In 2019, Ryan Bader held two world championships and a seven-fight winning streak. Now, he comes in as an underdog as he tries to defend his only remaining belt in a heavyweight title fight against Valentin Moldavsky at Bellator 273.
Bader has lost two of his last three fights, and hasn’t contested his heavyweight championship since Bellator 226 in 2019.
Bader wants redemption in Phoenix
Vadim Nemkov stopped Bader via a second-round TKO in 2020 to take away the light heavyweight title. Bader entered the Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix in an attempt to regain that crown, beating Lyoto Machida in a quarterfinal. His run ended with a loss to Corey Anderson in October.
Now, Bader (28-7) will try to hold on to his heavyweight belt in front of a hometown crowd in Phoenix. Bader will come in as a +175 underdog to Moldavsky (-210). He’ll be fighting in the same arena where Anderson knocked him out just three months earlier. This is Bader’s chance to put on a better show for his supporters.
“It’s one of the worst ways to lose when you feel like you didn’t even get to fight at all,” Bader told the BBC. “You get clipped behind the ear and your body shuts down. I was like, ‘man, like that in front of a hometown crowd?’ It sucked, but I get a chance at redemption here and it’s for a belt, so it’s even sweeter.”
Moldavsky (11-1) has posted six straight wins since joining Bellator in 2017. That run culminated last June when he defeated Timothy Johnson by unanimous decision to take the interim Bellator heavyweight crown.
A battle of power vs. speed
Five of Moldavsky’s six Bellator wins have come by decision. He’ll have a size advantage against Bader, and could look to utilize his power against a faster opponent.
“If Ryan stays on his toes and keeps moving and takes him down and controls him, and basically outworks him – speed is going to be key here – I think he’ll do very well,” Bellator president Scott Coker told MMA Junkie. “Moldavsky’s going to be looking to knock him out. He’s going to be fighting a different kind of fight. I think he’s slower than Ryan, but he’s a heavy puncher and, if he connects, I think it’s going to be trouble.”
While Bader may be relatively small for a heavyweight, he says it is his natural weight. As he ages – Bader is now 38 – a return to light heavyweight seems less and less likely.
“I don’t have the light heavyweight belt anymore so there’s no obligations there,” Bader said. “There’s nothing that makes sense for me to go back down. I’m getting older now and, with my body, heavyweight is the weight I need to be at.”