The 28-year-old Russian dropped Bader with a head kick before a swarm that produced two more knockdowns, the latter of which came as the champ ran away. After Bader’s legs went limp and he slumped to the canvas, the bout was mercifully called off at the 3:02 mark of the second round.
“I was actually more surprised that the referee wasn’t stopping the fight,” said Nemkov, who picked up his fifth straight win under the Bellator and his first title in a major MMA promotion. “I sent him to the canvas three times, but I did what I had to do to stop the fight.”
From the outset, it was clear Nemkov had an advantage in speed and technique. He kept Bader guessing with varied attacks that were timed to maximum effect, going downstairs to the body before sniping upstairs with right and left hands. A pair of kicks late in the first nearly made full connection, providing a preview of coming attractions.
“When we studied film, we saw he doesn’t do very well when he’s backing up, getting bullied,” said Nemkov, who was flanked inside the Bellator cage by his mentor, Fedor Emelianenko, who was stopped by Bader in the finals of the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix. “Obviously, it paid dividends.”
Bader appeared out of step and overly reliant on his trademark right hand, which he wound up and threw like he was looking for the knockout. He managed to connect once, and his other best weapon, a double-leg takedown, appeared to provide a path to victory. But it was a short-lived success.
Shortly after the start of the second frame, Nemkov cracked Bader with a straight right that had an immediate effect. The head kick that produced the first knockdown led to more punches, and referee Kerry Hatley did not step in despite a flurry of follow-ups as Nemkov pounced on Bader. Somehow, Bader managed to get up, only to be dropped again and mounted. The final escape attempt wrested the belt from the UFC veteran and put it around his Russian counterpart.
After a no-contest against Cheik Kongo in a heavyweight title defense, Bader suffers his first loss since a knockout to Anthony Johnson that derailed his UFC light heavyweight title hopes. For now, he retains the belt in the big-man division.
Former featherweight champion Julia Budd shook off the doldrums of a lopsided loss to current champ Cris Cyborg with a decision over the tough Jessy Miele.
Budd appeared tenative early on before finding her confidence in deep waters, nearly picking up a finish via arm-triangle in the third. Judges gave her the unanimous decision with three scores of 30-27.
Miele showed up to the fight and quickly made it clear she wouldn’t be a walkover, connecting with a few stiff left hands that got Budd’s attention. A straight right paid dividends for Budd, and a late takedown in the first would set a pattern the ex-champ repeated every frame.
Every time Budd hesitated, Miele made up ground with her punches. But early in the third, Budd found her stride and countered several advances with expert countering that set up the takedown. From there, she controlled the fight on top, advancing to mount and trying for the submission. An escape from Miele came too late before the final bell.
Combat Sambo standout Valentin Moldavsky’s edge in youth and technique translated into a shutout win over veteran Roy Nelson, with all three judges giving him 30-27 scores.
There was no big right hand from Nelson to lead the dance of heavyweights, as “Big Country” instead tried to muscle Moldavsky in the clinch, perhaps in an effort to tire out his opponent. Unfortunately, Moldavsky had more than enough energy to stay the course and come back to pepper Nelson with stiff punches.
Next round out, Moldavsky was the one bullying Nelson around the cage, alternating control at distance and in the clinch. For the latter half of the round, Moldavsky had Nelson smothered against the cage, breaking occasionally to let go short punches. Nelson slouched over at the end of the middle frame, clearly winded.
Nelson tried to set up for his big overhand right. Before he could let it go, feints and combinations from Moldavsky took the steam out of his approach. With one last escape from another smothering clinch, Nelson had his chance to even the score. But a superman punch and right hand missed, and Moldavsky made him pay with another sharp counter to seal the victory.
John Salter ran roughshod over Andrew Kapel on the mat before a persistent arm-triangle produced a finish at the 3:11 mark of the third round.
True to form, Salter wanted a fight on the mat, and after taking Andrew Kapel down twice in the first round, he had his winning formula. Kapel made things interesting by exploding from the bottom, escaping a triangle choke in the process. But in the second round, things got worse when Salter advanced to mount and held position for the majority of the round. Threatening with an arm-triangle choke, he made Kapel’s life miserable on bottom.
Down two rounds, Kapel came out aggressive in the final frame, only to be taken down inside one minute. It wasn’t long before Salter had mount again, and this time, the arm-triangle produced the tap.
Full Bellator 244 results:
Vadim Nemkov def. Ryan Bader via TKO (strikes) - Round 2, 3:02
Julia Budd def. Jessy Miele via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
Valentin Moldavsky def. Roy Nelson via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
John Salter def. Andrew Kapel via submission (arm-triangle choke) - Round 3, 3:11
Joshua Hill def. Erik Perez via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)