Best male Bellator fighter: Ryan Bader
Yes, Ryan Bader hasn’t been in Bellator as long as some of the guys on this list. And yes, some may know him better as a (now ex) UFC guy. But the opportunities Bader has taken up and the impacts he’s had since joining the promotion has been nothing short of amazing and praiseworthy, and for that, he deserves a spot on this list.
“Darth” Bader won his first seven professional bouts — in fact, competing six times in his debut year (2007) — before taking part in season eight of The Ultimate Fighter and winning the light heavyweight portion of the competition. Bader would be a staple of the UFC’s 205-pound division over the next seven years, going 15-5 in the Octagon and scoring wins over the likes of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (twice), Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Phil Davis and Rashad Evans. Unfortunately for Bader, he struggled to achieve a title shot, falling in big fights to Jon Jones, Tito Ortiz, Lyoto Machida, Glover Teixeira and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
Bader signed with Bellator as a free agent in 2017 and after original opponent Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal pulled out of Bellator 180, Bader’s promotional debut was a rematch with Davis, who would be defending his Bellator light heavyweight championship. Bader came away with the decision win and became a Bellator champion in just one fight in the promotion.
After retaining the title against Linton Vassell, Bader took part in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. He knocked out Lawal in just 15 seconds at Bellator 199 and used his wrestling to dominate Matt Mitrione at Bellator 207 to get the chance to fight the legendary Fedor Emelianenko in the final at Bellator 214. In 35 seconds, with a single punch, Bader knocked out Emelianenko to win the tournament and Bellator heavyweight title.
With the win, Bader became the first man since Joe Warren to win Bellator titles in two different weight classes and the first simultaneous two-division champ in Bellator history.
- Thomas Albano