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Bellator champ Ryan Bader: Beating Fedor Emelianenko in tourney would be 'ultimate fairytale'

Ryan Bader isn’t certain how Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix is going to play out, but he has an ideal ending.

Bader (24-5 MMA, 2-0 BMMA), the Bellator’s current light-heavyweight champion, moves up a weight class for the eight-man, single-elimination tournament that will crown a new owner of the vacant heavyweight belt. His opening-round matchup takes place at Bellator 199 on May 12, when he meets Muhammed Lawal (21-6 MMA, 10-4 BMMA).

If Bader can beat “King Mo,” he knows a semifinal matchup with Matt Mitrione (13-5 MMA, 4-0 BMMA) is on the horizon. If he can get through that, the tourney final would come against Fedor Emelianenko (36-5 MMA, 0-1 BMMA), Frank Mir (18-11 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) or Chael Sonnen (30-15-1 MMA, 2-1 BMMA).

Bader said each potential matchup has an upside, but “Darth’s” dream scenario is a tourney conclusion with former longtime PRIDE champ Emelianenko.

“If I had my pick to fight somebody in the final, I’d love to fight Fedor in the finals,” Bader told MMAjunkie. “I think everybody in this tournament, that’s their pick. He’s a legend of the sport, and to cap it off with a win over him to be the heavyweight champion? That’s the ultimate fairytale right there. But I can see either of those guys advancing, and I could even see Chael making it.

“Each of them bring their own thing. Fedor has the mystique about him and beating him, he’s a legend. But Chael’s also going to be running his mouth to build the fight. That’s a fun fight. I’ve always wanted to step in there with him. And Mir too – he’s got skills, and I’d like to test that. But I’ve got to win my side too, and that’s what I’m focusing on.”

Given the tournament structure, it’s easy to think ahead, but Bader said he’s not looking past his Bellator 199 fight with Lawal, which takes place at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., and airs on Paramount following prelims on MMAjunkie.

The Lawal matchup was originally planned for Bellator 180, but Lawal was forced to withdraw from the June event due to an injury. Bader said he’s had the matchup on his mind for nearly a year, and for him, that’s a good thing. He said knows exactly what he needs to do to get his hand raised and views Lawal as beatable.

“‘Mo’ does things very, very well, but he doesn’t do a lot of things; he just doesn’t,” Bader said. “He doesn’t kick a lot. He just likes to box and wrestle. He’s good at that. But I think his cardio isn’t there all the time whereas mine, I go in there and push that pace, and I break a lot of people on that alone. It’s going to be one of those things where the physicality overwhelms him.”

Bader, No. 3 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA light-heavyweight rankings, said he views No. 14-ranked Lawal as perhaps the most difficult opponent to draw in the tourney’s first round. There’s upside, though; if he wins, Bader thinks he would have cleared a major hurdle en route to the tournament crown.

Bader, 34, admittedly likes his chances. He’s the youngest of all the participants, and given his style, he thinks it’s going to be difficult for anyone to stop him.

“I’ve always believed I was going to win from the beginning, but watching these fights, you see their holes, what you can exploit, and what they’re good at,” Bader said. “I have one of the toughest first-round fights in the tournament with ‘Mo.’ Then I move on to the big boys. Matt Mitrione, he’s fast, and he’s agile. One of the things I took away from his fight (against Roy Nelson at Bellator 194) was his wrestling. My wrestling is high-level, so that’s one thing I can exploit. But that’s what’s fun about this tournament: You can go in there and every guy is different.”

For more on Bellator 199, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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