Ryan Bader is set to continue his run in the heavyweight grand prix when he meets Matt Mitrione at Bellator 207 on Friday in a fight that many think will determine the future winner of the tournament. Bader comes into the fight as the promotion’s light heavyweight champion and boasts a KO win over Muhammed Lawal in his last fight.
Heading into the bout, Bader is aware of Mitrione's status as the favorite.
“Coming into this tournament a lot of people had him as No. 1,” Bader said during a Bellator conference call Tuesday. “I feel like he’s one of my hardest matchups for sure. I feel confident. I feel like the heavyweight weight is not going to be an issue. I’m going to bring that movement, that quickness, the cardio, the relentless pace that I have at 205 let alone at heavyweight. I feel good about this fight, a good challenge for sure, and ready to do it and prove to people that I belong here.”
Bader knows that facing a true heavyweight won’t be easy, but he’s doing the best he can to make up for the size difference. Already a large light heavyweight, Bader has been packing on the muscle.
“I put on 10 pounds of lean muscle, but I wanted to see how my body performed and it did great,” Bader said. “Now I’m probably around 230, 235 and I feel great. I feel like I’m faster than ever. I’m healthy, most importantly. I came into this camp 100 percent healthy. He may come in 10, 15 pounds heavier. Who cares? I train with bigger guys all the time.”
One of the story lines flying under the radar is the fact that, out of the cage, Bader and Mitrione are actually good friends. The two will be forced to put that aside come fight night, and with the stakes already so large, neither man is going to let the friendship get in the way of advancing to the next round.
“It is what it is,” Bader said of fighting a friend. “This is so far removed from that. Going into the tournament and seeing him on this side of the bracket, I knew I’d meet Matt. I fight my friends in camp every day. I got in here to compete and to keep my career going as an athlete and that’s all that it is. It’s a competition, that’s it.”
As he prepares for the fight, Bader is aware he’s the last light heavyweight in the tournament. He refuses to let that play a part in this fight, and come Bellator 207, he plans to make the betting lines obsolete.
“I don’t really take any stock to any of it,” Bader said. “I keep my head down and keep moving one fight at a time. Lines, favorites, who cares? I think that I speak for all the fighters here, the lines don’t matter, this is MMA. It takes one millimeter to get caught out of position and take a big punch. This sport’s crazy, that’s why the fans love it. Lines mean nothing to me.”