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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ryan Bader was understandably frustrated when Bellator 226 main event heavyweight title defense against Cheick Kongo, a bout which he was winning handily, ended with a no-contest due to an accidental eye poke.
Partially, this is because he’s not convinced the blow, which ended the fight at SAP Center at the 3:25 mark of the opening round, even landed in Kongo’s eye.
“I’ll have to go back and really replay it in slow motion,” Bader told reporters, including MMA Junkie, during a scrum following the card. “And I don’t know, if there really was an eye poke there, it sucks, I’m sorry it was not intentional, but looking at the video I’ve seen, there was a poke on the nose, and then he went for his eye.”
From there, Bader went ahead and showed the gathered reporters a short clip on his phone. Although it is not conclusive proof, the camera angle from which the clip was shot did not make it appear Bader actually struck Kongo, who was sitting with his back to the fence trying to improve his position while Bader unleashed his offense, in the eye, but rather on the nose.
The finish was particularly annoying for Bader because he felt as though he wasn’t far off from finishing a fight he was handily winning up until that point.
“I was two minutes away from finishing him and he took the easy way out,” Bader said. “And he knew it. I felt it. I felt him start dwindling and that was his shot, you know? I have a video here, I’ll show it to you guys, I poked him in the nose and he goes like this, like I hit him in the eye. It’s unfortunate that it happened at all, but, yeah.”
As for whether Bader will rematch Kongo following the inconclusive finish, he’s not ruling it out, but he also noted he feels an obligation to defend the light heavyweight belt that he put on hold in order to spend all of 2018 pursuing the Bellator heavyweight grand prix tourney in which he won the 265-pound belt.
“I’m happy wherever,” Bader said. “But I feel like I owe it to the light heavyweight division to go defend that title, definitely. But I’ve had a lot of fun at heavyweight. But at the same time I want to keep both titles and they have to be defended. I’ve done everything Bellator has asked of me. It’s not like I’m picking and choosing myself,”
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