INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Ryan Bader stopped Fedor Emelianenko just 35 seconds into the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix finale Saturday night, 26 January, becoming the first Bellator fighter to hold two championship belts simultaneously.
Bader (27-5) floored the vaunted Russian heavyweight with a left hook from distance in the opening exchanges of their long-anticipated bout. He added a right hand on the ground and a hammer fist, forcing the early stoppage at the famous Forum south of downtown Los Angeles.
Bader added the heavyweight title to his 205-pound light heavyweight belt with his seventh consecutive victory. The former Arizona State wrestler showed his dominance in Bellator’s biggest weight classes with two opening-minute stoppages while winning his three bouts in the eight-man Grand Prix.
The quickest loss in the 42-year-old Emelianenko’s storied career also might have been his final fight. Although he had won seven of his past eight bouts, The Last Emperor (38-6) planned to consider retirement even with a victory — and his chin could no longer hold up to punches from the likes of Bader.
“I want to give it up to that man across the cage from me,” Bader said. “He’s had a storied career. One of the best to ever do it. It’s an honor for me to be in the cage with him and win the heavyweight title. Lot of respect to him.”
The 35-year-old Bader is one of the world’s top fighters outside the UFC, where he competed for eight years before leaving in 2017. He won the light heavyweight title in his first bout for Bellator, and he entered the Grand Prix for the chance to join the small club of fighters to hold two belts simultaneously in a major MMA promotion.
Bader comfortably won his first two Grand Prix fights, stopping Muhammed Lawal and earning a decision over Matt Mitrione.
The vaunted wrestler has been known to make mistakes in striking exchanges during his bouts, but he didn’t even give Fedor a chance to hurt him.
Emelianenko has always made up for his lack of heavyweight size with quickness and athleticism, but he was stopped for the fourth time in his last 11 fights.
Emelianenko and Bader won two fights apiece to reach the final of the tournament conceived last year by Bellator to highlight its biggest stars.
Emelianenko stopped veterans Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen in the first round of his fights, demonstrating his feared punching power hadn’t diminished much with age.
The former Russian Army firefighter was a near-mythical figure in the early years of MMA’s growth into an international sport. Emelianenko, who trained in judo and the Russian martial art of sambo, won 30 of his first 32 MMA fights while landing a string of spectacular knockouts and excelling as a heavyweight despite standing just 6 feet tall.
Emelianenko never fought in the UFC even after numerous attempts to bring him to the sport’s biggest promotion, which meant he never faced some of the sport’s top competition. Although his aura of invincibility dissipated with three consecutive losses in 2010-11 and a subsequent three-year hiatus from competition, he was on a lengthy roll of success heading into the grand prix finale.
In a co-main event between two elite featherweights from nearby Whittier, California, Henry Corrales stopped promising prospect Aaron Pico with one spectacular punch just 67 seconds in. Pico knocked down Corrales and nearly finished him in the opening minute, but Corrales got up and landed a right hand to the head, rendering Pico unconscious on his feet.
Former professional wrestler Jake Hager also made a successful pro MMA debut, submitting 41-year-old heavyweight J.W. Kiser in the first round with an arm triangle.