Fedor Emelianenko vs Ryan Bader – Road to The Heavyweight Grand Prix final
On 26th January at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix will come to its conclusion.
After former champion, Vitaly Minakov vacated his title, Bellator president Scott Coker created the inaugural Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix. After selecting eight of the promotion’s best athletes, the competition kicked off. Just over a year later, after six excellent battles, only two men remain, Fedor Emelianenko and Ryan Bader; two men chasing opposing goals, one looking to put the icing on the cake of an all-time great career and the other attempting to gain the credit he deserves. On Saturday these warriors will take centre stage in front of the world, but how did they get to where they are now?
Fedor Emelianenko – In recent times the UFC’s great heavyweights such as Stipe Miocic and Cain Velasquez have entered the conversation for the best heavyweight in the history of Mixed Martial Arts. However, a man whom most of the historians of this sport would opt for in this category is the Russian Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor was born in the Soviet Union in 1976 and excelled in sambo in his native country, winning multiple medals at the highest level. The Former Russian Militant turned to MMA; after debuting in Russia he quickly moved over to Japan and competed in the Rings organisation.
It was then Fedor would create the legacy he has today. He signed with Pride and after winning their heavyweight title he would dominate in the promotion and defeat an array of legends including Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt and Mark Coleman. After the Pride organisation concluded, there was speculation that we would finally get to see Fedor fight in the UFC. Sadly, this wasn’t to be. After spells in M1 Global, Yarennoka, Affliction and Strikeforce the Russian would retire in 2012.
Three years later Fedor would make his long-awaited return and after two fights signed with Bellator. His debut ended in a devastating knock out defeat at the hands of Matt Mitrione inside the opening round. However, he would then be offered a chance at the world title in the heavyweight grand prix. It was in the quarter and semi-finals that hardcore fans would get a real taste of nostalgia.
In his first matchup, he took on one of the greatest submission artists of the heavyweight division, former UFC champion Frank Mir. In a fifty-second gun show where both men had success, it was Fedor who landed the knock out blow. He would then progress to the semi-final and in one of the biggest fights in the history of the promotion he faced off against one of the best trash talkers in the history of the sport ‘The American Gangster’ Chael Sonnen. In an all-action one round battle, Fedor was simply too big for his American counterpart and finished the fight via ground and pound.
This leads Fedor to another chance at glory but in the opposing corner will be a man who has also worked tirelessly to deserve his place on the biggest stage of them all.
Ryan Bader – Born in Reno, Nevada, Bader dedicated his high school years to the sport of wrestling where he would win two state championships and be ranked as high as fourth in the country. He would then move to Arizona State University where he became a three-time Pac-10 champion and a two time all American American. It was then he turned to Mixed Martial Arts.
After amassing an impressive 7-0 record, Bader competed in the Ultimate Fighter tournament which he would ultimately win, earning himself a UFC contract. After a respectable career in the promotion, Bader would sign for Bellator where he really came into his own.
In just his first outing under the Bellator banner, he would defeat Phil Davis to capture the light heavyweight world title. After a defence, he would get the opportunity to take part in the Grand Prix with the opportunity to become a double champ.
In two dominant displays, he knocked out King Mo in an astonishing fifteen seconds before progressing to the semi-final to win a dominant decision over Matt Mitrione.
Going into this intriguing final, Fedor will be looking for the win to add the final piece of the jigsaw to cement his legacy as potentially the greatest heavyweight of all time, with his fans desperate for the Russian to roll back the years one last time. Whereas Bader needs this big win to create history as a two-weight world champion and continue the fairy tale run he’s having at this stage of his career.