Ryan Bader made the first defense of his Bellator heavyweight title since 2019 when he battled at Bellator 273 on Saturday night. Against the interim champion Valentin Moldavsky, Bader was able to hold and unite the belts.
Inside the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Bader defeated the red-hot Valentin Moldavsky by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47). Bader had to fight back several times against Moldavsky’s power in a competition that was close from start to finish.
“Obviously it was a really close match, and in the end I think, man, it’s a tos-up,” Bader said after the match. “I felt like I was doing more damage, but it felt so good considering the last match was a match I lost. But it was an even match back and forth all five rounds. It’s just anticlimactic that go out there and have an exciting championship in heavyweight five-rounder with a tough guy in Arizona. I would love to. “
MORE: How long will Francis Ngannou be out of action after the surgery?
Bader made an instant impression in the first round when he landed a big right. Moldavsky recovered with a takedown, but Bader landed his own right and a takedown. It felt as if Bader felt comfortable again in heavyweight after a long time in light heavyweight.
In the 2nd round, Bader landed a knee to the groin, which put the action on pause. He later landed a right hand and continued to choose his matches when it came to his power. Moldavsky found a way to recover and land another major takeover. He landed another one and had Baths on the floor while knocking loose on him until the round ended. A big key in his attack was to have Bathers at the cage. Bader realized he would have a busy night after that.
In the third, Moldavsky had Baths at the cage again. He rummaged in the air and took him down right after. Moldavsky stuck to Bader and tried several dismantling attempts. Bader landed large elbows to block him. Moldavsky continued to hold on to Bader, giving him a small edge in position. It was unknown territory for Bader.
Bader, realizing that he had to do something big, tried to put pressure. He landed a big shot in Moldavsky’s face and avoided major blows. Bader held Moldavsky down by holding his neck, but Moldavsky found momentum and pushed him toward the cage. By turning around, Bader lost Moldavsky and started pounding away while lying on his back. Moldavsky held on to the fence, which Judge Mike Beltran did not have. Back up, Bader landed another takedown and ended up in top position.
A big round 5 would most likely decide who would go out as champion, and both men, when they realized it, gave it their all. They began to swing away towards each other. Moldavsky landed a left hook while Bader hit a couple of big shots of his own. They held on to each other and remained in the middle of the cage at a distance. Bader landed a left and a knee to the body, and Moldavsky responded with a one-two combination to the face.
MORE: Will Jake Paul retire from boxing to compete in MMA? Details of potential next fight against former UFC champion
Shots were exchanged, and Bader avoided injury from a takedown by getting up immediately. Moldavsky continued to put pressure on, but Bader would not go down. He landed hard elbows to Moldavsky’s head at the cage and struck large body shots. With 10 seconds left, Moldavsky landed a huge takedown. It was not enough to secure the victory.
Bader landed 66 shots compared to 78 by Moldavsky. The latter landed nine takedowns compared to Baders three.
It was announced after the match that Bader defends the heavyweight title on May 6 in Paris against Cheick Congo. It will be a rematch of their match at Bellator 226, a no-contest after an unintentional eye-popping from Bader.
“Bringing Bellator to France in 2020 was one of the highlights of my career, and I knew it was the start of a series of major 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 with without a doubt the most recognizable French mixed martial artist in the history of our sport. It is personally important for me to help develop the sport in France. and give these athletes a chance to perform on a big stage. “
Bader now has 2-2 in his last four games. The loss ended a six-match winning streak for Moldavsky.