Ryan Bader defeated Valentin Moldavsky by unanimous decision to retain the heavyweight title at Bellator 273 from Footprint Center in Phoenix.
Moldavsky (11-2) had success in grappling, which produced nine takedowns overall, he wasn’t offensive enough once he secured dominant position. Bader, who briefly dropped Moldavsky with a right hand in the opening round, took home identical scores of 48-47 on all three cards.
Moldvasky went on to land more strikes in total by a margin of 78 to 65, Bader connected on much more of the telling blows. A looping right hand from Bader wobbled Moldavsky in Round 1 before a follow-up right cross floored him.
Moldavsky controlled the middle rounds by clinging to a body lock against Bader and routinely dragging him down to the ground. But Bader came out refreshed to begin Round 4 and enjoyed a productive round by operating in top position on the ground for much of it and landing heavy blows.
With the undisputed title at stake entering the final round, Bader received the nod on the scorecards by landing a right cross and remaining more offensively active on the ground, even when working from the bottom. Moldavsky’s slam takedown in the closing seconds proved to be too little, too late.
“That fight was really close. I thought I was doing more damage and rocking him, even in the third round,” Bader said. “[In Round 5], he was just holding on while I was landing elbows. I knew it was close and here we are.”
“I felt good. He was a lot stronger in his body lock than I thought,” Bader said. “We worked on it a lot, but he had a different feel.”
The win also ended a three-fight stretch at 205 pounds for Bader in which he was just 1-2 with one-sided TKO defeats against current champion Vadim Nemkov and Corey Anderson, with the latter coming in just 51 seconds. Not forced to cut weight, Bader looked much healthier against Moldavsky at his preferred weight and was pushed to the limit by the aggressive style of the 29-year-old from Ukraine who now fights out of Russia under legend Fedor Emelianenko.
Moldavsky, who captured the interim title by outpointing Timothy Johnson last June while Bader was competing in the Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix, suffered his first defeat under the Bellator banner to snap a six-fight win streak.
“I had him rocked but I knew I had to just pick my shots,” Bader said. “I did more damage and was hoping for the first time in my life that the judges were scoring the striking and not the wrestling.”
Bader made his first appearance at heavyweight since his 2019 title defense against Cheick Kongo was ruled a no contest in Round 1 following an accidental eye poke. Kongo (31-11-2, 1 NC), the 46-year-old native of France, was announced after Bader’s win as his next opponent for a May 6 rematch in Paris.