Even with all eyes on his opponent, Ryan Bader knew he had a job to do at Bellator 290.
Bader met Fedor Emelianenko again in Saturday’s Inglewood main event. Just like the first encounter, Bader won by knockout in round one. Bader won the third consecutive successful defense of his heavyweight title and also marked Emelianenko’s final fight.
Bader was more concerned with the fact that he would have to don the black hat again in order to knock out the great fighter of all times.
“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. That’s what I believe was the most difficult part. 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.”
The action quickly changed in Bader’s favour once the bell rang. He was simply too quick for the venerable Emelianenko to get a bead on. Bader won the fight with ease. “The Last Emperor”, despite having a lot of notable finishes, was not able to match Emelianenko’s speed.
“We were obviously waiting for that right hand,” Bader said. It’s very sneaky and it was what kept me guessing. He was able to see that the bigger, faster, more experienced guys were fighting him in his last fights. He couldn’t throw or plant his feet so I moved. When he threw the two or three right hands, and they were hard, but I saw them. Everything was there, and I could see when he was going to throw. That’s what I took away from the first fight. If you look at the video, it is clear that I tried to locate the point where he would blitz me and throw his right hand. Then I followed with the hook.
“I took this into the fight knowing that if I crossed that line I was either throwing and getting out, looking for a takedown, or moving my head .”
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.
“I don’t remember any fights, but I do recall Randleman pounding him and Bader coming back.” Bader stated. “He was always just so stoic and all that. You could never read him. He’s very quiet and calm when you get there. He’s very friendly, polite, and respectful.
“To have the opportunity to share it with him twice in the cage is something that’s quite special when you look back at 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’s so amazing, particularly being on CBS. That huge platform,” Bader stated. “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. It’s bittersweet. He is a legend. That was an awesome way for him to end his career. They did a really good job with that.”