Ryan Bader may have already fought at 205 pounds for the final time.
As he prepares to defend his heavyweight title at Bellator 273, the former two-division champion doesn’t see much of a reason to continue depleting his body in order to compete in a smaller division when he’s starting to get diminishing returns.
“Why [fight at 205 pounds]?” Bader said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I feel great at heavyweight. I feel like I’m faster. I’ve always been just as strong. My cardio is a weapon at that weight. For me, it like what are the benefits?
“The benefit of going down these last couple fights was, you have the potential to win another grand prix, win the prize money, all that kind of stuff. It sort of had its benefits. But now, what’s the point? Why?”
Bader first moved up to heavyweight in 2018 as Bellator’s reigning 205-pound champion when the promotion launched a grand prix to crown a new heavyweight champion. He won three fights in a row, including a stunning 35-second knockout of Fedor Emelianenko to claim the vacant title.
Following a no contest with Cheick Kongo in 2019, Bader was then asked to return to light heavyweight to defend his belt in the 205-pound division, and that’s when he fell by second-round TKO to current champion Vadim Nemkov.
After hitting the scales at just under 229 pounds for his last appearance at heavyweight, Bader had to drop all that weight in order to prepare for the battle against Nemkov. Following the loss, Bader planned to return to heavyweight, but then Bellator came calling with another grand prix opportunity.
“After I lost my title at 205, it was one of those things where I was kind of like, alright, I’m going to concentrate on heavyweight now. But obviously [Bellator] came with that light heavyweight tournament,” Bader explained. “I was kind of like, ‘What the hell? Might as well.’
“Something cool to do, that’s why I came over to Bellator, the heavyweight tournament and all that. This opportunity’s on the table to become a two-division champion again and win another grand prix — why not? But I’m just happy to be now stable at heavyweight and moving forward.”
In his last outing, Bader suffered a shocking 51-second knockout to Corey Anderson, which dropped him out of the Bellator light heavyweight grand prix and prevented him from regaining his status as two-division champion.
Looking back now, Bader makes no excuses for the loss. Anderson tagged him with a perfectly timed shot that knocked him off his feet, but Bader also admits that the roller-coaster ride of returning to light heavyweight never felt quite right.
“While you’re doing it, you put that out of your mind, right?” Bader said. “You’re like, ‘I feel good, I’m good,’ even though you dieted down and then you cut 20 pounds of water after you dieted down, and give yourself 24 hours to think that you’re fully hydrated and your body needs everything it needs.
“I’m 38 now. As you get older, after that fight, I kind of looked at it like, I feel great at heavyweight. I feel great through training camp. I feel great taking a shot. Whatever it is. Whereas, at 205 [pounds], the last couple of times, in my head I say it’s fine, but I don’t think my body is bouncing back like it used to on those weight cuts.”
Now that he’s going through another training camp at heavyweight, Bader feels better than ever, which was his clearest indication that his days at 205 pounds might be finished.
He’s healthy and happy, and that gives him the best opportunity at success.
“You can’t just crash diet it,” Bader said. “That’s what I did for the [Vadim] Nemkov fight. Looking at that video, it didn’t even look like me. I was cut and everything, and when I rehydrated, it stayed under my skin. I didn’t look like I did two days before that.
“For me, it’s just, why? I have the heavyweight belt. Why don’t we just concentrate on this fight and fights forward at heavyweight?”
Bader isn’t completely shutting the door on another fight at 205 pounds. If he receives a life-changing offer that can’t be refused, he’ll take it. But otherwise, he’ll likely finish his career as a heavyweight.
“If an opportunity comes around and it makes sense — but for me, it has to have a benefit to it,” Bader said. “Why not just fight another heavyweight? Because as far as, am I going to go down to 205 and get an immediate title shot? That could be a benefit, but I don’t see that happening right away. So what’s the point?
“Why not stick to heavyweight. My body feels good. It takes some time to establish yourself as a heavyweight, as far as training in your heavyweight body and keeping your speed, getting stronger and getting used to that heavyweight body. Because that’s a big difference, fighting from getting your body down to 205 to be consistently at 235, 237 [pounds].”