After this past weekend’s Bellator 207 and Bellator 208 events, we now know who the finalists of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix are. On Friday night, Ryan Bader used takedowns and ground-and-pound to dominate Matt Mitrione en route to a lopsided unanimous decision win. With the win, Bader emerged as the finalist of his side of the bracket. And on Saturday night we found out who the finalist of the other bracket was as MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko knocked out Chael Sonnen in the first round to punch his ticket to the finals. The two squared off in the cage to make things official and Bellator confirmed Bader and Emelianenko will meet in January for the vacant heavyweight title.
The Bader vs. Emelianenko final is the best-case scenario for Bellator as it pits one of the promotion’s most well-rounded fighters in Bader against one of its biggest stars in Emelianenko. Bader has looked amazing since joining Bellator, picking up four straight wins including victories over Phil Davis and Linton Vassell at light heavyweight and King Mo and Mitrione at heavyweight. He’s already the Bellator light heavyweight champion and now he will get the chance to add a second belt to his mantle when he takes on the legend Emelianenko in the finals. Bader is a great fighter and should be a bigger star but he still doesn’t have that marquee win to push him into superstar status. If he goes out there and dominates Emelianenko like he has everyone else in the heavyweight tournament he could emerge as one of the biggest stars on Bellator’s roster.
For Emelianenko, he’s already one of the greatest fighters of all time and after getting knocked out by Mitrione in his Bellator debut he has found a second wind in the tournament with knockout wins over Sonnen and Frank Mir. There are still a lot of doubters of Emelianenko’s ability to be competitive in 2018, but those questions can’t be asked now after how good he looked in the tournament. Still, fighting guys like Mir and Sonnen who are at the end of their careers is a lot different than fighting a young buck like Bader who is in his athletic prime. Emelianenko is always going to be one of the biggest stars in the sport but if he wants to become a superstar to the current crop of MMA fans he will have to go out there and beat Bader. It would be a huge coup for Bellator if Emelianenko can knock Bader out in the finals to win the title.
Having said that, Emelianenko is going to enter the finals as a big underdog. Considering how dominant Bader has looked and considering his wrestling advantage over Emelianenko this is not going to be an easy fight for the aging Russian legend. Even still, it’s a compelling fight because Emelianenko has legitimate knockout power and Bader’s chin has been touched before.
If anyone is going to knock out Bader it’s going to be Emelianenko, who despite his older age is still one of the fastest heavyweights out there. So even though most people are going to pick Bader, Emelianenko’s knockout power makes it an interesting fight. Of all the possible matchups that could have happened at the start of the tournament, this fight between Bader and Emelianenko is the best possible one. You get one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world right now in Bader going up against one of the living legends of the sport in Emelianenko. With so much on the line, fans can expect nothing less than an epic matchup for all the marbles next January.