People wondered how light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader would fare in his semifinal bout in Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix against Matt Mitrione at Friday’s Bellator 207. The fight would be Bader’s first against a true heavyweight, a fight that was set up after he knocked out light heavyweight Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal in 15 seconds at Bellator 199.
Bader made it look easy as he defeated Mitrione by unanimous decision (30-24, 30-25, 30-25) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., to advance to the final. He will face the winner of Saturday’s Bellator 208 contest between Chael Sonnen and Fedor Emelianenko.
The fight started in the middle of the cage. Bader missed with a right hand but scored a takedown. He stayed on top and landed occasional ground-and-pound punches to the head and the body. Mitrione got up three times, but Bader smoothly adjusted his body and put Mitrione right back down to the mat. He kept blasting Mitrione with hard shots over the final two minutes of the round.
Mitrione went at Bader with both hands to begin the second round, but Bader went through them and easily took Mitrione back down to the ground, to a collective groan from the crowd. Once Bader gained position, he smothered Mitrione. Bader nearly finished him with a kimura but Mitrione escaped. Mitrione tried everything he could to escape and get the fight back standing, but Bader continued to grind him and landed punches at will.
BIGGER BADER: How he bulked up for Mitrione
Even though he was clearly winning the fight, Bader took no chances in the third round and took Mitrione right back down to the canvas, much to the dismay of the crowd. He didn’t slow down and continued to hold Mitrione and hit him with left and right hands to each side of the head for the entire round.
Bader (26-5) is 4-0 in Bellator and has won 10 of his last 11 overall. Mitrione (13-6) suffered his first loss in five bouts in the promotion.
Sergei Kharitonov KOs Roy Nelson
Kharitonov stopped Nelson at 4:59 of the first round in Friday’s co-main event.
Kharitonov (28-6, one no contest) came out popping the jab to keep Nelson at range. Nelson connected on a hard overhand right and pushed Kharitonov against the cage. With the fans chanting “USA! USA!” Nelson went for a takedown, which Kharitonov stuffed. The Russian connected on a short knee and Nelson instantly put both of his hands on the mat to avoid further damage.
A few seconds later, Kharitonov threw three illegal knees to Nelson’s head. Referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the action and took a point away from the surprised Kharitonov. Nelson, who crumbled to the mat in tremendous pain after the last knee, was granted a five-minute break to see if he could continue.
Nelson shook off the cobwebs and gave Kharitonov the middle finger in reaction to the illegal blows. Kharitonov stuck to his game plan and kept utilizing the jab. Nelson fired back with a right hand that lacked substance; it was clear the knees had had an effect. The American tried for another takedown and once again was rebuffed. Kharitonov then wobbled Nelson with a sharp uppercut followed by two knees.
Sensing he could finish off Nelson, Kharitonov blasted him with a series of combinations. Nelson somehow stayed on his feet, but not for long as another uppercut and knee sent Nelson to the mat. Miragliotta had seen enough.
Of Kharitonov’s 28 career victories, 26 have come by stoppage.
Nelson (23-16) was stopped for only the third time in his 14-year career. “Big Country” has lost three of his last four fights.