Bellator 214 in Review: Bader Stops Fedor
By: Jesse Donathan
There wasn’t a chance I would miss Fedor Emelianenko’s Bellator Heavyweight Grand-Prix tournament final fight against Ryan “Darth” Bader. It was quite possibly one Emelianenko’s last fights and it was for a major mixed martial arts title at the tail end of a storied career for “The Last Emperor” (38-6), who is without question one of the greatest mixed martial art fighters to ever live. The final fight of the night kicked off with the national anthems of both Russia and the United States honored, with an exceptional performance of The Star-Spangled Banner delivered before a ruckus patriotic crowd not shy about showing their support for the American Ryan Bader (27-5). For a brief moment in time, a very real Rocky IV Russia vs the United States atmosphere was captured in a quite honestly top-notch performance from the Bellator production crew and fortunately for everyone but the 42-year-old Emelianenko’s camp the following action inside the cage would not disappoint either.
The fight was violent and over fast, 35 seconds fast, and unfortunately for the legendary Russian Fedor Emelianenko it was not meant to be Saturday night as Ryan Bader cleaned “The Last Emperors” clock with a savage left hook that dropped the Russian where he stood in his tracks. Hurt badly, Emelianenko was quickly swarmed by “Darth” Bader before referee Mike Beltran rushed in to save the legendary Russian heavyweight from any further punishment. Emelianenko appeared busted up in his corner, having been caught flush by Bader who claimed the vacant Bellator heavyweight title by TKO and who is now the Bellator heavyweight Grand-Prix tournament finals champion.
Bader is now the first Bellator two division champion, simultaneously holding both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles and cementing himself as among the most elite fighters in the sport today. Bader was a class act during his post-fight speech, praising the Russian legend and paying respects to one of the great champions of our time. It’s hard not to recognize just what kind of exceptional performance Bader has put on not just throughout his Bellator tenure, but really throughout his entire career. Bader has an incredible record, having lost only to the most elite fighters in the sport today. A victory over Emelianenko perhaps the greatest triumph in a storied, elite mixed martial arts career in his own right.
In other action Saturday night, heartbreak came to Aaron Pico (4-2) at Bellator 214, where the young mixed martial arts sensation was upset by the surging veteran Henry “OK” Corrales (17-3) who has now rattled off five straight victories and whom is now calling for an opportunity to rematch Patricio “Pitbull” Freire for the 145-pound Bellator featherweight title. Corrales was in trouble early, blasted by Pico with an upper cut in an absolute shootout but the veteran mixed martial artist would not be denied and fought back from adversity to separate the young 22-year-old Bellator prospect from consciousness in what is perhaps the biggest victory of the 32-year-old MMA Lab veterans’ career. Prior to Saturday night’s loss, Pico had rattled off four straight victories by knockout or technical knockout, relying on his boxing background to bring the fight to his opponents in violent, fisticuff fashion despite being an elite wrestler who tried out unsuccessfully for the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
Pico may have gone out on his shield Saturday night, but when a fighter chooses to go to war and bring the violence as Pico does, he cements a reputation for himself as a striker to be feared and respected in the cage. In a sport where fighters have a lot of tools and options at their disposal, choosing to actively engage in a blitzkrieg like fashion guarantee’s he is a fan favorite and sure to be invited back to the big stage to compete again. Even in defeat, Pico makes my all-violence first team for being a game fighter willing to give the promotion and fans what they want to see. With legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach in his corner Saturday night, Pico is in good hands and is sure to bounce back from Saturday nights disappointing loss to continue down the road of professional mixed martial arts prize fighting where anything can and often does happen.
In other news Saturday night, former WWE wrestling champion Jack Hager (Jack Swagger) took home his first professional mixed martial arts victory against the 41-year-old J.W. Kiser (0-2), winning by arm triangle choke submission in the first round at The Forum in Inglewood, California. A smaller heavyweight at 6’0, 220 pounds Kiser displayed good footwork in the cage and sprang like a Jack in the box in an attempt to flatten the larger Hager (1-0), but in the process allowed the former WWE star to cut off the cage. This tactical mistake turned out to be a very bad idea against an opponent with legitimate amateur wrestling credentials in Hager who was a two-sport athlete at the University of Oklahoma in both football and wrestling. Inevitably, Kiser was taken down and hit with some massive elbows which opened up the finishing arm triangle choke submission.
