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Ryan Bader’s next Bellator light heavyweight defense could come against Machida vs. Mousasi winner

Ryan Bader Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — If Bellator has its way, two-division champion Ryan Bader has a busy final stretch of 2019 ahead of him. Already on his schedule: a Bellator 226 heavyweight title defense against veteran Cheick Kongo on Sept. 7. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be back in the cage by the end of the year to defend his light-heavyweight championship, Bellator president Scott Coker told MMA Fighting.

That will be a challenging situation. And here’s an intriguing wrinkle thrown into the mix: Bader’s first defense could come against the winner of the Bellator 228 co-main event pitting Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi.

“I’d like to see the winner of that to fight Bader,” Coker said. “We want to put on great fights, and we think that is a great fight to make.”

So essentially, you’d have the Bader coming down from heavyweight to meet an opponent coming up from middleweight.

Seem far-fetched? Well, both Machida and Mousasi previously competed as light-heavyweights to great success. Machida compiled an 11-4 record in the UFC within the division, ultimately capturing the belt in 2010. Among those wins is a second-round knockout over Bader in 2012. Machida eventually dropped to middleweight in 2013 and has only fought at light-heavyweight once since then, knocking out Chael Sonnen at Bellator 222.

Mousasi captured 205-pound championships in both the Strikeforce and Dream promotions, and has exhibited his willingness to fight at any weight class in the past, memorably defeating heavyweight Mark Hunt in the 2009 Dream Super Hulk Grand Prix. Mousasi has been fighting exclusively at 185 pounds since 2014, and lost the Bellator middleweight championship in his last outing to Rafael Lovato Jr.

Other Bellator light-heavyweights who may stake a claim to the title challenger slot include perennial contender Phil Davis, as well as Vadim Nemkov, who has won three straight in the organization including wins over former champs Davis and Liam McGeary.

The surging Bader has won seven straight overall and is unbeaten in five fights since leaving the UFC for Bellator. Coker said he hopes to showcase his double-champ’s light-heavyweight title defense in one of several possible December events planned for Hawaii, Japan or Los Angeles.

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