Back in 2019, Ryan Bader faced challenger Cheick Kongo (31-11, 2 draws) in a fight that ended in a terrible no-contest do to an accidental eyepoke. Bader kept the title, but Kongo went on to lose a split decision to Tim Johnson and rebounding from there to defeat Sergei Kharitonov in an unexpectedly exciting tilt.
Bader (29-7) participated in the Bellator light heavyweight tournament to mixed results that included losses to Vadim Nemkov and Corey Anderson, but looked pristine returning to heavyweight and mopping the floor with Valentin Moldavsky. The stakes remain high, and the pressure is on for the champ to prove that he is still king of the mountain and for the hometown veteran to finally capture big league gold in his native France.
Bader’s wrestling and boxing have been excellent at heavyweight, being able to close the gap and not eat counters often. Most importantly, he’s using his striking as the setup for his striking, being smart about where to be when he’s on the ground and not allowing any space that gives an opponent room to recover or escape. Kongo remains a heavy hitter, but also just a heavy guy. He’s got strong sprawls and can fend off takedowns effectively on a basic level, but will struggle against a more clever and refined wrestler capable of turning corners and chaining together takedown setups.
And well, that’s exactly who Bader is. He managed to get Kongo down in the first one, but can get dropped and hurt badly by any single strike from Kongo if he gets careless. That’s basically the fight, and that adds to the unpredictability. Will Bader opt to strike with the big Frenchman, or will he figure he doesn’t get paid by the hour and try to take him down for a submission victory? Can Kongo outwork Bader in the clinch and brutalize him against the fence? Will he be successful at range and deny any comfort level for takedown attempts? We’ll find out, and it might just be a fun one.
Yoel Romero (13-6) was originally scheduled to face Melvin Manhoef, but Manhoef was unfortunately forced to bow out. That leaves Romero up against one of the more surprisingly exciting light heavyweights available, Alex Polizzi (10-1). With a solid submission base and some pretty strong striking, Polizzi’s been on the come-up in the 205 division. But it’s hard to count Romero out against any of these younger talents, with his wrestling, boxing, and unpredictability. This may be a more competitive bout, and certainly one with a greater level of intrigue.
Lorenz Larkin (23-7) remains a technical and disciplined striker that uses patience and a good counter game in his fights. He’ll be up against former LFA and UFC fighter Kyle Stewart (15-5) at middleweight. Another interesting middleweight fight takes place between England’s Mike Shipman (14-3) and France’s Gregory Babene (21-11).
Poland’s Piotr Niedzielski (16-4) is on an 8-fight win streak and has a bunch of finishes on his record, and he’s taking on Bellator mainstay and blistering striker Pedro Carvalho (12-5). Submission ace Lewis Long (19-6) meets former UFC fighter Thibault Gouti (15-5).
Former Cage Warriors champion Soren Bak (15-1) meets former Cage Warriors alum Charlie Leary (17-12). Yves Landu (16-9) brings his phenomenal striking style to challenge himself against finisher Gavin Hughes (10-2) .
Here’s a brief trailer for the main event:
And you can check out the weigh-ins here:
Full card is as follows:
Ryan Bader (232.8) vs. Cheick Kongo (241.4) – Bellator heavyweight title bout
Alex Polizzi (202.8) vs. Yoel Romero (204.6) – Light heavyweight
Benjamin Brander (154.6) vs. Davy Gallon (155) – Lightweight
Lorenz Larkin (185.6) vs. Kyle Stewart (185.6) – Middleweight
Gregory Babene (185.6) vs. Mike Shipman (185.8) – Middleweight
Pedro Carvalho (145) vs. Piotr Niedzielski (145.2) – Featherweight
Thibault Gouti (170.8) vs. Lewis Long (170.8) – Welterweight
Jordan Barton (145.2) vs. Fabacary Diatta (145) – Featherweight
Soren Bak (159) vs. Charlie Leary (160) – 160lb bout
Gavin Hughes (155.2) vs. Yves Landu (155.6) – Lightweight
Lucie Bertaud (125.2) vs. Katarzyna Sadura (125.2) – Flyweight
Matthieu Letho (185.8) vs. Youcef Ouabbas (185.2) – Middleweight
Bourama Camara (170.4) vs. Victor Verchere (169.2) – Welterweight
Bellator 280: Bader vs Kongo takes place this Friday with a special early start time of 1:00pm EST for those of us stateside. The preliminary bouts will be streaming live and free on YouTube, while the main card starts at 4:00pm exclusively on Showtime.
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