The last time fans Ryan Bader competed as a 205-pounder, it was November 2017. Bader, who had won the Bellator light-heavyweight title less than five months earlier, made a successful defense of the belt against Linton Vassell and then turned his attention to the heavyweight division, where he conquered three opponents en route to another piece of gold. Now, Bader returns to his old divisional home for another title defense.

In the headliner of Bellator 244, Bader puts his belt on the line against Vadim Nemkov. The challenger has turned heads with a campaign in which he’s victimized a couple of previous Bellator kingpins. He brings a 12-2 record and nine knockouts with him when he enters the cage against “Darth” Bader. Could this be the end of Bader’s title run?

Friday night also serves as a chance for former Bellator women’s featherweight champion Julia Budd to rebound from her loss to Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Cyborg destroyed the formerly dominant titleholder with strikes in the fourth round of their January encounter. Now, Budd is out to spark a new winning streak when she clashes with Jessy Miele.


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These two bouts top a four-fight main card that also includes a heavyweight scrap between Roy Nelson and Valentin Moldavsky. The show-opener is a middleweight affair featuring John Salter and Andrew Kapel.

Bellator 244 takes place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., and gets underway with the prelims on DAZN at 7:30 p.m. ET. The main card follows on DAZN and the Paramount Network at 10 p.m. ET.

Ryan Bader has not competed as a light heavyweight since late 2017. Now, he returns to the division to defend his title against Vadim Nemkov, who has been on a tear that includes victories over a couple of former Bellator champs and a Professional Fighters League tournament winner. Will Bader find success in his old division?

Bader was once among the best light heavyweights in the world, and certainly among the best outside of the UFC once he departed the organization. However, we’ve seen him fighting the big men lately. He’s had a ton of success at heavyweight, too.

Bader’s opponent has rocketed up the rankings in his time with Bellator. Nemkov punched his way through Philipe Lins. He kicked his way past Liam McGeary. He eked out a split decision over Phil Davis and then submitted Rafael Carvalho. That’s quite a spectacular run. Nemkov appears to be a true multi-dimensional threat to the champion.

The 28-year-old Russian does his best work with his fists, and his ability to outduel Davis, an accomplished wrestler, is a sign of possible things to come. Bader blends his wrestling and striking better than Davis, though, and has quite the resume at both 205 pounds and heavyweight. He could succeed where Davis failed, especially if he can avoid the heavy leather of Nemkov.

Ultimately, this should be a great battle atop the card. Bader is likely to test the takedown defense of Nemkov and control the fight from top position. There’s a chance he scores a ground-and-pound TKO, but it’s more likely that Bader picks up the win on the scorecards.

Will former Bellator women’s featherweight titleholder Julia Budd, who is making her first appearance since a January loss to Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, earn a rebound win in the evening’s co-headliner when she meets Jessy Miele?

Budd has only suffered three losses in what’s nearing a decade as a pro. It’s quite the list too: Amanda Nunes, Ronda Rousey and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Canadian has topped the likes of Germaine de Randamie, Charmaine Tweet, Arlene Blencowe (twice), Marloes Coenen, Talita Nogueira and Olga Rubin. If you hope to get past Budd, you better be among the pound-for-pound greatest of all time.

Does Miele fit that billing? No. She’s posted a respectable 9-3 mark since her 2014 debut, but those losses came to Andria Wawro, Peggy Morgan and the aforementioned Tweet. Her signature wins came against Nogueira and Elizabeth Phillips in a recent pair of split decisions. The 35-year-old “Widowmaker” is a solid competitor in Bellator’s featherweight division, but she’s not in the company of Nunes, Rousey and Cyborg.

Budd tends to use her strength to control opponents in the clinch and on the ground. She also has a Muay Thai background that allows her to edge her foes on the feet as well. This approach has served her well against all but those aforementioned legends. It’ll be more of the same when she tangles with Miele.

Does Roy Nelson still have anything left in the tank?

Nelson’s haymaker finishes could fill a highlight reel. However, it’s been nearly three years since he’s won a fight and four since he scored a knockout. “Big Country” is now 44 years old, and he’s on a four-fight skid. If he has anything left in the tank, it’s fumes.

Bellator has now paired Nelson with Valentin Moldavsky, a 28-year-old Ukrainian up-and-comer who has steadily increased his level of competition over four Bellator appearances. He started with Carl Seumanutafa in his promotional debut, but he’s since added decisions over Linton Vassell and Javy Ayala.

If Nelson was about five years younger, then he’d be a no-brainer pick to win this fight. As it stands, he’s turned into a one-trick pony whose trick is all too well known to his opponents. If he gets the victory here, it’s likely to come early in the fight off a mistake by his less experienced adversary. However, if Moldavsky and his team has spent any time looking at tape of Nelson, then they’ll know to stay on the outside, pepper Nelson with punches and kicks, and keep moving to make Nelson give chase and eventually gas.

If Moldavsky takes this conservative approach, a decision nod could be waiting for him at the end of 15 minutes of action.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

It’s amazing that a 23-0 fighter is buried deep on the preliminary card, but that’s exactly where fans can find Yaroslav Amosov. The 26-year-old Ukrainian prospect is set to take on Mark Lemminger, who has just one loss through 12 outings, in a 175-pound catchweight affair. This is about as big as a sleeper gets.


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Amosov’s spot in the lineup is puzzling. His stellar record includes recent wins over Bellator fixtures David Rickels and Ed Ruth, plus victories against UFC castoffs Gerald Harris and Erick Silva. The “Dynamo” appears to be the real deal, and he continues to get legitimate tests that should be spotlighted far more than Bellator has done.

His latest foe, the 27-year-old Lemminger, is a former Final Fight Championship welterweight titleholder who has also appeared under the Legacy Fighting Alliance banner. He won his Bellator debut in July with a TKO finish of Jake Smith.

Lemminger is likely to be outgunned in all areas by Amosov, but this fight could be another early glimpse at a future contender and, perhaps, champion.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (Paramount Network and DAZN, 10 p.m. ET)
LHW Championship: Ryan Bader vs. Vadim Nemkov Bader
Women’s FW: Julia Budd vs. Jessy Miele Budd
HW: Roy Nelson vs. Valentin Moldavsky Moldavsky
MW: John Salter vs. Andrew Kapel Salter
Preliminary Card (DAZN, 7:30 p.m. ET)
LW: Adam Piccolotti vs. Sidney Outlaw Piccolotti
BW: Erik Perez vs. Josh Hill Hill
FW: Lucas Brennan vs. Will Smith Brennan
LW: Vladimir Tokov vs. Chris Gonzalez Tokov
LW: Lance Gibson Jr. vs. Shane Kruchten Gibson
FW: Weber Almeida vs. Salim Mukhidinov Almeida
Catchweight (175 pounds): Yaroslav Amosov vs. Mark Lemminger Amosov
Catchweight (150 pounds): Vladyslav Parubchenko vs. John de Jesus Parubchenko