Who doesn’t want to see a matchup between “Darth Bader” and “The Dragon”? Bellator could probably sell this matchup on nickname value alone. And yet, this promises to be a great fight between two highly skilled veterans of MMA. It also serves as the first fight in Bellator’s new Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix. Machida and Bader previously fought in 2012, with ‘The Dragon’ brutally KOing Bader in the 2nd round. Now nine years later, does Machida still reign supreme?
Ryan “Darth” Bader: 27-6-1
Ryan Bader has fought some of the biggest names in all of MMA. Fedor Emelianenko, Jon Jones, ‘Rampage’ Jackson, and Antonio Nogueira are just some of the legends he has faced off against.
Bader currently holds the Bellator heavyweight title and is dropping down to light heavyweight in an attempt to reclaim the belt he lost to Vadim Nemkov. Since signing for Bellator in 2017, Bader has gone 5-1-1, with wins over the like of Fedor and Phil Davies.
Every single Ryan Bader fight is always an exhilarating watch. The heavyweight champ is deceptively fast but holds equal knockout power to anyone in the HW division. He also covers distance extremely effectively. His KO finishes over Fedor and ‘King Mo’ are perfect examples of this. Bader is moving around on the outside, then steps in on his left leg, whilst simultaneously throwing his left hand. The blow does not look like it holds knockout power, but both Davies and Emelianenko were poleaxed by it.
Bader does not always limit himself to only throwing his left, but it is with that strike that he has had the most success. However, the issue with this step-in strike, is that it leaves Bader incredibly susceptible to being countered. Against Nemkov, Bader got clipped stepping in early in the first round, which seemed to dissuade him from advancing as much. This subsequently limited Bader’s output significantly.
He also holds an extensive wrestling background. Although as of late, he has seemed reluctant to use it. Preferring to focus on picking up highlight KO’s.
Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida: 26-10
Lyoto Machida is well known for being one of the first fighters to successfully transition the martial art of karate over to the all-encompassing sport of MMA. A former UFC light heavyweight champion, Machida has had an equally impressive career to Bader. ‘The Dragon’ has defeated elite-level opposition, such as Randy Couture, Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, and Ryan Bader himself.
However, like Bader, Machida is in the twilight of his career. A two-fight skid has seen him drop split-decision losses to Gegard Mousasi and Phil Davies. However, before that, Machida did show flashes of his former self in a fight against fellow veteran Chael Sonnen. Machida landed two flying knees on Sonnen and picked up a TKO finish.
Machida is certainly able to utilize the traditional techniques associated with karate, such as the front kick KO’s he landed on Randy Couture and Vitor Belfort. However, one of Machida’s go-to tools is his counter punching. His wide karate stance allows him to cover ground quickly, and often forces his opponents to essentially chase him. This is when Machida will meet them with his rear straight. It is in fact exactly how Machida knocked out Bader the first time they fought, back in 2012.
However, there are weaknesses to Machida’s game. The wide stance leaves him susceptible to low-leg kicks. Phil Davies and Gegard Mousasi were both able to land multiple calf kicks in their fights with Machida, which significantly limited his movement. He has also struggled somewhat with opponents who utilize wrestling. Before being KO’d by “The Dragon,” Sonnen was able to tie up Machida and take away his striking threat with grappling exchanges.
It’s certainly an interesting contest, between a hard-hitting blitz fighter and an incredibly slick counter puncher. As mentioned above, Bader’s confidence seemed to take a knock when he was countered stepping in, by Nemkov. This took away, at least for the 1st round, his go-to knockout punch. However, Nemkov is 28 years old, in the prime of his career. Lyoto Machida is currently 42, and his speed has significantly decreased since these two men first threw down.
And yet the fact of the matter is, Bader was knocked out by Machida when lunging in, by the counter straight. That could still be a factor that causes Bader to be somewhat hesitant. Utilizing the low-leg kicks that worked so well for Mousasi and Davies could pay dividends for Bader, especially early on in the fight. However, the leg kicks he threw against Nemkov lacked the speed and finesse to trouble a fight of Machida’s caliber. It may be that Bader attempts to take the fight to the mat, even if it is just to eke out around.
Should Bader become hesitant in advancing on Machida, expect “The Dragon” to continue using his movement to land his rapid rear leg roundhouse to the body, before stepping back out of range. The fight may become tedious at times, but it really could explode into action at any point. There will be one point in the fight where Bader blitzes Machida. At this moment, both fighters will be at their most vulnerable. Will Machida land that counter straight? Or will Bader’s rapid lead left slay ‘The Dragon’?
Bellator 256 takes place on April 9. It will be headlined by the rematch between MMA legends Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida. Also featured on this card, Liz Carmouche takes on Vanessa Porto, Adam Borics faces off against Jeremy Kennedy and Cat Zingano will test herself against Olivia Parker.