Even with all eyes on his opponent, Ryan Bader knew he had a job to do at Bellator 290.
Bader faced Fedor Emelianenko for the second time in Saturday’s main event in Inglewood, Calif., and just like their first meeting, Bader won via first-round knockout. The win marked Bader’s third straight successful heavyweight championship defense as well as the final fight of Emelianenko’s illustrious career.
Heading into the fight, Bader was less concerned about having to wear the black hat so much as the expectation of having to again knock out one of the greatest fighters of all time.
“It’s not necessarily being the bad guy,” Bader said at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “It’s like the pressure that’s put on you because you’re supposed to win, you did it in 35 seconds [in the first fight], he’s ‘this old,’ all that kind of stuff. But I know how dangerous he is, and him in there winging those punches at me too, that hard right hand, it’s going to knock anybody out of it connects. So I think that’s the biggest part of it was the pressure of you’re supposed to go in there and beat him soundly. Luckily, I did, so I kept my head down and was like, I’m just going to go do my job, what I do every single time and not worry about anything else.
“Walking in there, his last fight, it wasn’t going to be a pro-Bader crowd.”
Once the bell rang, the action quickly shifted in Bader’s favor. He was simply too quick for the venerable Emelianenko to get a bead on. “The Last Emperor” had a pile of memorable finishes on his resume, but Bader beat him to the punch with ease, just as he did the first time they fought.
“We were obviously waiting for that right hand,” Bader said. “It’s pretty sneaky, and that was my biggest thing in camp, is keeping him guessing. His last two fights, the guys he was fighting, bigger guys, slower, they kind of stand in front of him. So I wanted to move, I wanted to keep him on his toes so he couldn’t plant and throw. When he threw the two or three right hands, and they were hard, but I saw them. I saw everything in there and I saw when he was about to throw. That’s what I took away from the first fight. You look at the video, I was trying to find the line where he was going to blitz me, throw that right hand and follow with the hook and all that, and I did find that line and I hit him with the hook.
“So I took that into this fight, knowing if I cross that line, I’m either throwing and getting out or I’m looking for a takedown or I’m moving my head or what not.”
Bader now holds a unique place in MMA history as the only man who can claim two victories over Emelianenko, a legend that once went undefeated in 28 straight fights. Emelianenko was one of the biggest stars in the history of the storied PRIDE promotion and is a fixture in any discussion of the best fighters ever.
Like many of his peers, Bader idolizes Emelianenko, though he can’t pinpoint one specific moment that stands out for him aside from having personally stood across from Emelianenko on multiple occasions now.
“Not really one fight in particular, I just remember him getting slammed by Randleman and coming back,” Bader said. “He was always just so stoic and all that. You could never read him. You get in there and he’s stoic, no expression. You talk to him and he’s a super nice guy, respectful, but yeah, I came up and he was one of my favorite fighters of all time.
“To be able to go in that cage and share that with him twice is pretty special looking back on my career.”
Bader had the privilege of hanging around after Saturday’s win to enjoy a celebration that saw MMA legends and pioneers including Randy Couture, Royce Gracie, Chuck Liddell, and many other notable names, and the emotional moment was not lost on him.
“It was so cool, especially being on CBS, that huge platform,” Bader said. “To see all those guys in one cage is pretty surreal and just to be a part of that too, when it ended, went up to Fedor and talked to him a little bit. It is bittersweet. He’s a legend, he’s one of my favorite fighters for sure, but I had a job to do and that’s what I did. At the end of the day, that was a cool way to go out for him. They did a really good job with that.”