Trends come and go like the wind in mixed martial arts. The latest one that’s considered en vogue? Being known as a “champ champ” – or holding two title belts at the same time – and thus being considered one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world.
But what about being a “triple champ,” or holding three titles at the same time?
Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier and Amanda Nunes all achieved the status of “champ champ” recently, and all three are considered among the pound-for-pound greats. But only one fighter is currently known as a triple champion – Ryan Bader, who became both the Bellator heavyweight champion and the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix champion at Bellator 214 last weekend.
Bader was already the reigning Bellator light heavyweight champion, and won two more belts in the same night by knocking out Fedor Emelianenko, who is considered one of the pound-for-pound best fighters of all time. Oh, I almost forgot; Bader knocked out Fedor in just 35 seconds.
While McGregor’s, Cormier’s and Nunes’ accomplishments should not be downplayed and they are rightly considered among the best fighters in the world, Bader now belongs in their company. Any argument that Bader winning three titles in Bellator MMA is somehow less impressive because the UFC is a bigger organization is rooted in the ignorance of a still-uneducated fanbase, which unfortunately continues to grow bigger:
There is nothing wrong with questioning the level of opponent a fighter faces. UFC has great fighters. Doesn’t mean great fighters only exist there. Just look at what Coker did with Strikeforce.— Josh Gross (@yay_yee) January 27, 2019
As the old saying goes, history is written by the victors. The narrative that the UFC is still the only game in town when it comes to MMA continues to permeate among fans, because the UFC (and more specifically, Dana White) has the biggest megaphone to broadcast that fallacy to the world, and MMA fans are probably the most gullible in all entertainment.
However, as others have said, Bellator won’t supplant the UFC as the biggest organization in MMA. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deliver a product that’s every bit as entertaining. Or in my opinion, a more entertaining product, as Saturday night’s card showed.
But let’s get back to Bader. He jumped ship from the UFC to Bellator in 2017 and there is no doubt he made the right choice. He defeated a fellow UFC defector, Phil Davis, in his first Bellator fight to win the light heavyweight title. Bader has looked better and better in each subsequent fight, with his performance throughout the Bellator World Heavyweight Grand Prix being the best of his career.
The fact people are now clamoring for Bader and Cormier to face off in a cross-promotional matchup of “champ champs” also bolsters the argument that Bader is currently among the best fighters in the world:
The funny thing is, Bader and Cormier were supposed to face each other in the UFC in 2015, before the first of many fuck-ups by current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. While it wasn’t going to be a matchup of two champions, if Bader and Cormier had faced each other already by now, it could only contribute to the discussion of Bader’s place among the world’s pound-for-pound best.
Bader’s own boss, Bellator President Scott Coker, believes Bader is among the top two or three best fighters in the world. While Coker is obviously biased, I think that is the perfect spot for Bader to occupy. I also think it’s difficult to determine the single-best pound-for-pound fighter in the world – given the differences in weight class, skill set and other factors – but winning titles in two weight classes in an industry like MMA (which doesn’t exactly have a sterling track record when it comes to weight cutting, either) is about as good a litmus test as there is.
Efforts to undervalue Bader’s accomplishments just speak to the ongoing cynicism that plagues MMA. We always want something more entertaining to come down the pike, and we always want to see something we haven’t seen before. Bader currently owns three title belts, and apparently will have the opportunity to defend both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles if he chooses.
So if that doesn’t entertain you as a MMA fan, then what does? If defending two belts at the same time doesn’t make Bader among the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world, then what will?
Photo Credit: Dave Mandel/USA Today Sports