When Ryan Bader entered the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, he always envisioned the perfect ending for the tournament with former PRIDE champion Fedor Emelianenko standing across the cage from him.
Bader will get his wish on Saturday night as he faces the legendary Russian in the finals of the Grand Prix with the winner being crowned Bellator heavyweight champion.
While Bader has spent almost his entire career competing at 205 pounds, the former NCAA All-American wrestler has adapted to his new life as a heavyweight while picking up wins over both ‘King’ Mo Lawal and Matt Mitrione to make it to the finals.
Meanwhile, Emelianenko has made quick work of both Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen to punch his ticket to the finals where he will attempt to add another championship to his already stunning resume.
Perhaps the biggest difference coming into this fight is Bader truly believes he’s still in the prime of his career while it’s impossible to ignore that Emelianenko is probably towards the end of his run in mixed martial arts.
In fact, Emelianenko had previously retired before making a comeback to the sport and at 42 years of age the time he has left to compete at the highest level is probably ticking down.
Still, Bader knows that counting Emeliaennko out or believing that he’s somehow washed up is a recipe for disaster so he refuses to look at this fight as a guarantee that he’ll leave The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. with the heavyweight title around his waist.
“My honest opinion of him I think he’s very dangerous,” Bader told MMAWeekly ahead of his fight on Saturday. “I go back and watch his fights and obviously analyze it and he has that power.
“He comes in there and he throws bombs. He comes in there in the first-round throwing bombs.”
Emelianenko has suffered three knockout losses since 2011 and he doesn’t typically use the same kind of wrestling heavy strategy that earned him so many victories during the prime of his career.
Bader suggests that perhaps Emelianenko is still getting by as much by reputation as anything else and that’s why he respects his opponent but refuses to fear him ahead of their fight.
“If you look back in the Chael fight, we didn’t get to see too much, he looked great. He’s unpredictable and a little bit of that is people respect him too much. I felt like Chael [Sonnen] respected him too much. In the [Frank] Mir fight, he did get dropped right out of the gate,” Bader explains. “Before that he got dropped and knocked out by Matt Mitrione. The fight before that against Fabio Maldonado, he got dropped a bunch of times. I do feel like I can definitely put some hands on him.
“I hit hard, I’m unpredictable especially when I mix up my wrestling and my striking. He’s a dangerous fighter, especially in the first round or two.”
When it comes to his own offensive output, Bader feels like he absolutely has more ways to win this fight while Emelianenko is likely depending on landing a big bomb to put him away during the early part of the fight.
Bader knows he has all the tools to give Emelianenko headaches on the feet or on the ground and his ability to keep his opponent guessing will give him a huge advantage come Saturday night.
“I’m going to keep that pressure on him the whole time. I know I can strike with him, I feel like I can go to the ground with him, I can do everything,” Bader said. “I feel confident going into this fight.”
For all the experience that Emelianenko brings into the cage with him, Bader promises he’s about to face a new kind of threat when they meet this weekend.
There’s little doubt that Emelianenko has faced the best of the best throughout his career but Bader promises he’s in for a surprise when they finally clash.
“He’s never fought anyone like me,” Bader said. “He’s fought other wrestlers here and there but when going way back. Yeah he fought Dan Henderson years and years ago and he ended up getting knocked out. I feel like he hasn’t fought a guy like me in a long time.”