Ryan Bader is not short of motivation as he enters the Bellator light heavyweight grand prix.
Not only will Bader (27-6 MMA, 5-1 BMMA) have the potential opportunity to regain the Bellator light heavyweight title he lost in August, he could possibly avenge up to three of his six career losses.
His only professional defeats have been Jon Jones, Tito Ortiz, Glover Teixeira, Lyoto Machida, Anthony Johnson, and Nemkov. The latter half of those names are three of the eight competitors set for Bellator’s 205-pound tournament.
While rematches against Johnson and Nemkov aren’t guaranteed, a Machida reprise is already booked. On April 9 at Bellator 256, Bader and Machida (26-10 MMA, 2-2 BMMA) will fight once again – almost nine years after Machida won their first fight by second-round knockout.
“I’d love to avenge the loss against (Lyoto) Machida,” Bader told MMA Junkie at a virtual news conference Tuesday following an event announcing the grand prix. “He’s a great gauge to see where I came from when I literally knew nothing striking to where I’m am at now. When he came over to Bellator, that’s one fight I always had my eye on.”
The most recent loss Bader suffered was to Nemkov, who earned the Bellator light heavyweight title with a violent second-round TKO. With proper preparation this time around, Bader thinks he could take back his gold.
“As for Nemkov, of course, he has the belt right now and I definitely want revenge on that with the proper preparation for that fight – and weight cut,” Bader said. “Going in there, I feel like it’d be a different story. … (Last time) I felt flat. I felt different in there last time. It was right when I was in my own head, ‘Alright, I’ve got to get this going. This is not going well.’ That’s when I got kicked in the head. I’d definitely like to go back to the drawing board and get that one back.”
When asked about avenging a loss to “Rumble” Johnson, Bader didn’t go into specifics. While he did express doubts at the likelihood the cards would play out where he’d face all three previous foes, he voiced confidence 2021 would be a year for redemption.
“This is a redemption year,” Bader said. “Especially with who’s in this tournament. I’m not going to get to fight all of them. I’m probably going to get to fight two of them, potentially. That’s all I can do on my side.”
The Bellator light heavyweight grand prix kicks off April 9 at Bellator 256 when Bader vs. Machida and Corey Anderson vs. Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov take place as the first two quarterfinals. One week later on April 16 at Bellator 257, Johnson will fight Yoel Romero and Nemkov will defend his title against Phil Davis in the other two quarterfinal bouts.
All four fights will take place at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.