Regardless of who the opponent might be, Ryan Bader is planning on making his first light heavyweight title defense since November 2017 in his next Bellator MMA appearance.
Bader was supposed to face Vadim Nemkov at Bellator 242 on May 9, but that event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bader has heard the rumblings that the California-based promotion could return with closed-door event as soon as July, and he is preparing accordingly as that timeframe draws near.
“They haven’t really talked to the fighters yet [about holding events]. But I kind of know what’s going on, who they’re working with and whatnot,” Bader told Sherdog.com. “[Bellator president Scott Coker’s] come out and kind of said it too, so I don’t mind repeating it. Try to find the right venue and a venue that can take care of all the particulars as far as keeping everybody safe, I believe that’s still the plan. That’s what’s in my head and that’s what we’re training for.”
While Bader believes Nemkov is the obvious No. 1 contender at 205 pounds, he isn’t sure if the 27-year-old Russian will be able to enter the United States in the coming months.
“There are a lot of variables. Nemkov was the clear-cut contender at 205,” Bader said. “But it comes down to, can an international fighter get in and fight in a couple months? For us honestly, it’s to give us somebody. Whoever.
“There’s some bigger names like Machida or something like that at 205 would be very interesting. We haven’t even had those talks yet. We want to fight.”
Bader squared off against Machida under the UFC banner, losing via second-round knockout in August 2012. Two of Machida’s first three Bellator bouts have been contested at middleweight, including his most recent outing, a split-decision loss to Gegard Mousasi last September.
“I think it’s the best of both worlds,” Bader said. “He’s a big name. It’s a big fight. People want to see us fight. I have a loss way back in the day to him. I’d love to avenge that loss. He’s a relevant name at 205. Why not?”
After defending the light heavyweight crown with a second-round stoppage of Linton Vassell at Bellator 186, Bader entered the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix, where he rolled through Muhammed Lawal, Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko to become a two-division champion. A controversial no-contest against Cheick Kongo followed, and plenty of bad blood exists there for a heavyweight title rematch. For now, it appears that the Power MMA Team standout is focused on a return to 205 pounds — even if a rematch with the Frenchman looms at a later date.
Despite his recent stint at heavyweight, Bader is confident in his ability to cut back down to 205 pounds: He says he did a test cut and got to a manageable weight with relative ease a couple months after the Kongo fight.
“That’s not gonna be a problem for me,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since wrestling when I was a kid, every weekend in high school and college. For me it’s easy to get in that mental space.”
How things play out beyond that is unclear. Bader doesn’t have a concrete plan regarding defending both belts, but he’s keeping his options open.
“There’s been times where I said, ‘Yeah I’d like to do two at light heavyweight back-to-back and then go up to heavyweight, but we’ll see what the options are out there,” Bader said. “We’re in a different time right now than we were a year ago. I don’t know if they’re doing a bunch of fights in a row, can we fight and jump back in? I just want to fight at light heavyweight and we can either go up to heavyweight or do another one [at light heavyweight].”