Bellator heavyweight champion Ryan Bader is full of confidence heading into his title rematch with Cheick Kongo at Bellator 280.
The former two-division champion is focusing his time on the heavyweight division, and he has looked dominant in the top weight class since he finished Fedor Emelianenko to win the belt in January 2019.
The one blemish on that title reign came against Kongo at Bellator 226 the following September, when the bout was stopped for an alleged eye poke from Bader. The foul was ruled accidental and meant the bout was ruled a no-contest.
However, footage suggested there was no eye poke, and Bader has remained adamant that Kongo looked for a way out of a fight he knew was going to lose.
The controversy over that bout has led to some bad blood between the pair, and Bader is keen to draw a line under the rivalry by producing a dominant perormance – and a decisive result – in the rematch.
“The animosity came from him and his team calling me a dirty fighter,” he said during a virtual media day in Paris, France.
“He said he had me where he wanted me, so for me there’s definitely more animosity now. But at the same time, I’m going to go in and do my job like I always do and that’s it.
“I just want to get in there and have a clean, decisive win and be done with that whole chapter.”
The bout pits two of Bellator’s most seasoned operators head to head, and Bader said that his days of bouncing between heavyweight and light heavyweight are behind him, as he focuses all of his attention on his heavyweight title reign.
“I’ve been jumping around at light heavyweight, but I’m back at home at heavyweight. I had a tough fight last fight, but it felt amazing,” he explained.
“I fought in October, January and now May, so for me when the fights are like that, it’s a lot easier to get into a routine and keep the momentum going. I feel ready.”
The bout also sees Bader compete outside of the United States for the first time as a Bellator fighter, with “Darth” set to leave US soil for the first time since his win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in Sao Paulo in November 2016.
Despite carrying a target on his back from being the reigning champion, Bader said he’s happy to relinquish the bulk of the crowd’s cheers to his opponent as he gets ready to step into enemy territory to face Frenchman Kongo in Paris.
“I’m excited. I haven’t fought oversees for a while, so to fight in France, I was all over it,” he enthused.
“I have fought the last two fights in my hometown, which I don’t think is always the best thing. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that. I’d rather be the guy coming into another guy’s hometown and bringing an upset.”
Bader may use the term “upset” but a victory for the champion will be anything but a surprise with the sportsbooks, who have him as a -400 favourite ahead of the matchup.
That confidence from the oddsmakers may be due in part to Bader’s record in rematches, as he explained.
“I’ve had three rematches in my career and won all three,” he stated.
“I was all for fighting Kongo. I like rematches because you never know how strong and fast a guy is until you get in there with him and you can gameplan from there.
“I’ve been undefeated in rematches and hope to keep that streak going.”