The Bellator MMA Heavyweight World Grand Prix Tournament Final
By: Jesse Donathan
The greatest fighter I have ever seen is Fedor Emelianenko. Also known as “The Last Emperor,” Emelianenko is a living legend in mixed martial arts circles. For me, what has always made Fedor so great was his propensity to win in the face of imminent defeat. The ability of Emelianenko to look nearly godlike while at the same time strikingly human. With few exceptions, Fedor is almost always the smaller man in the cage; it goes without saying that Emelianenko is a true giant killer. “The Last Emperor” will compete for the Bellator Heavyweight championship on January 26, 2019 against UFC veteran and current Bellator Light Heavyweight champion Ryan “Darth” Bader in the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand-Prix tournament final which will air on the Paramount channel this upcoming Saturday night.
“When Fedor Emelianenko—the baddest man on the planet—walks through the door, the first thing you notice about him is … he’s not all that big. The statistics list Fedor Emelianenko as 6 feet tall and 230 pounds, but even that seems a stretch,” writes Mark Jacobs in his March 2011 article for blackbeltmag.com titled “Up close with Fedor Emelianenko an MMA Legend.” According to Jacobs, Emelianenko began his martial arts studies at an early age in the Russian grappling art of Sambo before becoming a three-time world Sambo champion. Better known as the long-time reigning Pride FC mixed martial arts Heavyweight champion, according to an August 26 2018 article for espn.com titled, “Is Fedor Emelianenko the best ever?” ESPN SportsCenter host David Murphy believes “Fedor’s mystique is like Michael Jordan’s.” Murphy would go on to state that, “Fedor went unbeaten for nearly a decade in the most volatile division in the sport, with first-round finishes over former UFC champions Andrei Arlovski, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman and Tim Sylvia. In Pride alone, Fedor went 14-0 (1 NC), with 11 finishes.”
There is something special about Fedor Emelianenko. It’s the same thing that makes the lineal heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury great: the heart of a lion, as exemplified by Fury getting off the deck in the 12th round after being knocked unconscious by WBC Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder. In a fight Fury was winning from early on, “The Gypsy King” was well on his way to victory until in the twelfth and final round Fury got his clock cleaned by a thunderous one-two combination from “The Bronze Bomber.” Fury, in a matter of seconds went from the next WBC Heavyweight champion of the world to knocked unconscious. And seemingly before our very eyes Fury returned from the dead, rising much the same as the legendary professional wrestler “The Undertaker” whose supernatural persona electrified audiences. Only Fury did it for real, rising from being knocked stone cold unconscious to going on to be competitive if not winning the remainder of the exchanges in the round.
This is the stuff legends are made of and it is a glimpse of what has made Emelianenko great from virtually the beginning of his career. The ability to look supernatural even in the face of being brought down to earth by opponents who themselves are tremendous fighters and athletes in their own right.
Throughout Fedor’s career he has routinely displayed the ability to come back from seemingly incontrovertible odds and seize victory from the jaws of defeat. Emelianenko truly does have the heart of a lion and it’s for these reasons alone he can never be counted out of a fight. If there ever was a fighter who fought with divinity in his corner, “The Last Emperor” is that athlete.
Ryan “Darth” Bader is “The Ultimate Fighter” season 8 winner and a 20 fight UFC veteran. An exceptional fighter that possesses power in both hands, Bader has a particularly effective left hook that has iced more than one opponent and therefor it needs to be accounted for at all times in the cage. Ryan has faced a murderer’s row of opponents at light heavyweight, only losing to some of the most dangerous fighters in the sport today. While not a particularly orthodox striker, Bader’s athleticism and fight acumen make him a game and dangerous opponent because his strong wrestling base means the looming threat of the take down is always present. Bader is a younger, fresher opponent than Emelianenko with an all-around mixed martial arts game that makes him a handful for even the toughest opponents.
