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Ryan Bader loves Heavyweight Grand Prix because Bellator ran out of 205-pound title contender talent

Ryan Bader interview

Bellator 199 takes place at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., this Saturday night (May 12, 2018), featuring a Paramount Network-televise main event between Ryan Bader (24-5) against Muhammed Lawal (21-6, 1 NC) in the final first round bracket of the Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament.

The match up puts “Darth” Bader in an interesting position as he’s the reigning and defending Light Heavyweight champion, having easily dispatched his foe at Bellator 186 last year in his first title defense. If he continues to successfully defend that belt and runs the table in the grand prix tournament he’ll be a two-weightclass world champion. “King Mo” Lawal won’t make that plan easy, though. He’s a former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion and winner of the inaugural Rizin Heavyweight Grand Prix. Lawal calls himself a “Moneyweight” so it’s on him to come to the “Shark Tank” and put his money where his mouth is in another competitive tournament. recently spoke with Bader about his thoughts on finally getting to face Lawal after a previous fight between the two fell apart in 2017.

“Yeah, I was supposed to fight him my first fight in Bellator and then he ended up pulling out. Then I ended up fighting for the belt, winning the belt, and I moved on from there. Now, we’re coming back and doing it at a different weight. I remember getting that call and they’re like, ‘Hey, Mo’s out.’ And I was like, ‘He’s out? We haven’t even started training - it’s nine weeks away!’ I go, ‘Alright, well that sucks’ and they’re like, ‘Well you’re getting a title shot’ so I was like, ‘Hell yeah let’s do it!’”

As a result, Bader became the 205-pound world champion of Bellator, but “King Mo” can’t take that title from him in San Jose even if he wins — he can only advance in the Heavyweight Grand Prix.

“Now we’re fighting at Heavyweight, so uhh ... it was bound to happen. We were bound to fight. He’s a top guy in the Light Heavyweight division, and in general, so we were going to run into each other sooner or later — it just happens to be at Heavyweight.”

Even though Bader has a target on his back as a reigning champion going into the tournament, he certainly doesn’t seem to be feeling any pressure because of it.

“No, not at all. If anything it’s kind of less pressure. I have one (already), that’s secure, and then I get to try for another one. You know it’s not something that a lot of people have done in any promotion. It’s one of those things where I just keep my head down, keep knocking these guys off one at a time, and then I get to where I want to be.”

Of course there is a flip side to this equation given that if Lawal eliminates Bader from the tournament, it might also give him the leverage to demand a world title shot against Bader after the tournament.

“To be honest that would be perfect for me because I’d want to get that (win) back for sure. But, you never know. If that were to happen I would say yes, that (fight) would probably be the next one, and I definitely would want that.”

Either way, while “Darth” is fighting in the tournament, 205-pound title defenses are on hold. From Bader’s perspective that makes perfect sense because he needs fresh contenders to face.

“You know I went out there and beat the two toughest guys in that division, right? I beat a top three regardless of any promotion guy in Phil Davis, and you know and then a really underrated guy who I feel is a top five fighter in the world in Linton Vassell. Now I’m fighting ‘King Mo’ who I think would be next in line if we were fighting at Light Heavyweight. I think that Light Heavyweight needs to clear up a little bit and have a clear contender.”

He’s got a point. There are two fighters in the division with sub-500 records, an undefeated prospect who has only fought undercard talent, and a Russian who is still a big win away from getting a shot. It’s not Bader’s job to worry about Scott Coker and Rich Chou getting more talent at Light Heavyweight, though, it’s his job to have an impressive performance against Lawal and possibly move on to face Matt Mitrione.

“I think I match up well (with Mitrione). He’s a buddy of mine, a great fighter, moves really well for a Heavyweight, good striking. You know if you look at some of his fights or his last fight, you’d say the knock on him is his wrestling and cardio and what not and you know that’s what I do great you know so I feel like I match up really well (with him).”

Speaking of match ups, even though two wrestlers often end up neutralizing each other to the point of having a slugfest on the feet, Bader says this fight is not that predictable.

“It’s too hard to say. You never know. I’ve been in fights where it’s like, ‘Oh we’re gonna stand up’ and then it’s all on the ground and vice-versa. I’m not one that if they did go in there and want to force it to be on the feet you know I’m going to mix it up everywhere. I’m going fight like a mixed martial artist, you know? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. We’ll see when that fights gets going. I’ll see where my advantages are and try to exploit ‘em.”

And with three knockouts in his last four fights (all wins) never count out the possibility of “Darth” Bader finishing the night in San Jose with a Fedor-like performance.

Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Bader vs. King Mo” resides here at all week long.

To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.

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