Ryan Bader is in the prime of his career as Bellator’s light-heavyweight & heavyweight double champion. Meanwhile, the gap between his UFC counterpart Jon Jones and title challengers seems to be narrowing.
Bader (27-5-0-1) has expressed an interest in re-matching Jones (26-1-0-1), the man who handed Bader his first loss. It’s a challenge that comes from a place of tremendous respect. Speaking to Bloody Elbow, Bader gave his assessment on why challenges like Dominick Reyes and Thiago Santos have come so close to dethroning the pound-for-pound great.
“Guys are coming up and they’re getting better but I think there is a big mental game. Years and years ago, Jon Jones was untouchable. You couldn’t win a round against him,” Bader explained. “As you start seeing other people be successful, you stop walking out there like, ‘I can’t beat this guy.’ You start thinking, ‘I can definitely beat him. Look how close others have come. Why not me?’ For me, I want that fight back because he’s the best. He’s the greatest effort. I feel like I’m in my absolute prime and I’m the best I’ve ever been.”
The Bellator champ-champ also expressed a willingness to rematch Cheick Kongo after their last bout ended via first-round eye poke.
“My friend sent me something today where he keeps complaining about the eye poke that didn’t happen. He called me a coward and all that,” Bader said. “After watching the fight and looking at all the cameras angles, it didn’t happen. We can definitely redo that one and he can be my next fight at heavyweight. I wanted that and I want to put that to bed. I was dominating him in the first round and it was going to keep going exactly like that.”
“My thumb pokes him right in the nostril. Then he winces and covers his eyes. The ref jumps in and stops it. His wince was right after the thumb in the nose and he grabbed his eye. This is on national television,” he continued. He kept whining and whining about it, but he never brought anything forward. Nothing to prove there was ever an eye poke.”
When asked why Kongo may have faked the eye poke, Bader offered a hypothetical.
“I heard he tore his bicep right before that defending a takedown. It’s a five-round fight,” Bader suggested. “There wasn’t a second where I wasn’t winning, dominating the fight. Maybe it’s one of those things where he tried to steal the fight and get out of there.”
Bader was expected to defend his Bellator light-heavyweight title against Vadim Nemkov at Bellator 242 on May 9.