Bellator 226: There is more at stake for Bader and Kongo than just heavyweight gold

With the recent movement in UFC’s heavyweight division, the greatest of all time conversation has been a hot topic. But with Ryan Bader set to defend his Bellator heavyweight championship for the first time this weekend, another intriguing question arises — and that is where does he rank among all this?

Bader is undefeated since 2016 (7-0). The Nevada native left the UFC on a two-fight win streak, signed for Bellator, and immediately won the light heavyweight championship in his debut. He then successfully defended the belt before entering the World Heavyweight Grand Prix.

At this point, it would have probably been more fitting to argue Bader’s case as the greatest light heavyweight of all time. Since 2013, Bader is 9-1 at light heavyweight across two promotions, with a sole loss to “Rumble” Johnson in between putting a minimal stain on his record. But despite those accolades, Bader also fancies himself as one of the best at heavyweight, too.

He ended up winning the Bellator heavyweight championship, defeating Fedor in the final. And by becoming the latest addition to the exclusive “Champ Champ” group at the time, Bader threw his name right into the greatest heavyweight’s conversation.

And while the opposition along the way may not have always been of the elite level, Bader has many notable wins on his record, and having not shied away from perhaps one day entertaining a cross-promotion showdown, he could only beat what was put in front of him. And he has been doing that in convincing fashion.

During his media duties this week, Bader already let the fans in on his intentions of defending the light heavyweight title twice after his clash with Kongo. It’s safe to say that consecutive title defenses in two divisions would further boost Bader’s already impressive case.

But savvy veteran Cheick Kongo will be no pushover come Saturday night.

Despite being 44-years-old, the Frenchman is still in great shape. And quite impressively, in addition to being physically sound, it seems as if the fire to become a champion is burning more than ever before.

In 2015, Kongo, at 40, started a run of wins which now stands at eight, deservedly earning him a shot at the title. His hands are still heavy, his striking is still sharp, the durability is certainly still there. And all of that put together should prove to be a difficult problem for Bader to solve.

Kongo has been at the top two promotions (Bellator and UFC) for a combined of just over 13-years now. That’s a long time of performing at the highest level with never having the ultimate goal, the championship gold, to show for it. And so, now, as he is set to step into the cage with one more chance to claim the crown at the tail end of his career, you can be sure that the Frenchman will leave nothing behind once the first bell rings.

Regardless of how long this fight lasts and how it ends, this matchup, and everything that is riding on it for both fighters has the potential to be an all time great. Both men are on a mission. One is on a mission for all time greatness, and the other for his inaugural world title.

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Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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