Fedor Emelianenko (40-6, 1 no contest) has retired before. We saw him exit the sport only to return and have a series of ups and downs. But his mystique and aura remain strong enough to have many believe he can pull of the unlikely, and somehow, he has.
Despite his age and the advances in development that have led to some of the newer breed of athlete to take over the elite levels of the sport, he’s done extraordinarily well in fighting other established veterans. Since his return, he’s only lost to Matt Mitrione and Ryan Bader. But back to back finishes over Rampage Jackson and Tim Johnson have had him looking like a savage shark, still capable of doing almost comical damage in one shot.
Now, how much stock you put into a win over an out of shape Rampage and a relatively inconsistent (and incomplete striker) Johnson... that’s up to you. We just can’t ignore the facts that when he faces a much more athletic fighter these days, it doesn’t go great. Bader bumped him out of the heavyweight tournament back in 2019 by making pretty quick work of him. But what does it say about Fedor that some think he may actually have a shot at winning his final bout here?
Ryan Bader (30-7) remains king of the Bellator heavyweight division even after being dual champ at light heavy as well. The impressive outings against Valentin Moldavsky and Chieck Kongo led him to back to back wins and there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the horizon to pose a significant threat for him at heavyweight. He’s still a superior athlete to Fedor, and has improved his overall game significantly in recent years. But there’s always that “what if?“ factor, and it says more about Fedor than it does about Bader. There should be no doubt that a win by Emelianenko to crown him heavyweight champ in his final fight on his native soil would be a massive moment in the sport.
But this card is stacked with way more. Johnny Eblen (12-0) dismantled Gegard Mousasi very impressively to topple the middleweight legend, and now gets his first defense against a very game Anatoly Tokov (31-3). Eblen’s boxing is sharp and precise, and his wrestling is pretty groovy as well. But his submission game and ability to keep opponents guessing via movement and feints is absolute money. Tokov is a boogeyman, with impressive finishes that incorporate tons of ground strikes and superior top position with heavy strikes and impressive standup. His leg kicking game and combination setups allow him to get inside and do major damage in quick order, offering Eblen some challenging offense to handle. This is a cracker of a fight, and to have this as part of the title doubleheader is pure catnip for MMA purist fans.
Brennan Ward (16-6) continues his run as he resurrects his career and puts on electrifying performances. He’ll be looking to make it 3 in a row against another savvy vet, Sabah Homasi (17-10). Homasi’s no stranger to a firefight, and Ward brings sharp and explosive strikes to his engagements. Another potential sizzler in the making here.
Neiman Gracie (11-4) has dropped back to back fights against Goiti Yamauchi and current interim champ Logan Storley, but looks to get back in the win column against Dante Schiro (9-4). Schiro getting the big step up is a plus for him, although he’s currently 1-2 in Bellator with his last bout being a devastating submission loss. The booking should absolutely be in Gracie’s favor on paper, but this could be a major opportunity for Schiro to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Max Rohskopf (7-1) is also on a comeback run, having won two straight in Cage Warriors and now looking to finally make his Bellator debut. No easy outs for him, though. He gets to deal with Team Alpha Male’s Chris Gonzalez (7-2) Grant Neal (7-1) faces dangerous Swede Karl Albrektsson (13-4). Darrion Caldwell (14-6) is still an undeniable talent, and he’ll get another stiff test against Nikita Mikhailov (9-2).
Finally, Alejandra “Azul“ Lara (9-6) tries to fend off Diana Avsaragova (5-0), and snap her unbeaten streak. Also, Jornel Lugo (8-1) aims to show he’s still one of Bellator’s hottest prospects as he faces Jaylon Bates (6-0).
Check out the In Focus features made for the headline bout:
And also for Eblen vs Tokov:
Bellator 290: Bader vs Emelianenko 2 takes place this Saturday night, and starts with the prelims streaming live and free on YouTube at 6:00pm EST. The main card will be available on Showtime starting at 9:00pm.