The old Ryan Bader is dead. Long live Ryan Bader?
With losses in two of his past three outings at light heavyweight, it appears that Bader is done competing at 205 pounds. “Darth” has held Bellator titles in two divisions and he looks to maintain his spot atop the promotion’s heavyweight ladder when he defends his undisputed belt against interim heavyweight champion Valentin Moldavsky in the main event of Bellator 273 on Saturday.
Bader turns 39 in June, so is it possible that eliminating the stress of a weight cut can prolong his career? Even with his recent stumbles (Bader has just one win since January 2019), the veteran remains a respected name in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings: No. 8 at light heavyweight, No. 14 at heavyweight, and he has also received votes for the men’s pound-for-pound rankings. Bader’s resume is unimpeachable, even if his future is uncertain.
A win over the No. 9-ranked Moldavsky would make Bader newly relevant, but that’s a tall task given what the Fedor Emelianenko protege has accomplished so far. Moldavsky has been perfect in six Bellator outings so far and it’s reasonable to say that if Bader had not taken part in a light heavyweight grand prix last year, he would have had to face the Moldavsky music a lot sooner.
With respect, Bader has held Bellator’s undisputed heavyweight championship hostage for a while now and fans should be excited to see there finally be resolution in the division, whether that means Bader silencing the doubters or Moldavsky proving that he is the best big man outside of the UFC.
Also on the main card, lightweight veteran Benson Henderson looks to ruin the title hopes of Islam Mamedov, Henry Corrales fights English up-and-comer Aiden Lee in a featherweight contest, and Sabah Homasi meets Jaleel Willis in striker vs. wrestler welterweight matchup.
What: Bellator 273
Where: Footprint Center in Phoenix
When: Saturday, Jan. 29. Preliminaries begin at 7:30 p.m. ET on MMA Fighting (un-aired prelims will take place after the main event). The four-fight main card airs at 10 p.m on Showtime. The main card will also be available for free on YouTube in select regions outside of the U.S.
Ryan Bader vs. Valentin Moldavsky
There will be times in this fight when Ryan Bader will think he’s staring into a mirror as he takes on a similarly sized heavyweight with great grappling and good hands. More accurately, staring into a younger, faster version of himself in Valentin Moldavsky.
Look for this fight to play out in similar fashion to Moldavsky’s past two fights against Timothy Johnson and Roy Nelson as far as where it will take place. There will be some entertaining clinches and takedown attempts, but the action should stay primarily on the feet where Moldavsky has the edge in technique and hand speed. Bader is much improved in his striking from the relatively raw product he was when we first saw him on The Ultimate Fighter 13 years ago, he’s just not quite on Moldavsky’s level.
Moldavsky is the perfect example of a fighter who takes what is given to him. If Bader looks to counter, Moldavsky will be happy to pressure and wear Bader down; if Bader wants to be the aggressor, Moldavsky knows how to avoid brawls and pick his opponents apart. Moldavsky has to be wary of Bader’s power as the former NCAA wrestling standout has shown that he’s capable of dropping opponents with either hand after once being known only for a heavy right.
It’s probably too early to count Bader out given that he’s looked great against the majority of the Bellator roster regardless of what division he’s fought in, but Moldavsky has developed into a consistent force and is only getting better. I see this one going the distance with Moldavsky comfortably winning a decision.
Benson Henderson vs. Islam Mamedov
If we see a more offensive-minded Islam Mamedov in this fight, he’ll run away with it.
Some deficiencies were shown in Mamedov’s narrow decision win over Brent Primus, namely an emphasis on position over submission or ground-and-pound that easily could have cost him the fight. A different set of judges may have leaned towards Primus’ work from bottom. We know Mamedov can wrestle though (a teammate of Khabib Nurmagomedov that can wrestle? You don’t say!), so don’t expect him to deviate from that game plan. He just needs to get busy down there.
Benson Henderson has always been difficult to keep down, but he’s not overly dangerous off of his back outside of a tight guillotine. And if Mamedov shoots himself into a guillotine submission then he deserves to lose. At 38, Henderson doesn’t have quite the same explosiveness that he used to and that’s going to make it difficult to keep Mamedov off of him.
Both fighters are looking to make a statement here, with Henderson possibly leapfrogging Mamedov and snagging an unlikely title shot, and Mamedov needing to redeem himself after a lackluster showing against a former champion. My guess is that it’s Mamedov who has his reputation boosted by the end of the night.
Henry Corrales vs. Aiden Lee
Aiden Lee is as tricky as they come even for a seasoned veteran like Henry Corrales who has seen it all in there. It feels like it’s only a matter of time until Lee puts it all together and if he can knock off Corrales, it will push him up the 145-pound ranks quickly.
I’m not convinced yet that Lee can pass this test, even though he’s incredibly fun to watch. Light on his feet and always looking for a finish, he’s going to cause major frustration to Corrales in the first round as “OK” works to find his timing. However, Corrales’ all-around game will serve him well especially if Lee is too aggressive going for submissions early, and Corrales is going to eventually turn the tables on the young Englishman.
Lee will have his moments, but Corrales will make it through some trouble spots to outlast Lee and finish him late in the fight.
Sabah Homasi vs. Jaleel Willis
Sabah Homasi, Bellator’s resident wild man, is going to have his hands full with Jaleel Willis.
Willis is definitely going to have to mind his Ps and Qs here as one mistake could result in him eating a Homasi bomb and being left with only a vague recollection of where things went wrong. Fortunately for Willis, Homasi’s takedown defense is suspect and that plays right into Willis’ hands.
Takedown, takedown, takedown. That’s what Willis should be thinking if he’s smart. Opening the main card, you can picture a scenario where Willis tries to show off his evolving skill set and trade a few shots with Homasi, but again... don’t do that. Keep it simple on the feet, look for opportunities to shoot, grab those legs, and don’t let go.
For Homasi, the plan is equally simple. Sprawl and brawl and if Willis lingers in range for too long, throw everything you’ve got until there’s a body laid out in front of you.
A classic clash of styles and the safe pick here is to go with the grappler by decision.