Bellator 256: Bader beats Machida in rematch 9-years in the making
Josh McNally

Under owner Scott Coker, Bellator MMA has slowly but surely risen from being a distant second to the UFC to being, yes, still definitely second to the UFC but also a viable, interesting alternative product.

The easiest, if geekiest, comparison to make is that Bellator is to the UFC as WCW was to the WWF in the late 90s. They have less money so their aesthetics are less flashy, and they do things slightly differently: a few of the main examples are that Bellator uses a massive circular cage instead of an octagon, they use bigger gloves to limit eye pokes, commentator and ex-MMA referee "Big" John McCarthy gives his unofficial but educated scoring after every round. In the UFC, the scoring is kept secret until the fight it over.

Most interestingly are their tournaments, something UFC hasn't done for decades. Starting at Bellator 256 is their light heavyweight grand prix, an eight-man single-elimination tournament to be played out over the next few months with the winner receiving a prize of $1 million and – by virtue of current champion Vadim Nemkov taking part – becoming the Bellator light heavyweight champion.

However, in their most WCW-like move, most of Bellator's top talent are ex-UFC guys. That was made clear in the main event of their second Showtime card: Ryan Bader vs. Lyoto Machida.

Ryan Bader hits Lyoto Machida with a right punch. /AP

Ryan Bader hits Lyoto Machida with a right punch. /AP

Bader fought in the UFC from 2009 to 2016. He was a solid traditional American MMA style fighter in the sense that he was all fundamentals, collegiate wrestling and dirty boxing. Unfortunately for him, his claim to fame was getting into an altercation with then-UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel "DC" Cormier at a press conference. DC had a mic and Bader didn't, so not only did people not hear what Bader said, there is a recording of DC taunting him by saying he asked UFC President Dana White for a fight against Bader because it would be the easiest fight in the division.

His opponent last night, Lyoto Machida, was in the UFC from 2007 to 2018 and was significantly more impressive. He began with an 8-0 win streak and won the UFC Light Heavyweight championship. He was then knocked out brutally by Shogun Rua and never recovered. Going 16-8 overall in that company.

In 2012, Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida met at a UFC on FOX event and it was barely a fight. Machida won by KO early into the second round after finding his range in the first. Now, almost a decade on they faced off in the opening round of Bellator's light heavyweight grand prix.

Ryan Bader throws punches at Lyoto Machida while keeping him pressed against the cage. /Bellator MMA

Ryan Bader throws punches at Lyoto Machida while keeping him pressed against the cage. /Bellator MMA

It's 2021 now but in the first frame, 42-year-old Machida turned the clock back, spent a few minutes finding his range and then lit up his opponent with hard karate kicks. Bader, who is currently Bellator Heavyweight champion, looked like a man not used to fighting the smaller, quicker fighters at the 205lb weight limit.

Though he was hitting hard and leaving welts on Bader, he didn't seem to be doing damage, instead it seemed to be firing Bader up. The American held the center of the circle, stalled, feinted, made sure Machida couldn't get into his dangerous rhythm – then with two minutes remaining, he exploded forward and took Machida down with a double leg.

All of the youth Machida had shown evaporated when his back hit the cage. Bader smothered him and when the bell rang, Machida looked 42-years-old. During the rest period between rounds, Bader sat there with a satisfied smile on his face while Machida looked bewildered, breathing heavy.

From there, it was all Bader. Tired Machida is easy to read so Bader got in close, traded punches then forced him to the ground and dominated. By the championship rounds, Machida looked like a human grappling dummy and were Bader more aggressive, he could have finished him at any time. Instead he won a unanimous decision (49-47, 49-47, 49-47) and progresses to the semi-finals.

[Cover: Ryan Bader has his hand raised in victory by referee Dan Miragliotta following his unanimous decision victory over Lyoto Machida in the light heavyweight main event of Bellator 256 and the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, U.S., April 10, 2021. /AP]

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