|Venue: Mohegan Sun Arena, Connecticut, USA Date: Friday 9 April|
|Coverage: Watch live coverage on BBC iPlayer from 23:00 BST|
Former two-weight world champion Ryan Bader wants to bounce back in style when he returns to action this Friday against former UFC opponent Lyoto Machida at Bellator 256.
The 37-year-old wrestling and boxing specialist remains heavyweight champion but lost the light-heavyweight title with a defeat to Russian fighter Vadim Nemkov at his last fight in August 2020.
Now he wants to reclaim the belt he lost by winning the Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix, which pits eight of the division’s leading fighters together in a knockout-style tournament, battling it out for the world title and a one million dollar prize.
If things go to his plan, Bader could redeem his loss against Nemkov in the final, but first he must dispatch Machida in the opening bout of the quarter-finals. Given Bader lost their previous meeting nine years ago, suffering his first knockout in the process, the fight has added significance.
“I’m going out there to win this whole tournament and I think a statement in the first round by stopping Machida will put everyone on notice,” he said.
Bader made the switch from UFC to Bellator in 2017 and enjoyed unprecedented success, secured with a series of bone-crunching takedowns and submissions.
The father-of-three claimed the light-heavyweight title by beating Phil Davis via split decision on his debut at Bellator 180 and a successful defence followed against Linton Vassell. He then blitzed the field in the Heavyweight Grand Prix to claim that belt.
His uncompromising punching power and wrecking-ball style owes much to a grounding in amateur wrestling at Arizona State University where he was a team-mate of Cain Velasquez, who would go on to become a two-time heavyweight champion in the UFC.
‘Whoever wins this tournament is best in the world’
The American former wrestling champion prides himself on his ability to bounce back and is eager to show the Nemkov loss was just a blip.
He said: “I shouldn’t have taken that fight. I tore my knee about 13 weeks prior, my MCL (medial collateral ligament), almost completely.
“My biggest fear was not getting a fight in during that time with not knowing how much of an impact Covid was going to have.
“My coach was telling me not to fight, but with me being as stubborn as I am, I was like, let’s do it.
“I want that one back but I think that going through and winning this tournament would be enough for me, regardless if I ended up fighting him [Nemkov] or not.
“Whoever wins this tournament is the best in the world.”
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Bader’s first task will be to avenge his previous defeat by Machida.
“It was the first time I had ever been knocked out and I woke up and I remember asking my coach, ‘Did I get him?’, and he just told me that we would talk about it later,” Bader laughed.
“He’s elusive and he’s hard to figure out but I also feel like I gave him too much respect the first time I fought him.
“I absolutely plan to put him on his heels. I’m going to go in there and implement my game plan, which is mixing my striking with my takedowns and vice versa. I let him turn it into a karate match last time and that’s not how to fight him.”
If Bader is successful against Machida, he will meet either Corey Anderson or Turkmenistan’s Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov in the semi-finals, while Nemkov must overcome Davis to book a last-four shot at either one of Bellator’s recent high-profile UFC signings Anthony Johnson and former Olympian Yoel Romero.