Bellator 290: What’s Next For the 2 Champions?

Image for Bellator 290: What’s Next For the 2 Champions?

“And still” was the theme of the two championship bouts at Bellator 290 on Saturday night in Inglewood, California. Ryan Bader and Johnny Eblen both successfully defended their titles.

Bader, the heavyweight champion, spoiled the retirement fight of MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko. “Darth Bader” also became the first and only man to defeat “The Last Emperor” twice. Bader sat Emelianenko down and then followed it up with ground and pound, forcing a TKO stoppage 2:30 into the main event.

An emotional scene followed as Emelianenko was seen off with in-the-cage visits from fellow MMA luminaries of his era.

Eblen, who is still on the upswing in his career, turned aside the challenge of the experienced Anatoly Tokov to retain his middleweight belt. The fight started close, with Eblen and Tokov splitting the first two rounds on various scorecards. However, the longer the fight went, it favored Eblen, who started to take over in the third round. The takedowns and cage grinding became easier for Eblen, who wore on Tokov for a decisive win over an opponent with nearly three-times his experience.

Eblen rose to 13-0 with the win after he initially captured the middleweight title off MMA legend Gegard Mousasi in the fight before.

So what is next for the two champions?

Ryan Bader

For Bader, the winner of Valentin Moldavsky and Linton Vassel makes the most sense. While Bader has wins over both, the win over Vassel came at light heavyweight in November 2017. Bader defeated Moldavsky in a hard-fought decision win in January 2022 in his first of three successful title defense wins.

Moldavsky and Vassel are set to clash at Bellator 292 in March. The winner could very well earn a rematch with Bader sometime this summer or fall.

If Bellator was hoping to go for the fresh face route, its hopes were dashed when Steve Mowry and Ali Isaev fought to a unanimous draw on the Bellator 290 prelims. If a winner emerged from the bout, it would have given Bellator a strong potential opponent for Bader. The two should rematch and potentially get a title shot off a win.

Johnny Eblen

“The Human Cheat Code,” one of the brightest young fighters in the sport – he’s still only 31 and maybe not even in his prime – turned aside Tokov one fight after capturing middleweight gold vs. Mousasi. His resume also features a win over John Salter, a longtime Bellator middleweight threat. As Eblen’s schedule has toughened, he has risen up to the occasion each time.

Eblen made his next title defense easy: He called out the winner of Mousasi and Fabian Edwards, who are set to fight in May at Bellator Paris. Eblen is yet to meet with Edwards, the younger brother of UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards, in the cage, but he already holds a unanimous decision win over Mousasi.

Edwards is an 11-2 prospect looking to secure what would be the biggest win of his career in former Bellator middleweight king Mousasi. He also has a T/KO win over another legend in Lyoto Machida. The winner would definitely have earned a crack at Eblen’s title, which make’s the promotion’s job easy, considering it’s what Eblen asked for.

Other Bellator middleweight fighters to watch are the winner of Salter vs. Aaron Jeffrey, as Jeffrey is riding a three-fight winning streak into the bout. Salter is coming off the loss to Eblen.

Dalton Rosta, who has an 8-0 record with all wins coming in Bellator, is likely one or two wins at most away from his own title shot. Rosta has victories over the highly-touted Romero Cotton and Anthony Adams.

Lorenz Larkin is riding a seven-fight winning streak of his own. Bellator may consider pairing up Larkin and Rosta in a title eliminator later this year.

Share this article

Michael is a big MMA fan who enjoys interviewing the sport's athletes, writing about the sport, and just discussing it. He earned his Master's in Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and his B.A. in Journalism at Stony Brook University. He also enjoys hockey, football and baseball. Feel free to hit him up if you want to discuss MMA, or any other sport!

Leave a comment