mma / Columns

Bader and Cormier as Champ Champ: Who Won it Better?

January 29, 2019 | Posted by Evan Zivin
Ryan Bader

First, a word on the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix that wrapped on Saturday night:

Meh.

That’s not to say the tournament wasn’t exciting. It certainly had its moments, more so than anyone would have expected, with the most compelling story coming out of it being the late resurgence of “The Last Emperor (Until President Trump’s Next Executive Order)” Fedor Emelianenko, taking out a former champion in Frank Mir and a former “champion” in Chael Sonnen to make it all the way to the finals.

It was a very different run for the Russian than what we witnessed the last time he competed in a tournament, that being the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2011, which saw Fedor bow out in the first round after getting pounded into the canvas by Bigfoot Silva, who has since presumably retreated into the Oregon wilderness to either enjoy the peace and solitude or to train with Matt Lindland.

Actually, compared to the Strikeforce version, the Bellator Grand Prix ended up quite successful. I mean, it still dragged on for a year from start to finish and a lot of the matchups were predictable and featured fighters who can barely beat a drug test let alone another fighter but at least the winner was one of the original participants and not an alternate.

Not that it would have made much of a difference if there was a stud like Daniel Cormier waiting in the wings to claim the tournament title for himself. I wonder what ever happened to that guy…

Oh that’s right. He made it to the UFC, lost to Jon Jones for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, and then won the title anyway after Jones was stripped, canceling a fight DC was going to have with some guy named Ryan Bader. I wonder what ever happened to that guy…

Oh that’s right. Bader fought a couple more times in the UFC, then bounced for Bellator, where he won the Bellator Light Heavyweight Championship in his very first fight with the promotion and then defended it once before taking a year off to pursue his real dream of becoming a Champ Champ like all the kids sitting at the cool table.

I heard Amanda Nunes’ parents let her stay up past 9:30. She’s so awesome…

And Bader did it, winning a tournament that pretty much everyone expected him to win. He did it by knocking out King Mo Lawal in 15 seconds, dominating Matt Mitrione (or “Big Brothering” him, as Ben Askren would say, even though Mitrione is older than Bader), and by knocking out the formerly immortal Fedor with the very first punch he landed.

Yeah, pretty much everyone got to feel like Nostradamus at the end of this one. I mean, you didn’t actually think Rampage Jackson or Roy Nelson stood a chance of winning, did you?

It sucks seeing Fedor go out that way, but that’s how it is in MMA. We sacrifice the old guard in the hope that we’ll maybe start giving a crap about the rest of the division.

Oh and, speaking of, check back here in two weeks when the topic will be whatever’s left of Anderson Silva after he’s done getting pulverized by Israel Adesanya.

That’s not to say I think winning the Grand Prix will do much for Bader’s career. I mean, it’s a neat accomplishment but it would have been a bigger shock if he didn’t win and anoint himself as Bellator’s first ever Champ Champ.

Or is it Champ Champ Champ? He won the Bellator Heavyweight Championship but he also got a belt for winning the Grand Prix. Does that make him a triple champ?

Not that it matters because who knows if he’s going to do anything with that new hardware. Bader’s weight class is light heavyweight. He doesn’t have an issue fighting at heavyweight but he was pretty much just doing it for the challenge and the prestige of winning another title than for any real desire to make a career out of facing the biggest, blobbiest guys Scott Coker can find.

In some ways, Bader’s accomplishments kind of mirror those of Cormier, the current UFC Heavyweight Champion and former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, as both men in their role as double champs (Cormier was a double champ until Dana White learned Jones could fight again and rushed to throw some gold at him) held one belt that is indisputable to say they earned while the other belt will be debated for the rest of their careers and beyond.

For Cormier, there’s no question his heavyweight belt is legitimate after knocking out Stipe Miocic. It’s his time as light heavyweight champion that gets less due paid to it because all he did was win the “Jon Jones is an Idiot” Award.

For Bader, he did beat Phil Davis to claim light heavyweight gold in Bellator, which was impressive-ish. The heavyweight title looks good on him too but it’s hard to feel like he really earned anything considering who else was in the tournament.

He won the belt but who cares. Plus, it’s not like he beat the former Bellator Champion to claim the title. He got the opportunity to compete for the belt because the former champion, Vitaly Minakov, was stripped due to choosing to fight in Russia, something he was allowed to do for two years as Bellator champion before they decided to strip him.

Yeah, makes seeing “Vitaly Minakov, 2013-2016” in Bellator’s title history video ring a little hollow. It wasn’t a Cain Velasquez/Dominick Cruz situation where the champion will be back once the superglue finishes setting. Vitaly wasn’t interested in fighting in Bellator, an attitude which has thankfully changed since then. He makes his Bellator return next month and, if that goes well, it hopefully sets up a showdown with him and Bader for later this year.

If Bader wants to legitimize himself as heavyweight champion, a win against Minakov will do it. Well, as much as being a Bellator champion can be considered legitimate.

That’s the one nice thing about being a Bellator champion is not being under the same level of scrutiny as a UFC champion when it comes to defending the title. Bader took a year off from being a light heavyweight and very few people have complained about him not defending the belt (mostly because no one know who’s a contender at that weight class, or any weight class in Bellator for that matter).

Plus, where Dana wouldn’t consider the idea of letting a double champ try and defend both titles (except when everyone shits on your brilliant plan to book Sijara Eubanks in the main event at Madison Square Garden), Scott Coker is open to it. Most of the title shots in that company feel like they go to whoever anyway.

Don’t worry, JW Kiser. Your time is coming.

I guess in the end, it’s hard to compare achievements between promotions, especially between UFC and anyone else. The definition of a “UFC caliber” fighter has changed a lot over the last couple of years but the UFC is still the promotion with the highest concentration of top ranked fighters and the reputation for being the industry leader. Bellator is mostly the place where fighters who are too old and/or too expensive and/or too Aaron Pico for the UFC end up. Not that it’s a bad thing…

Maybe this is all setting the stage for the showdown we all really want to see: the winner takes all Champ Champ Champ Champ fight between Cormier and Bader. Winning that fight would make the victor a fourth degree champion, which just sounds intense, doesn’t it?

The fight obviously isn’t likely to happen but we still don’t know when Cormier is going to fight again. Plus. Bader’s initial Bellator deal was for six fights and the Fedor win was his fifth, meaning he’s going back to the negotiating table soon. Can he use his success in Bellator to curry a favorable deal with his former employer, at a time when the UFC is in desperate need of real competition at both light heavyweight and heavyweight?

Maybe we’ll see Darth Bader return to the big screen much sooner than anyone would have expected. He must bring balance to the force…

Or if not him, maybe Luke Rockhold can be the UFC’s chosen one.

Use the Polo Blue, Luke. Use the Polo Blue…

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

article topics :

Daniel Cormier, Ryan Bader, Evan Zivin