It was about as anticlimactic as a title fight can be, but Ryan Bader is still the Bellator heavyweight champion.
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This fight will not count as a title defense for the champion, who was hoping to earn his first after winning the belt in January. Instead, Bader’s fight against Cheick Kongo in the main event of Bellator 226 will go in the books as a no-contest after the doctor deemed Kongo unable to continue after an eye poke at 3:52 of the first round.
“It sucks for it to end like that, you know,” Bader told John McCarthy in his post-fight interview. “Every shot I was hitting him with was hurting him. Took him down, beat him up a little bit and whatever happened — who knows? He couldn’t continue. Here we are. It sucks. I put in all this work and we get here and have to deal with this.”
For as long as it lasted, the fight was controlled by the champion.
Bader was the first to find a home for his hands. His left was landing early and often, forcing Kongo to search for a possible takedown.
The pace being put on by Bader in the first minute seemed to surprise Kongo. He was on the defensive after eating the left hands from Bader and soon found himself on his back after Bader cashed in on his first takedown attempt of the fight.
Much like Khabib Nurmagomedov did earlier in the day at UFC 242, Bader dominated the top position. Kongo scooted back to the cage in an attempt to find his bearings, but Bader’s pressure didn’t let up until referee Mike Beltran called for a break in the action due to an accidental eye poke by the champion.
Bader had Kongo pressed against the cage in a seated position. He was throwing short uppercuts when his right thumb slipped into the eye of Kongo, who immediately alerted Beltran of the foul.
The doctor examined the eye of Kongo, and Kongo told him that he could not see out of the eye according to the broadcast. Thus, the fight was waved off.
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Bader said that he wasn’t aware of his finger going into Kongo’s eye during the fight.
“You’re in the heat of the battle there, you know,” Bader said. “Fingers go in the eye all the time. It was unintentional. I didn’t see the replay. If it did go in his eye, I’m sorry.”
Both fighters appeared to be disappointed with the result as it was announced. The two previously showcased a bit of bad blood at the weigh-ins when Kongo shoved Bader during their staredown, but the end of the fight certainly didn’t provide the resolution that either fighter was seeking.
For Bellator, this is not the first time one of its highly anticipated heavyweight bouts have ended in such fashion in 2019.
In the main event of Bellator 215 in February, Matt Mitrione and Sergei Kharitonov’s clash ended in a no-contest after just 15 seconds in the cage. Mitrione hit Kharitonov with a low blow that rendered the Russian unable to continue.
The fight was later re-booked for Bellator 225 in August, and Kharitonov emerged victorious by second-round TKO.
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.