Bellator 273: Heavyweight champion Ryan Bader beats Valentin Moldavsky on points

Ryan Bader with his heavyweight title
Ryan Bader retained his heavyweight title in a close fight against interim champion Valentin Moldavsky

This report contains details of what happened at Bellator 273. You can watch the entire event again on BBC iPlayer (UK only) here.

Ryan Bader became the undisputed heavyweight champion after a gruelling fight with Valentin Moldavsky at Bellator 273.

It had been 28 months and 23 days since Bader had defended his heavyweight title and the local hero in Phoenix found a superb challenger in interim champion Moldavsky.

Bader had to battle back in the championship rounds after coming within inches of finishing the fight in the first 30 seconds and was given a unanimous 48-47 points decision.

Moldavsky came out on top in the wrestling for the most part, but it was Bader who did the most damage on the feet after losing rounds two and three.

“That fight was really close. I thought I was doing more damage,” Bader said.

“I knew I had to take him down. Man I just hope I did enough in that striking department, I did more damage and for the first time in my life I was hoping they weren’t judging the wrestlers. Tough, tough fight, tough guy. I’ll see him again.”

Bader’s next fight is already booked with Bellator announcing Frenchman Cheick Kongo would be given the chance to challenge for the title in Paris on 6 May.

Kongo is 46 years old and has a remarkable 45-fight record which includes a no-contest with Bader in 2019.

That fight was stopped due to an accidental eye poke, but Kongo will have the chance to gain revenge in a special night in France this summer.

Bader digs deep in championship rounds

Bader came storming out of the gates in the opening round, but his 29-year-old opponent demonstrated incredible mettle to turn the fight around.

In the first exchange of the fight, Bader hurt Moldavsky with a perfectly-timed overhand right that he snuck in over his opponent’s own right hand. The shot sent Moldavsky stumbling backwards into the cage as Bader looked to finish him in the opening 30 seconds.

“I knew I had him rocked but I have been in this game [to know not to] go after it and let it all hang out in the first round,” Bader said after the fight.

Moldavsky was able to regain his senses but continued to be dominated by Bader. It was a big round for the champion who managed to stun his rival again in the final moments, but Moldavsky did well to wrap up Bader on the ground until the bell arrived.

After Bader had exerted a huge amount of energy in the first, Moldavsky was able to bounce back with a big round despite sustaining a nasty knee to the groin.

Ryan Bader punches his opponent
Ryan Bader hurt Valentin Moldavsky in the first seconds of the first round

Moldavsky took just a few moments to recover and was able to take Bader down and control the ground game soon after.

Fedor Emelianenko’s ward was growing rapidly into the fight and superbly took the second and third round with some excellent grappling and wrestling to turn the fight on its head.

Bader would have felt the momentum swing out of his favour, but the 38-year-old delivered a huge fourth round to seemingly level the fight.

He took Moldavsky down and from side control landed some painful punches. Bader was also crucially able to end the round in top position, meaning everything came down to the fifth and final round.

Bader started better than his rival, landing a right hand that appeared to hurt Moldavsky but soon after the Russian came out on top of a scramble.

Moldavsky worked to take Bader’s back, but the former light heavyweight champion was able to get back to his feet and find some safety against the cage.

Bader elbowed Moldavsky repeatedly from above as he looked unsuccessfully for a double wrist lock.

Moldavsky then slammed Bader to the canvas in the final ten seconds, but all three judges sided with the American to hand him his 29th career win in MMA.

Henderson goes out on a high

Benson Henderson celebrates on top of the cage
Benson Henderson might be ready to retire after a long career

Benson Henderson appeared to call time on his MMA career with an upset win over top lightweight contender Islam Mamedov in a close-fought main event.

Mamedov was unbeaten in 20 fights and had MMA legend and former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in his corner.

Henderson, 38, ended a three-fight losing streak by beating Mamedov in a fight that was primarily contested on the ground.

When Mamedov scored the first takedown early on, Henderson fought back with a failed guillotine attempt.

Henderson attempted the same choke in round two, but was again unsuccessful, and then in a perilous position in the final 30 seconds.

Mamedov tried to sink in a rear-naked choke, but it was not as tight as the 32-year-old Russian would have liked and Henderson was able to defend the choke to the bell.

Henderson had a good opening to round three with punches and kicks, and saw a high kick and big uppercut whistle just past Mamedov.

Mamedov tried to wrestle back the round by taking it to the ground again, but it was not enough to convince the judges.

Two judges saw it 29-28 for Henderson handing him a split decision win and ending the longest losing streak of his 15-year career.

With 40 MMA fights under his belt, a delighted Henderson was joined by his children in the cage and hinted that his time fighting had come to an end.

He said: “This fight was the most important fight of my career. I don’t know if I’m going to fight again so going off a W, that’s the way to go – in front of your home town.”

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