LOS ANGELES – Ryan Bader is the reigning, defending, undisputed Bellator heavyweight champion, but nobody cares about that.
OK, so it’s not that nobody cares. It’s just that his next title defense is against Fedor Emelianenko on Saturday night at Bellator 290, which also happens to be “The Last Emperor’s” retirement fight. Being the beloved MMA legend that he is, Bader knows fans would like to see Emelianenko ride off into the sunset with a victory and gold strapped around his waist.
Bader understands the situation.
“No, he deserves it,” Bader said Wednesday at the Bellator 290 pre-fight news conference. “He’s a legend of the sport. I respect that man, and he’s a good human being. Don’t get me wrong: I know, walking in there, that I’d be doing the same. If I’m watching Fedor’s last fight, I’m cheering for him. I like to do that. I like to see these legends go out on top. …
“Make no mistake: I know people are gonna be rooting for him. But on the flip side, I have a job to do, and my job is to go out there, spoil that party, go out there, and do what I came here to do, retain that belt, win that fight, and move on. All the best. There will be respect there no matter what.”
There was respect between Bader (40-6 MMA, 4-2 BMMA) and Emelianenko (30-7 MMA, 8-2 BMMA) the first time they met back in 2019, when Bader finished him in 35 seconds in the Bellator heavyweight grand prix final to win the tournament and heavyweight title, which he’s held ever since. That’s why Emelianenko, 46, chose 39-year-old Bader as his retirement fight. He’s intent on avenging that defeat.
It’s the ending to Emelianenko’s illustrious career that most MMA fans will want to see, and Bader knows this.
“Me going out there doing my job and winning, you know, I’m the bad guy taking that away from him,” Bader said. “… But I’m in that position. What am I gonna do? Just go in there and fold up for him? I’ve got to do my job. I respect that guy a lot, what he’s done in this sport, also as a person. But I’ve got a job to do at the end of the day.”
Bellator 290 takes place Saturday at Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The main card airs on CBS following prelims streamed on MMA Junkie.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Bellator 290.