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Bellator MMA has never been better. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Over the course of 2016, the Viacom-owned promotion bolstered its roster of homegrown stars with a long list of high-profile free agents, and it elevated itself to new and unprecedented heights in the process.
To summarize the highlights: 2016 saw the organization pick up former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson, former UFC welterweight title challenger Rory MacDonald, top-10 light heavyweight Phil Davis, three-time UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen, heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko, and former UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione—to name a few. No matter how you swing it, Bellator had a massive 2016, and the promotion looks poised to keep its hot streak alive in these first weeks of 2017.
According to MMAJunkie.com, who spoke with a “senior Bellator official,” the promotion now has its crosshairs on one of the best light heavyweights on the planet: Ryan Bader. After closing out his most recent UFC contract with a win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Bader entered into free agency to test his value on the open market. Apparently, it is Bellator’s intention to make the light heavyweight talent an offer sometime in the next two weeks.
Of course, it is worth noting that Bader remains in the matching period of his most recent UFC contract, meaning the organization is entitled to the opportunity to match any offer that Bellator makes him. So, while we know that Bellator is poised to attempt to sign Bader, it’s also possible that the UFC reaches deep into their pockets and pulls him back in the direction of the Octagon with a lucrative new contract.
If Bader were to return to the UFC, it would likely be to a fight with the winner of Daniel Cormier and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, who were scheduled to fight for the light heavyweight title in late 2016, but were unable to do so when Cormier sustained an injury. The two light heavyweight talents are likely to be rescheduled for a fight sometime in early 2017, and it will be hard to deny Bader a shot at the winner—though the return of light heavyweight great Jon Jones could change things considerably.
Though it’s hard to imagine a bigger fight for Bader than a UFC title fight, he certainly has no shortage of compelling options in the Bellator cage. He might, for example, rematch Phil Davis, who he narrowly defeated in 2015, and now wears the Bellator light heavyweight belt. Outside of Davis, Bader could look forward to fights with light heavyweight talents like former champ Liam McGeary, long-time contender Linton Vassell, former Strikeforce champ and 2015 Rizin Grand Prix winner Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, and fellow UFC outcasts like Wanderlei Silva, Chael Sonnen, Alessio Sakara, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson—the latter of whom he defeated by decision back in 2012. Needless to say, Bader has no shortage of exciting matchups available to him in the cage of the sport’s second biggest promotion.
Whatever the future holds for Bader, the next few weeks are likely to be exciting ones for him, as the two biggest forces in our sport are gearing up to duke it out for his services. Whether he returns to the UFC for a bout with the winner of Cormier and Rumble’s long awaited title fight, or he becomes the latest high profile addition to Bellator’s stacked light heavyweight division, he’s got plenty of excitement to look forward to as this next phase of his career gets underway.
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