With a current six fight win streak, including two consecutive victories in the Bellator Heavyweight Word Grand-Prix tournament against Muhammed Lawal and Matt Mitrione, Bader has a chance to become the first two division champion in Bellator history and cement his rightful spot as among the top fighters in the sport today against an opponent nearly universally renowned as the best to ever do it. In a December 22, 2018 mmafighting.com article by Guilherme Cruz titled, “Coach details path to victory for Ryan Bader against Fedor Emelianenko” coach Jair Lourenco believes the keys to victory for Bader are speed, not allowing Fedor to become comfortable in the cage and perhaps most importantly not giving the Russian so much respect that it effects Bader’s own game plan.
For Emelianenko, eating lightning and crapping thunder is the key to victory. The Russian legend needs to nullify the athleticism of the younger Bader, 35, stop the takedown and showcase his diversified mixed martial arts skillset. Fedor possesses both the ability to stop Bader on the feet or submit him with Emelianenko’s world class combat Sambo grappling background. Though Emelianenko is many years past his physical prime, this is the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand-Prix tournament final. Even at his advanced age of 42, to make it this far in the tournament proves the Russian legend is still a very dangerous opponent.
This is a legacy fight for both fighters, though they enjoy very different positions in the hierarchy of greatness. For Emelianenko, he is already widely considered the greatest mixed martial arts fighter to ever live. A victory Saturday night will only serve to further cement his reputation as a fighter who managed to transcend generations and recapture a modern, major heavyweight title even when there was nothing left to prove. The fact he is even in the tournament final in 2019 proves what kind of sportsman he is; win, lose or draw Fedor will always be remembered as the great champion that he is. For Bader, this is an opportunity to become a two-division champion and defeat one of the greatest fighters of our time. Already a Bellator Light Heavyweight champion, to capture the Bellator Heavyweight title against “The Last Emperor” is an opportunity every fighter dream of and is without question the kind of victory to hang your hat on. Tune in Saturday night, January 26, 2019 to the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand-Prix tournament final featured on the Paramount channel and bring your popcorn; win or lose this is among our last chances to see a true legend compete at the highest levels in the sport today.
Chael Sonnen: “I’m the Biggest Heel this Sport Has”
By: Sean Crose
“I don’t do a whole lot of it,” Chael Sonnen said on a Tuesday conference call to promote his Belator 208 heavyweight title eliminator this weekend against Fedor Emilianenko, “just a show every here and there.” Sonnen was referring to his very active media presence as a podcaster and commentator. Even after working the wild UFC McGregor-Nurmagomedov card last weekend, Sonnen still claimed he was ready to face Fedor, a man widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight MMA combatant in history. “I’m sore and tired all the time,” Sonnen added, as proof that he’s been hard at work preparing for the Fedor match, which will go down at New York’s Nassau Coliseum.
Sonnen, one of the most highly regarded practitioners in mixed martial arts, might be best known for his famous near win against then dominant UFC star Anderson Silva years ago. Now that he’s facing another iconic brand in the 37-5-1 Fedor, the 30-15-1 Sonnen is at a point in his long career where he can put things in perspective. Of his colorful time as a top fighter, Sonnen claimed: “I think I should have more appreciation.” Still, the heavyweight is a man who looks towards the future. “As my life moves on,” he added. “I would like to create new memories.”
He’ll certainly have a chance against Fedor, a nice seeming man who nonetheless has earned a reputation as an aggressive, fearsome, and highly skilled fighter, one who is able to employ a variety of disciplines while in the octagon. “I think Fedor’s great,” Sonnen said, declaring his foe “the best heavyweight of all time” (while adding Fedor was about “to face the best fighter of all time”). Sonnen, who was long known as a classic villain, now seems reasonable in an era of Conor and Khabib. Not that he’s happy about it.
“I’m the biggest heel this sport has,” he stated on the call. Sonnen, however, has never thrown a dolly against a bus window, nor has he ever dove into the audience after a fight to attack someone, a difference between himself and recent UFC stars he seemed happy to admit to. “It’s important to be civilized,” Sonnen claimed outright. “It was a really big shock,” he said, when the inevitable matter of last weekend’s near riot in Las Vegas came up. “I don’t know why it happened.”
Yet, for the moment, Sonnen’s main priority is beating his famed opponent this Saturday. “I’ve been stunned,” he said of Fedor, “at how hard he can hit – especially with that right hand.” Not that he’s worried. Sonnen, after all, is the biggest heel around.
Or at least that’s a character he still likes to play.