With Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader tied up in the Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix for the foreseeable future, promotion officials have gone in another direction for the division. Tim Johnson will meet Valentin Moldavsky for the interim heavyweight crown at Bellator 261 on June 25, promotion officials confirmed to CBS Sports. The card will take place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut and air live on Showtime.
Bader became heavyweight champion after winning the Heavyweight Grand Prix, defeating Fedor Emelianenko in the finals of the tournament to capture the vacant championship. At the time, he also held the light heavyweight belt, though he would lose that title to Vadim Nemkov in August 2020. With his focus set on regaining the belt, the promotion is offering up the opportunity for Johnson and Moldavsky to battle for control of the division and the opportunity to welcome Bader back when his run in the light heavyweight tournament is done.
After an 0-2 start to his Bellator career, Johnson (15-6) has gone on a three-fight winning streak. After first-round knockouts over Tyrell Fortune and Matt Mitrione, Johnson scored a split decision win over Cheick Kongo, setting him up as one of the top contenders in the heavyweight division.
Moldavsky (10-1) entered the Bellator cage for the first time after suffering his first pro defeat. He has gone on a five-fight winning streak in Bellator, with four of his five wins coming by decision. This past August, he added the biggest name of his career to his resume, picking up a decision win over veteran Roy Nelson and establishing himself as a major player in Bellator's heavyweight division.
The fight represents a unique milestone in Bellator history, as it is the first time the promotion has had an interim title in play.
Also set for the event are a pair of lightweight fights, with No. 5 ranked Myles Jury (19-5) taking on No. 6 ranked Sidney Outlaw (15-4) and Isaiah Hokit (0-0) against Aaron Hughes (1-1). In the final confirmed fight, Lena Ovchynnikova (12-6) faces Kyra Batara (8-4) in the women's strawweight division.