Ryan Bader appears to have wrapped up the light heavyweight portion of his career. Now it's time to see what the Bellator heavyweight champion has left in the land of the giants. Standing across from Bader at Bellator 273 is Bellator interim heavyweight champion Valentin Moldavsky, a pupil of Bader's recent foe Fedor Emelianenko.
Bader formerly held the company's heavyweight and light heavyweight belts simultaneously. A unanimous decision win over Lyoto Machida at 205 pounds was sandwiched between failed title defense against Vadim Nemkov and a 51-second TKO loss to Corey Anderson. Bader (28-7, 1 NC) is undefeated in four heavyweight fights, defeating Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal, Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko to capture win the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix and capture the belt.
"My sole focus is on heavyweight. I see no reason to go back down to light heavyweight. When I lost that light heavyweight title, I was planning on staying at heavyweight," Bade told CBS Sports. "But I'm open to new things, cool things. They had the [Light Heavyweight] Grand Prix. I thought, 'Why not. It could just be some gravy on top. Why not try and win that too.' Now that I'm just at heavyweight, I kind of see myself focusing on just heavyweight."
Some suspect retirement is on the horizon for the champ; however, there is still juice left to squeeze out of "Darth." Heavyweight generally caters to older fighters and Bader still possesses a well-roundness absent to most of Bellator's big boys. He has a speed advantage, powerful boxing and a wrestling pedigree to lean on. Linton Vassell had wrestling success against Moldavsky, something Bader hopes to exploit.
Check out the full interview with Ryan Bader below.
"He's fast here and there in spurts, but that's when he's coming straight or moving back," Bader said. "Vassell was out there taking him down pretty much with ease the first couple of rounds. Vassell kind of out-grappled him. He got swept a few times and Vassell got tired and Moldavsky ran away with it."
Moldavsky seeks retribution for his mentor, Emelianenko, at Bellator 273. The two-time world sambo champion is a perfect 6-0 inside the Bellator cage. Moldavsky (11-1) took a unanimous decision over Timothy Johnson in June to secure the interim heavyweight title. He is the betting favorite heading into Saturday's card, buoyed by his undefeated Bellator record and Bader's turbulence at light heavyweight. A touch smaller for the division, Moldavsky is a prime example of the mobile heavyweights beginning to replace plodding power punchers of the past.
The four-fight main card also boasts former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson vs. ranked Dagestani crusher, Islam Mamedov. One number apart in the official Bellator rankings, it is a pivotal match-up for two fighters trending in opposite directions. Henderson (28-11) is coming off three consecutive losses to Brent Primus, Jason Jackson and Michael Chandler. Mamedov (20-1-1) beat Primus via split decision in his Bellator debut last July.
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Plus, rising English prospect Aiden Lee is back on the main card when he takes on veteran Henry Corrales at featherweight. Lee, 26, has won three of his last four since making his Bellator debut with a loss to Saul Rogers in 2019. His other defeat since joining the promotion was against another top prospect for Bellator MMA in Aaron Pico, who tied him up in an anaconda choke last June. Corrales, meanwhile, is 3-3 since 2019 and coming off a win over Vladyslav Parubchenko last October.
Here's the fight card for Bellator 273 with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
Bellator 273 card, odds
Valentin Moldavsky -220 (ic)
Ryan Bader +180 (c)
Islam Mamedov -400
Benson Henderson +310
Aiden Lee -125
Henry Corrales +105
|Jaleel Willis -220|
Sabah Homasi +180
Bellator 273 viewing information
Date: Jan. 29 | Start time: 10 p.m. ET
Location: Footprint Center -- Phoenix, Arizona
TV/Stream: Showtime or the Showtime App
Ryan Bader vs. Valentin Moldavsky: Moldavsky is certainly the most complete heavyweight Bader has faced. He is a well-rounded sambo specialist with some explosiveness and the tutelage of arguably the best heavyweight in MMA history. Fans and oddsmakers are selling Bader short. The heavyweight champion's losses at light heavyweight were against two men who could arguably rank in the top five. Beyond that, Bader has a complete game at heavyweight that will present problems for Moldavsky. Bader is quick and has big power in his punches, particularly a nasty left hook. Most importantly, if Vassell can get Moldavsky to the ground then so can Bader. Moldavsky won't go out, but expect Bader to put forth a tiring pace of takedowns and ground strikes. Pick: Bader via unanimous decision
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