Light Heavyweight Grand Prix SemifinalCorey Anderson (15-5, 2-0 Bellator) vs. Ryan Bader (28-6, 6-1)
ODDS: Anderson (-180), Bader (+155)
Though Bader and Anderson have long histories within the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the two never crossed paths in the Octagon. Anderson does, however, have the opportunity to follow the blueprint laid out by Bader as an “Ultimate Fighter” alum who rose from wrestling-based prospect to championship bridesmaid to title holder in another organization. Bader took it one step further, briefly becoming the California-based promotion’s first ever two-division champion before relinquishing the 205-pound belt in August 2020.
After Jan Blachowicz unceremoniously ended his championship dreams with a knockout win in his final UFC bout in February 2020, Anderson has done as expected in his first two Bellator appearances, using his wrestling and ground-and-pound to overwhelm Melvin Manhoef and Dovledzhan Yagshimuradov, the latter in the quarterfinals of the light heavyweight grand prix. Anderson has always been a prolific takedown artist: His 53 takedowns landed in 15 UFC bouts still rank No. 1 all-time in the light heavyweight division. The looming threat of his wrestling has served him well on occasion against opponents who might otherwise have hoped to exploit him on the feet. Case in point: Flashy Brazilian striker Johnny Walker was so concerned with the possibility of being taken down that it created an opening for Anderson to score a technical knockout victory at the 2:07 mark of Round 1 in their 2019 meeting.
That won’t be the case against Bader, who still checks in third on the UFC’s all-time light heavyweight takedown list. A two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Arizona State University, Bader possesses a powerful shot, a punishing top game with an ability to ride well from top position and an underrated submission skill set. That biggest knock against Bader heading into his Bellator tenure was that he was prone to momentary lapses that would get him knocked out by more skilled opponents on the feet, but he has largely corrected that issue by becoming a more measured and tactical striker that is capable of landing offense effectively with both hands while also adding respectable kicks and knees to his repertoire over the years.
That said, Bader simply ran into a more dynamic striker when he relinquished the light heavyweight crown to Vadim Nemkov at Bellator 244. However, Anderson doesn’t possess the versatile standup arsenal—particularly the kicks—to threaten Bader in a similar fashion. The Walker victory aside, Anderson is most effective working behind his jab, and he can stick and move with a volume-based attack not unlike his smaller, Mark Henry-trained teammates. It would behoove “Overtime” to blend his striking and wrestling effectively, because he will struggle to close the distance or get takedowns from range against a wrestler as talented as Bader without disguising his intentions. Anderson would be well served to utilize his six-inch reach advantage against Bader, as well.
There is the distinct possibility that at 38 years old, Bader has lost a step, especially as he bounces between weight classes. The athletic edge he has at heavyweight isn’t always there at 205 pounds — which was evident against the quicker Nemkov. The thinking here is that Anderson is a more favorable matchup for Bader. Keep in mind that the Power MMA product has had Phil Davis’ number in closely-contested bouts in the past, and this could follow a similar path.
THE PICK: Bader by decision.
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