After kicking off the rust in the first round, Ryan Bader returned to his dominant form in tournament competition.
“Darth” advanced as the first semifinalist of the Bellator MMA light heavyweight grand prix after overcoming a modicum of difficulty in the early going. Once Bader established his wrestling and unleashed heavy ground-and-pound, he lumped up Lyoto Machida for the remaining four rounds to capture a unanimous verdict. The judges awarded Bader a 49-46 score along with two 49-45 tallies thanks to his handiwork on the ground, prevailing in the main event of Bellator 256 in the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
The two light heavyweights first met in 2012, and Machida demonstrated his lethal counterstriking ability by shutting Bader’s lights out with a lightning-quick right hand. The speed was similarly on display for “The Dragon” in the first two rounds, as he peppered his opponent with kicks to varying targets. The energy level quickly depleted for the 42-year-old, as Bader swelled with confidence by landing takedowns in every subsequent round to sap the karateka. Unable to secure a finish, Bader did the next best thing by earning a 10-8 Round 3 from David Peabody and a 10-8 fourth frame on Bryan Miner’s official scorecard. In victory, Bader remained perfect when competing in tournaments, while keeping Machida winless in rematches. Bader sits pretty as the first winner in this tourney, and he can wait for the dust to settle in seven days to see what is next in store for him.
In the aftermath of Bellator 256 “Bader vs. Machida 2,” here are four matches that ought to be made:
Ryan Bader vs. Corey Anderson-Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov Winner: Once running, tournaments largely allow matchmakers to take the night off, barring unfortunate injuries and unexpected replacements. The opening light heavyweight quarterfinal of Bader vs. Machida did not go quite as expected for the -325 favorite Bader in the first five minutes, but he eventually exacted revenge on his aging rival some nine years later. The Arizona State wrestling champ displayed his wrestling chops to manhandle his rapidly fatiguing foe. In one week, Bader will learn his next opponent, as Anderson and Yagshimuradov will square off to determine the first semifinal matchup atop Bellator 257. The promotion has maintained a rough timetable for the grand prix, but as we all know, the best laid plans of Coker and tournaments often go awry. Still, Bader should have around three months to recover, as he will square off with the victor of the Anderson-Yagshimuradov encounter in July.
Liz Carmouche vs. Juliana Velasquez: Even though it may have been a lackluster affair, Carmouche earned arguably her biggest win in years. Porto, who made her organizational debut against one of the toughest opponents on the roster, has remained at the upper echelon of flyweight for years. Practically impossible to finish, and difficult to look great against, Carmouche competes at her nullifyingly effective best even at the age of 37. The division may yet have a speed bump if Bellator elects to grant Ilima-Lei Macfarlane an immediate rematch against Brazilian champ Velasquez, but their first fight was not especially competitive or worthy of running back any time soon. Although it was Macfarlane’s first career defeat after a lengthy title reign, she should instead allow her teammate to make a run while “Girl-Rilla” has gas left in the tank. On the other hand, if Bellator persists with the aforementioned rematch, the organization could solidify a top contender by pitting wrestler Carmouche against undefeated judoka Kana Watanabe.
Adam Borics vs. Pedro Carvalho-Jay-Jay Wilson Winner: Following his decision win over Jeremy Kennedy, Borics called for a shot at the 145-pound throne, which will be settled sometime this summer. Sitting on the shelf for upwards of six months in hopes of a championship opportunity does not bode well for the 27-year-old, who should instead remain active with a disheartening submission loss to Darrion Caldwell still in fans’ collective memories. A trio of decision wins -- “The Kid” initially burst on to the Bellator scene by finishing each of his first five foes inside the promotion -- have shown that the Sanford MMA prospect is still developing and learning to control himself. Chopping down Kennedy with low kicks, Borics exposed remaining gaps in his fight IQ, choosing to dive into his adversary’s guard instead of pursuing a stoppage on the feet due to these kicks. A step up in competition is warranted, and a pair of top-10 featherweights in Pedro Carvalho and Jay-Jay Wilson are set to dance in a week. Although it may have been a better all-around matchup had former title challenger Daniel Weichel remained in that contest, the unbeaten Wilson also brings some very interesting skills to the table along with a youthful exuberance that could match the high-flying Hungarian contender. The man that gets his hand raised after that battle should be of both suitable notoriety and enhanced skill level to put Borics to the test.
Cat Zingano vs. Julia Budd-Dayana Silva Winner: It all went perfectly according to plan for gargantuan -900 betting favorite Zingano, who elicited a tap from the sorely outmatched Olivia Parker in less than three minutes. The defeated Parker earned her spot on the roster following a 65-second loss to Chelsea Chandler at Invicta FC 40 in 2020, with her four previous victories coming against women with a combined record of 3-9. Zingano’s quick armbar over Parker and steamrolling over the .500 Gabrielle Holloway hardly a contender makes, and “Alpha Cat” should realistically acquire a victory over a name in Bellator’s 145-pound division before eyeing the belt. Leslie Smith only needed to earn a decision over the .500 Amanda Bell to earn her crack at gold, so do not be surprised if the former Ultimate Fighting Championship title challenger is tapped as the subsequent option for Cristiane Justino. Instead, a better choice to build a legitimate contender would be to square off against the victor of the upcoming Julia Budd vs. Dayana Silva scrap in one week. Either winner of that match will likely need another triumph for their own shot at the throne, so what better way than to line up a rightful number one contender bout with Zingano and the one who prevails from Budd-Silva.