SAN JOSE, Calif. — After Ryan Bader’s Bellator heavyweight title defense on Saturday night ended with a no contest based on the ruling that he accidentally poked challenger Cheick Kongo in the eye in a fight the champion was dominating, the question is what happens next in the heavyweight title picture.
And it seems too soon to have an answer.
The arguments go this way. A no contest from an eye poke by the champion at 3:50 of the first round should give Kongo grounds for a title rematch. But Kongo wasn’t looking good as a challenger. Then again, a lot of guys don’t look good in the first round and fights change as time goes on. And Kongo being removed from title contention based on an eye poke done by his opponent doesn’t come across as fair either.
“That’s something I’ll talk to my guys about,” said Bellator president Scott Coker after the fight. Coker noted that there’s also the light heavyweight division to think about, since Bader is the champion there.
“It was uneventful,” Coker said about the short title fight. “These things happen sometimes with the open-finger gloves. If we’d run it back, it depends on Ryan and his next step and if he’s staying at heavyweight. Yeah, we have to do something for the light heavyweight division. There’s some unfinished business. I’m sure he’d like to fight (Lyoto) Machida again, Gegard (Mousasi), the Rizin champ (Jiri Prochazka). He expressed interest in fighting for the Rizin title. Maybe we can go work out a deal for him to go to Japan and represent Bellator.”
Bader said he wasn’t opposed to fighting Kongo again, but also believed Kongo used the eye injury as a way to get out of the rest of the fight.
“I was dominating every second of the fight,” Bader said. “If he wants to do it again, I’ll definitely be doing it again.”
“I was two minutes from finishing him and he took the easy way out,” Bader continued. “I poked him in the nose and he goes like this (Bader basically acting like Kongo made up the eye poke) to get out of the fight.”
Kongo’s eye did seem not to be functioning well, and was marked, which led to the stoppage.
“There’s a lot of interesting fights, that’s what kind of sucks,” Bader said. “I felt like I was a couple of minutes from defending the title and then moving on. Instead, I get a no decision. I dropped him with a jab and dropped him with two left hooks.
“There’s talk about going down to light heavyweight, there’s a lot of fighters coming up. I’m happy wherever. I feel I owe it to the light heavyweight division to defend the title. I’m having fun as a heavyweight. I’ve done everything Bellator has asked of me and they’ll tell me where to go.
“Part of me says, ‘Let’s go next week,’ but we put in a tough training camp. If I’m going back to light heavyweight, I need a little bit of time. It sucks. It’s been a long time since I beat Fedor in January (to win the heavyweight tournament and title). And to have it happen like this. They’re accusing me of doing it on purpose.
”It sucks. It feels like he took that win way from me. If there was an eye poke, it wasn’t intentional.”
He said that if he did poke Kongo in the eye, he was sorry, but felt the fight should have continued.
”You take your five minutes and we can go from there.”
After the fight ended, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Bader nearly got into it. Jackson had been training with Kongo for the fight and the two are friends. Jackson was yelling that the eye poke was intentional.
“I was walking out and there’s this big fat guy (Jackson) there when the gate opened up. He’s saying, ‘You did that s**t on purpose.’ He’s trying to fight me. I didn’t even know what was going on. He just came at me. F**k you. It is what it is. Then I walked back and said, ‘Let’s go.’ He got held back by my dad.”
Bader said he’d be open to fight Jackson, who he beat in a 2012 UFC fight in Saitama, Japan, when both were light heavyweights.
”Obviously, it would have to be at super heavyweight. Sure, why not? It’ll be easier than the Kongo fight.”