corey-anderson-ryan-bader.jpg
Bellator MMA

Although there remains a lot of unknowns entering the main event of Saturday's Bellator 268 card pairing light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov against late replacement Julius Anglickas in the semifinals of the World Grand Prix tournament, the co-main event might be the sneakiest fight on the card from the standpoint of intrigue.  

Former 205-pound champion and current heavyweight king Ryan Bader (28-6, 1 NC) continues his journey to regain his title when he enters as a slight underdog against red-hot fellow UFC veteran Corey Anderson. The winner advances to the tournament final and a chance at both the Bellator light heavyweight title and the $1 million prize.

A great deal of the build toward Anderson's third visit to the Bellator cage since signing as a free agent in 2020 surrounds the repeated comments "Overtime" has made about previously dominating Bader in sparring sessions. Anderson has regularly closed topics on their history by uttering the cryptic phrase, "Bader and his team know what happened." 

So what exactly did happen? Bader, who joined "Morning Kombat" on Thursday to preview the fight, believes Anderson broke the unwritten fighter code of attempting to put on blast what happened behind closed doors.  

"So I brought him in twice when I fought Phil Davis [in 2015 and 2017]," Bader said. "The first time he couldn't even train because he got kicked in the eye and I split his eye open. He keeps talking about this other training session and I'm in the middle of damn camp and dog tired. We went back and forth in sparring. What? I know [what happened] because you might have gotten a takedown in sparring?  

"I don't know what he is holding onto there. I get my ass whooped all the time in sparring, by everybody. I'm a gamer and I show up when it's game time. We are not talking about practice here." 

Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a complete preview of Bellator 268 from Phoenix on Saturday night below.

Bader, 38, could only chuckle as he echoed the cadence from the infamous press conference by former NBA All-Star Allen Iverson. But fresh off a dominant decision win over Lyoto Machida in the Grand Prix quarterfinals to avenge his UFC loss to "The Dragon," Bader believes Anderson is merely trying to build up his own confidence entering this crucial tournament bout.   

"It's just funny that he is holding onto that," Bader said. "That was five or six years ago. If he thinks he is fighting that guy who was at training and at practice, he's going to have an extreme rude awakening when the actual fight comes around." 

Anderson (15-5) enters this weekend having won six of his last seven fights overall. The 32-year-old's only defeat came by first-round knockout to current UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz during Anderson's final fight in the Octagon. His Bellator start has been electric thanks to a second-round TKO of veteran Melvin Manhoef and a third-round finish of Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov in the Grand Prix quarterfinals.

"[Anderson] does well at volume. He's always in great shape. He gets after those guys that really can't wrestle and drags them into deep waters," Bader said. "My wrestling is superior but I feel like my MMA wrestling is a lot better. He is one of those guys who kind of pushes you on the cage and takes long shots where I am the guy that will blow you off of your feet. 

"You got to worry about the takedown and you have to worry about him being on top of you, he has good ground and pound. But I'm not going to sit and let him mount me and drop elbows on me. I have been in this game a long time. I have power in both hands and he has been knocked out a lot.  

"I put my heavy power from both hands into it and he gets knocked out."

Meanwhile, the main event features the Russian champion Nemkov looking to make the second defense of his 205-pound crown. He earned the belt in a demolition of Bader at Bellator 244 in August 2020 and then made a successful defense in the opening round of the tournament with an unanimous decision win over former champion Phil Davis. He gets a tough out in Anglickas, who enters the bout on a nine-fight win streak as he steps in for Anthony "Rumble" Johnson. The Lithuanian has made three previous appearances in the Bellator cage, with all three wins coming by unanimous decision.

Some more veterans fill out the rest of the main card on Saturday night in Phoenix. Former WEC and UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson is back when he takes on former Bellator lightweight champion Brent Primus. Henderson has been a mainstay on the Bellator roster since 2016 with mixed results at 4-5. Primus, meanwhile, is coming off just the second loss of his pro career. Plus, combat veteran Henry Corrales is back in a featherweight contest when he takes on Vladyslav Parubchenko to open up the festivities.

Let's take a closer look at the complete card before getting to predictions on the two Grand Prix bouts.

Fight card, odds

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

  • Vadim Nemkov (c) (14-2) -625 vs. Julius Anglickas (10-1) +450 -- Light Heavyweight Grand Prix semifinal
  • Corey Anderson (15-5) -190 vs. Ryan Bader (28-6, 1 NC) +160 -- Light Heavyweight Grand Prix semifinal
  • Benson Henderson (28-10) -125 vs. Brent Primus (10-2) +105 -- Lightweights
  • Henry Corrales (18-6) -140 vs. Vladyslav Parubchenko (16-2) +120 -- Featherweights

Prelims

  • Karl Albrektsson (12-3) -200 vs. Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (18-6-1) +170 -- Light heavyweights
  • Sullivan Cauley (1-0) -440 vs. Deon Clash (1-0) +340 -- Light heavyweights
  • Nick Browne (11-1) -280 vs. Bobby Lee (12-6) +230 -- Lightweights
  • Gregory Milliard (12-6) -115 vs. Javier Torres (11-5, 1 NC) -105 -- Middleweights
  • Sumiko Inaba (2-0) -575 vs. Randi Field (2-0) +425 -- Women's flyweights
  • Lance Gibson Jr. (4-0) -575 vs. Raymond Pina (9-4) +425 -- Lightweights
  • Jaylon Bates (3-0) -1000 vs. Raphael Montini (6-4, 1 NC) +650 -- Bantamweights
  • Mukhamed Berkhamov (14-1) -200 vs. Jaleel Willis (15-2) +170 -- Welterweights

Predictions 

While Anglickas certainly brings an element of the unknown to the tournament as a last-minute wild card, it's hard to imagine he will have the same success Daniel Cormier once did as an unknown replacement in the Strikeforce Heavyweight World Grand Prix nearly a decade ago.  

Anglickas is solid yet unspectacular. Nemkov, a 29-year-old native of Russia, should have his way controlling Anglickas on the ground while slowly wearing him down with strikes in another systematic performance.

The co-main event appears much more wide open. Because of the wrestling prowess of both, it's easy to assume this one turns into more of a kickboxing match. The problem for Anderson in this equation is that he's not the same fighter in the standup as the powerful Bader.  

Look for Anderson to work hard in slowing this fight down and committing to a lengthy pursuit of takedowns. Should he prove unsuccessful, it could be a long night, especially if Bader is able to mix in enough of a threat for his own top game to further open up opportunities to land on the feet.  

Picks: Nemkov via TKO3; Bader via UD