Ryan Bader is quietly building his own legacy at heavyweight, but he’s not quite put together the résumé where he could be considered among the best ever.
As it stands, Bader’s upcoming opponent Fedor Emelianenko is most commonly called the the greatest of all-time at heavyweight after putting together a ridiculous 28-fight, eight year unbeaten streak, which included his stint as a PRIDE champion.
Because it’s a subjective question, there is no right or wrong answer, but Bader tends to agree that Emelianenko’s record likely puts him ahead of every other heavyweight in history. That said, the reigning Bellator heavyweight king believes the most talented fighter he’s ever seen compete in that division was a former college wrestling teammate whose career was sadly sidelined by numerous catastrophic injuries.
“I would say Cain Velasquez [was the best] when he’s healthy, but the only problem is Cain couldn’t stay healthy for so long and didn’t have the résumé and the fights that Fedor did,” Bader told MMA Fighting. “I would say Cain could go out there and be the best heavyweight of all-time.
“If you’re going to put a label on somebody, I would say Fedor would be [the one]. He didn’t come over to the UFC but it’s not taking anything away from him. He built a legacy. He fought those guys [in Japan], beat a lot of those guys. But if you were to put [on a fight] on their best night, Fedor versus Cain, I’m going to take Cain.”
Despite a career riddled with long layoffs due to injuries, Velasquez still managed to become a two-time UFC champion with a long list of impressive wins over names like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, and Junior dos Santos.
Unfortunately, Velasquez’s body just couldn’t hold up as he continuously faced setbacks during his career and had to sit out for years at a time when he couldn’t compete.
Still, Bader believes at his absolute best that Velasquez was nearly unbeatable, and during those rare stretches where he was able to stay healthy, the former Arizona State wrestler proved it time and again.
“I think he’s one of the best of all-time,” Bader said. “We were fortunate enough to see that in a lot of his fights. His injuries, it’s just part of the sport, but he was an animal. He always had that drive.”
While he’s not comparing himself to Velasquez or anybody else, Bader remains undefeated in his own career at heavyweight, with a perfect 5-0 record with one no contest through six fights. It’s obviously a smaller sample size, but Bader is far from done with his career.
Ahead of his upcoming fight on Saturday, Bader initially scoffed at running it back with Emelianenko because he just didn’t see how he could improve upon a 35-second knockout.
At second glance, however, Bader realized that he has a rare opportunity to add a special accolade to his own résumé with a rematch against the legendary Russian — and that added an extra level of intrigue to the fight.
“It’s just one of those things, I wasn’t really into it because it’s like, what do I have to gain?” Bader explained. “But the more we talked about it and the more I was thinking, it is a big fight, it’s on CBS, and at the end of the day it’s Fedor.
“For me to be part of his career not once, but twice, it’s something special. Obviously, too, there’s some upside — I could be the only guy that’s beaten Fedor twice.”
In the days leading up to the fight, Emalianenko will likely receive far more attention because he’s stated this will be his final appearance before retirement.
There’s already an unmistakable aura around Emelianenko whenever he performs, but the stakes will certainly be raised in this fight, and that’s not lost on Bader.
In fact, Bader is honest enough to admit that he even stood in awe when facing Emelianenko the first time around, but he got over that rather quickly once the fight started. He expects the same for the rematch.
“Even that first fight, I still had that, ‘Holy s***, that’s Fedor. I’m about to fight Fedor,’” Bader said. “They did the National Anthem, they did the Russian anthem, so I had time to think before the fight, it was a little longer than usual. But I just kept telling myself, ‘It’s just another guy. I’ve been in there against everybody. I’ve fought the who’s who of MMA. I’ve stood across from legends and up and comers and everybody.’ It doesn’t really phase me like that anymore, but Fedor was the one guy where I was like, ‘Here we go!’ It was kind of surreal.
“I think being in there prior with him, that part has kind of worn off. Been there, done that. I’ve stood across from him before the fight and went in there and did my job. This fight, I think it’s going to be even less.”