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BURBANK, Calif. –Ryan Bader finds himself in possession of two belts these days as the Bellator heavyweight and light heavyweight champion. Three, if you want to include the one he was awarded for winning the heavyweight grand prix tournament in January.
Bader (27-5 MMA, 5-0 BMMA) finds himself in a spot only a handful of other competitors in mixed martial arts history have faced: How to go about defending belts in both weight classes.
For the short-term, the answer is he’s staying at heavyweight as Bader will defend that championship against Cheick Kongo in the main event of Bellator 226 on Sept. 7.
“We didn’t know if it was going to be 205 or heavyweight. They wanted the heavyweight belt defended, so here we are,” Bader said at Wednesday’s Bellator media day.
After that? Bader wants to go back down to light heavyweight and defend that title twice before he thinks of going back up to heavyweight again.
“They wanted the heavyweight belt to be defended,” Bader said, “And from my understanding, after this fight, I’ll go back down and maybe defend the light heavyweight belt twice, defend it once, defend it again, and then go back up, kind of bounce around.”
Why twice? Well, Bader hasn’t needed to make the cut down to 205 since his last defense against Linton Vassell nearly two years ago.
Bader is 36 and not getting any younger, so if he’s going to return to 205 after two years away, he wants to stay close to that weight afterwards rather than have to yo-yo between divisions with each fight.
“I just don’t want to go from one to the other, one to the other. If my body is there at 205, and my weight is down there, I don’t want to have to put more weight on,” Bader said. “I might as well just get two in, get another win in, go back up. When this whole thing started, we got asked to come to the heavyweight tournament.
“My concern was, what’s going to happen to the light heavyweight belt?” Bader continued. “They said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Say you win it, we’re going to keep that for you, we’re not going to do an interim belt or anything like that.’ So, I felt confident being able to go up and doing that. I hadn’t defended it in a while, but that’s not my fault. I won that tournament, and I’m defending the title again. That’s on the promotion.”
Of course, all this talk is moot if Bader looks past Kongo (30-10-2 MMA, 12-2 BMMA), who brings an eight-fight winning streak into the bout.
“It’s not easy to go out and win eight fights in a row,” Bader said. “Now granted, a lot of them weren’t the best competition. A lot of them were a week’s notice, two weeks’ notice, whatever, but he went and beat Minakov out there in his last fight. And like I said, it’s not easy winning eight fights in a row. I know I have a tough task at hand. He’s a big, technically sound heavyweight, throws hard. His wrestling has got a lot better. Any guy you go out and fight, it’s going to be a tough fight at this level. If you’re going for a belt? There’s no gimmes.”
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