When the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix lineup was announced, Ryan Bader was one of the more surprising entries considering he’s spent his entire fighting career competing at 205 pounds.
In fact, Bader made an immediate impact after joining the Bellator MMA roster by becoming light heavyweight champion in his debut with the promotion.
Still, Bader had no reservations about bumping up to heavyweight because he already walks around at a comparable size to some of the best fighters that division has ever produced.
This weekend, Bader faces arguably the last remaining sizable heavyweight in the entire tournament when he squares off with fellow UFC veteran Matt Mitrione, who has won his last four fights including a knockout over legendary PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko.
To get to this round in the tournament, Mitrione had to squeak past Roy Nelson in a three-round battle where he ultimately earned a majority-decision win. While fighters can always learn something from watching their opponents compete, Bader says he didn’t see anything from Mitrione in that match-up that he didn’t already know.
“My takeaways from that fight in particular — Matt’s cardio didn’t look all that great; Matt’s takedown defense didn’t look all that great,” Bader told MMAWeekly. “He looked great in the stand-up department, he’s always dangerous there, so that’s what I took away.”
As it turns out, Bader believes those two particular weapons are among the strongest in his arsenal, which is why he knows there are a lot of problems Mitrione has to overcome in this fight.
“I think I give a lot of people issues,” Bader explained. “Because I’m not just a wrestler, I’m not just a striker, I mix it all together pretty well. I have a lot of power in my hands also, so it only takes one slip up and I can knock you out. For him, he’s a handful, he’s a great fighter. He’s got power.
“What he does lack is in the wrestling department and the cardio department, where I just happen to be my best. I’m not afraid of where this fight goes. I do feel I’m a bad match-up for him.”
Coming into the tournament, Bader made no assumptions about what would be his easiest or toughest road to becoming Bellator heavyweight champion.
The way things played out, Bader is happy to deal with arguably the last “big” heavyweight in the tournament right now with the other side of the bracket featuring Emelianenko and former middleweight title contender Chael Sonnen.
In many ways, Bader feels like he may have already faced his toughest challenge in the Grand Prix when he took on former Strikeforce champion Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal in the opening round.
Because they possess very similar skill sets, Bader knew that Lawal was going to be a handful — and then he earned a stunning 15-second knockout to earn the victory. Bader knows his fight with Mitrione probably won’t play out the same way, but he’s quite confident that the result will still end with his hand being raised.
“Going into this tournament, everybody thought Matt was the frontrunner. I do think he’s one of my tougher challenges. I would assume Mo would be my toughest challenge because we come from a similar background,” Bader said. “With Matt, you kind of know what you’re going to get.
“I think I just have more tools. I feel like he has a way to win and I have many ways to win.”