Ryan Bader was looking to exorcise two demons in the main event of Bellator 256. Bader was coming off a brutal knockout loss to Vadim Nemkov that cost him the light heavyweight championship and was standing across the cage from Lyoto Machida, the man who handed Bader the first knockout loss of his career in their first meeting in 2012. He did just that as Bader survived some early struggles in the fight to dominate down the stretch, winning a wide decision and advancing to the semifinals of the Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix in the process.
In the first round, it looked as though Machida may have simply had Bader's number. Bader was ineffective on the feet while Machida's trademark karate stance and footwork allowed him to blister the legs and body with heavy kicks. By the end of the round, Bader had accomplished nearly nothing offensively and his ribs were already bruised from Machida's kicks.
The fight continued to play out the same way through the first half of the second round, when Bader was finally able to close distance and use his wrestling to put the fight on the floor. Once Bader had figured out the path to get inside and put Machida on the canvas, he did not stop for the remainder of the fight.
"Redemption felt good," Bader said after the fight. "I knew I just had to be tough out here. The first couple rounds are tough against Machida. ... [The body kicks] didn't hurt much, they just got my elbow. One got through, but I can take it."
For all his early offensive successes, Machida never got back on track in the fight. Every round, Bader easily closed distance and took the fight to the ground. Machida managed to avoid the stoppage, but took a sustained beating in every frame as Bader worked thudding elbows and punches to the head and body.
By the end of the fight, Machida's face told the story of the fight, with his eye badly swollen and nose bloodied. There simply was no answer to be had for Machida when it came to the smothering ground-and-pound game of Bader.
Bader would take the fight on the scorecards after five rounds, winning by scores of 49-46, 49-45 and 49-45.
Up next, Bader will fight the winner of Corey Anderson and Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov in the tournament semifinals. The bout between Anderson and Yagshimuradov takes place April 16. Asked who he wanted to see in the next round, Bader -- who currently holds the promotion's heavyweight title -- said he'd be pulling for Anderson for helping in prior training camps, but that the goal is ultimately to regain the light heavyweight championship.
"I don't know much about Yags, but I know Corey really well," Bader said. "I brought him in for training camps for Phil Davis and all that. Good guy. I'm rooting for him, but I'll have to fight him. I know he's tough. But I'm in this tournament. I ran through another tournament before and had fun. That's why I came down here. It doesn't matter who's in my way, I want my belt back and this was the first step."
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Bellator 256 card, results
- Ryan Bader def. Lyoto Machida via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-45, 49-45)
- Liz Carmouche def. Vanessa Porto via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
- Adam Borics def. Jeremy Kennedy via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Cat Zingano def. Olivia Parker via first-round submission (armbar)
- Dan Moret def. Goiti Yamauchi via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Dalton Rosta def. Tony Johnson via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Talita Nogueira def. Jessica Borga via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-27)
- Jornel Lugo def. Cass Bell via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Cody Law def. Nathan Ghareeb via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Jaylon Bates def. Jeffrey Glossner via second-round submission (guillotine choke)
- Nainoa Dung def. Izzy William via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Diana Avsaragova def. Tara Graff via first-round knockout (punch)
- John Douma def. Will Smith via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)