating in the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix, the question must be asked: Who should Ryan Bader fight next?
Vadim Nemkov is making noise at 205 lbs in a couple of ways. Firstly, he’s undefeated in Bellator. Secondly, and most importantly, two of his three wins were over former Bellator champions, Liam McGeary and Phil Davis. Like Bader, Nemkov beat Davis via split-decision. As it stands right now, nobody else in Bellator can say the same. That being said, if there’s anybody who has competitively earned a 205-pound title shot, it’s Nemkov. But don’t tell Bader that. He’s already stated he doesn’t want to fight “the Russian.”
If a money fight in the UFC is a fight against Conor McGregor, the same can be said for Chael Sonnen in Bellator. Although Sonnen has only gone 2-2 in Bellator, it’s hard to be disinterested in the entertainment value he brings. His verbal bravado acts as an imposing mirage standing in between viewers and their memory of his recent losses. Should these two ever meet in the cage, every fan summoned by the Sonnen book of insults will get to witness Bader do what he does best—fight.
It’s hard to ignore the competitive gap between Tito Ortiz and Ryan Bader. Bader is arguably in his prime while Ortiz is in the twilight of his career. But don’t let that get in the way of a good story. Ortiz holds a victory over the Bellator double champion, and like Sonnen, he too can supposedly draw a large crowd. Increasing the possibility of this, Bader has made it clear he’s interested in doing the rematch. Frankly, it’s hard to blame him. Ortiz is the only underdog to ever get the best him.
Speaking of rematches, Lyoto Machida holds a knockout victory over Ryan Bader. Though he now competes at 185 pounds, Machida is no stranger to competing at light heavyweight. In fact, back in 2009, he captured the UFC light-heavyweight title. Now he is chasing belts in Bellator.
Machida’s promotional debut was a split-decision victory over former middleweight champion, Raphael Carvalho. Though the win put him right in line for a shot at the middleweight title, Machida has expressed a willingness to compete in the Bellator light-heavyweight division as well.
In the final days of his stint with the UFC, Gegard Mousasi displayed a newfound boldness on the microphone. Coupled with his five-fight winning streak had him seemingly on the cusp of receiving a title shot. Despite this perceived possibility of soon challenging for the UFC middleweight championship, Mousasi instead signed with Bellator.
After parting ways with the UFC, Mousasi extended his winning streak to eight. In the process, he captured the Bellator middleweight title. He then defended the belt when he TKO’d the Bellator welterweight champion, Rory MacDonald. Taking all of this into account, Mousasi has never looked better. A fight between him and Bader could be the challenge both champions need.
Winner of Cheick Kongo/Vitaly Minakov 2
On February 15th, 2019, Cheick Kongo and Vitaly Minakov will be competing in a rematch. Minakov won the first fight via unanimous decision back in 2014. With the victory, he became the Bellator heavyweight champion. He never defended the belt, but he didn’t lose it either. In addition, Minakov boasts a perfect 21-0 record; a rarity in MMA. Since his Bellator departure, Minakov has gone 7-0 outside of the promotion.
After the loss to Minakov, Kongo has gone 9-1 inside of the Bellator cage. He is currently on a 7-fight win streak himself. Bellator officially announced that the winner of this fight will be the next challenger for the heavyweight strap.
Mirko Cro Cop
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic was the 2016 RIZIN Open Weight Grand Prix Champion. Pitting the former RIZIN Open Weight Grand Prix Champion against the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion sure has a nice ring to it. Should Filipovic defeat Roy Nelson in their rematch, a shot at the title could be in the Croatian’s near-future.
Due to the circumstances surrounding a positive test under USADA, Josh Barnett requested his release from his UFC contract in 2018. Despite being fully exonerated, Barnett believed the lengthy arbitration process did irreversible damage to his career. The UFC honored his request and dissolved the contract.
Since resolving the matter, Barnett hasn’t yet competed again in MMA. However, he hasn’t closed the door on a return. Barnett holds victories over multiple Bellator heavyweights and would pose unique stylistic challenges to Bader.
Ryan Bader’s Decision
Ryan Bader has made quick work of his Bellator opposition. He’s also made good money while doing so. As more fighters begin to recognize the merit in testing free agency, the list of potential opponents for the Bellator double champ is likely to grow.
Though he toppled several Bellator mainstays, there is no shortage of opponents, be them fun or competitive, for Ryan “Darth” Bader.