Ryan Bader didn’t need three full rounds to step closer toward becoming Bellator heavyweight champion.
Bader (25-5) made quick work of Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal Saturday night, earning a shocking first-round technical knockout in only 15 seconds in the final first-round bout of the Heavyweight World Grand Prix at the SAP Center in San Jose.
The Bellator 199 main event ended as quickly as it began. Bader, Bellator’s reigning light heavyweight champion, floored fellow light heavyweight Lawal with a short left hook, then sealed the deal with a succession of punches to the side of the head.
Bader told SFBay post-fight that while he believed he would eventually earn the knockout, he was surprised at how fast he did it:
“I thought there would be more trading as far as I was willing to take some to give some. I felt I was more resilient and could land that big shot, but it just happened to be the first punch and I kind of read his movement beforehand. Obviously, we trained and watched his videos and knew where his head would be. So it wasn’t like I just threw a haymaker out there – I knew where he’d be.”
Bader and Lawal were originally scheduled to fight at Bellator 180 last June, but Lawal (21-7, 1 NC) pulled out and Bader wound up challenging and ultimately dethroning then-light heavyweight title holder Phil Davis.
Bader then successfully defended his title against Linton Vassell via second-round TKO at Bellator 186 in November.
Bader was born in Reno and fights out of Chandler, Ariz. He will now face good friend Matt Mitrione in the semi-finals. The winner will advance to the finals and face either Chael Sonnen or Fedor Emelianenko for the vacant heavyweight championship.
Bader said friendship will not affect his focus and intensity during training camp since he and Mitrione will remain friends afterwards:
“Coming into this, we’re competitors, we’re professionals. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to go out there and train to beat him. I can elbow him in the face and we can be friends after – and he feels the same.”
Mitrione (13-5) congratulated his friend on Twitter, but also reminded him that he is stepping into Mitrione’s weight class:
So @ryanbader it is. Congratulations. You've been a friend for several years and now our paths finally cross. Congrats and train hard cuz this weight class is mine. @BellatorMMA @paramountnet @Viacom #No2divisionChampInBellatorWhileImHere
— Matt Mitrione (@mattmitrione) May 13, 2018
Bader acknowledged Mitrione for his size and quickness, but also acknowledged that he lacks Bader’s wrestling background. Nonetheless, he said he is aware he is facing a full-fledged heavyweight and ready to make the transition from light heavyweight:
“I’m going to have to bring some guys in to emulate that. I’ll gain a little bit of weight, but I’ll keep what makes me good. I’m going to be fast, I’m going to be in shape and I’m looking forward to that fight.”
Bader recorded his fifth consecutive win Saturday night while Lawal, a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, dropped to 2-3 in his last five fights, including a unanimous decision loss to Davis at Bellator 154.
Lawal announced on Twitter that he plans to compete at middleweight.
Before competing in Bellator, Bader made a name for himself in the UFC by winning the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter.
He went on to defeat a slew of notable names, including Keith Jardine, Antônio “Minotouro” Nogueira (twice), Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Ovince Saint Preux, and Rashad Evans.
Having disposed of the man he acknowledged as one of the tougher competitors in the tournament, Bader is focused on achieving heavyweight glory and ultimately becoming a two-division champion:
“I think that’s the pinnacle of the sport right there, regardless of any promotion, to go out there and win two belts in two divisions – let alone, the light heavyweight and heavyweight belt. The heavyweight belt is the most turned over belt in combat sports because we’re big guys and you have to be consistent. If I win that, I’ll be thinking, ‘What’s next?’ right away. That’s just how I am.”