Ryan Bader made the first defense of his Bellator heavyweight title since 2019 as he fought at Bellator 273 on Saturday night. Against a game interim champion Valentin Moldavsky, Bader was able to retain and unify the belts.
Inside the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Bader beat the red-hot Valentin Moldavsky via unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47). Bader had to battle back several times against Moldavsky’s power in a contest that was close from beginning to end.
“Obviously, it was a really close fight, and at the end there, I’m like, man, that’s a toss-up,” Bader said after the fight. “I felt like I did more damage, but it felt so good considering the last fight was a fight I lost. But it was a back-and-forth, even fight the whole five rounds. It’s just anticlimactic to go out there and have an exciting heavyweight championship five-rounder with a tough dude in Arizona. I wanted that bad.”
Bader made an immediate impact in the first round as he landed a big right. Moldavsky recovered with a takedown, but Bader landed a right and a takedown of his own. It felt as if Bader felt comfortable again at heavyweight following a long time at light heavyweight.
In Round 2, Bader landed a knee to the groin, which paused the action. He later landed a right hand and continued to pick his battles when it came to his power. Moldavsky found a way to recover and land another big takedown. He landed yet another and had Bader on the floor, pounding away at him until the round ended. A big key in his attack was having Bader by the cage. Bader realized he would have a busy night after that.
In the third, Moldavsky had Bader by the cage yet again. He rag-dolled him in the air and took him down right after. Holding onto Bader, Moldavsky tried several more takedown attempts. Bader landed big elbows to block him. Moldavsky continued holding onto Bader, which gave him a slight edge in position. It was unfamiliar territory for Bader.
Bader, realizing he needed to do something big, tried to apply pressure. He landed a big shot to Moldavsky’s face and avoided big blows. Bader held Moldavsky down by holding the neck, but Moldavsky found momentum and pushed him against the cage. Reversing, Bader dropped Moldavsky and started to pound away while on his back. Moldavsky held onto the fence, which referee Mike Beltran was not having. Back up, Bader landed another takedown and ended up in top position.
A huge Round 5 would most likely determine who would walk out as champion, and both men, realizing that, gave it their all. They started swinging away at one another. Moldavsky landed a left hook while Bader hit a few big shots of his own. Holding onto one another, they remained in the center of the cage in a standoff. Bader landed a left and a knee to the body, and Moldavsky answered with a one-two combination to the face.
Shots were traded, and Bader avoided damage from a takedown by getting up right away. Moldavsky continued to apply pressure, but Bader would not go down. He landed hard elbows to Moldavsky’s head by the cage and hit big body shots. With 10 seconds left, Moldavsky landed a huge takedown. It wasn’t enough to secure the win.
Bader landed 66 shots compared to 78 by Moldavsky. The latter landed nine takedowns compared to Bader’s three.
It was announced after the fight that Bader will defend the heavyweight title on May 6 in Paris against Cheick Kongo. It will be a rematch of their fight at Bellator 226, a no-contest following an accidental eye poke by Bader.
“Bringing Bellator to France in 2020 was one of the highlights of my career, and I knew that it was the start of a long run of big events in Paris,” Bellator president Scott Coker said. “Here we are ready for our second trip to France, and this time we are bringing a heavyweight world title rematch featuring arguably the most recognizable French mixed martial artist in our sport’s history. It’s personally important to me to help grow the sport in France and give these athletes a chance to perform on a large stage.”
Bader is now 2-2 in his last four fights. The loss ended a six-fight win streak for Moldavsky.