Bellator returned with its first event of 2022 with a jaw-dropping fight night in Phoenix that was headlined by a gritty display of championship grit.
With a heavyweight championship night in Paris also announced, BBC Sport takes a look at five talking points from Bellator 273.
Bader’s best weight is heavyweight
Bader has spent the past two years trying to reclaim the lightweight crown after losing the belt to Vadim Nemkov in August 2020.
The American failed in that attempt and returned to heavyweight after a nearly three-year absence to defend that crown.
Fedor Emelianenko’s ward Moldavsky has been crowned interim champion in the meantime, but at 38, Bader’s future now surely lies at heavyweight.
Moving up and down in weight is tough on any body, but Bader looked stronger at heavyweight than he did in his recent stints at 205 pounds.
The heavyweight champion was able to shift into high gear in the championship rounds and ride out an extremely fast storm from Russian Moldavsky. Heavyweight contenders will have watched Bader’s return with interest and with his next fight already decided, he appears to be staying in that division for now.
Kongo gets a dream fight in Paris
As Bader showed a dog fight, Cheick Kongo watched from the cage. The Frenchman knew he would fight the winner of the Bellator 273 event and got his third shot at the heavyweight title in his home country.
A title fight in Paris on May 6 is a dream come true for Kongo, who suffered a heartbreaking loss to Tim Johnson in Bellator’s first visit to France in 2020.
Kongo will turn 47 just weeks after his next fight and it’s not crazy to assume that meeting Bader could be his last and last chance to win Bellator gold.
There’s a lot of intrigue to this fight – not to mention that Kongo has 45 professional fights under his belt and is an icon of French MMA – but this contest is also a rematch.
Bader retained his title in their 2019 encounter, but the fight was stopped in the first round due to an accidental eye poke. Kongo will be itching to get revenge and pull off a fairy tale night in front of his local fans.
Who is the best heavyweight in the world?
The first two heavyweight champions are Bellator’s Bader and UFC’s Francis Ngannou. People will have strong opinions on the question of the best heavyweight in the world but the fact remains that Ngannou and Bader did not fight each other.
Ngannou was a fast rising star when then-lightweight Bader moved to Bellator in 2017, but has since beaten Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and most recently Ciryl Gane.
Bader never had a chance to fight for UFC light-heavyweight gold, but he was by far the best heavyweight in Bellator. Bader’s losses in the UFC have come against the best of the best — like Jon Jones — but he’s certainly found his stride at heavyweight in Bellator.
Ngannou would seem the favorite of the best in the world considering how he added excellent grappling to his scary knockout game.
It’s hard to see anyone beating Ngannou at this point but the Cameroonian has come undone in the past against fighters exactly like Bader. Then again, maybe the American is too small to hang out with Ngannou?
Ngannou’s future with the UFC is unclear as he continues his contract dispute and it’s not impossible he will become a free agent this year. The UFC will be desperate to keep him around even if they don’t admit it, but maybe in a dream world we could see the best of Bellator fight the best of the UFC.
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Henderson can call it a day with a spotless record
Benson Henderson was on the longest losing streak of his career but managed to pull off an upset win over lightweight Islam Mamedov.
The Russian, guided by Khabib Nurmagomedov, was riding a 19-game winning streak and was a strong favorite against the 38-year-old Henderson.
But just like Bader did, Henderson dug deep in front of his home crowd and is now out of contract with Bellator.
Henderson had his kids in the cage with him, a good indication he might be ready to call it a day, and what a career it has been for the former UFC lightweight champion.
A Bellator belt may have eluded him, but with a record 40 fights and 29 wins, Henderson is a fine example for any young fighter.
Henderson’s character is second to none and he is admired both outside the cage and inside. Henderson and his wife Maria — who is also a fighter — both coach Brazilian jiu-jitsu and are likely to have a big effect on the next generation of fighters in Phoenix.
But there’s also a chance that Henderson could move on to Nurmagomedov’s Eagle Fighting Championship, with TV cameras spotting the two speaking after the fight.
“I just said I’m a huge fan of his and I’ve heard rumors about an Eagle FC or something,” Henderson said of the trade.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to do this for Bellator so I wanted to absorb it all. I don’t know if this would have been my last fight or not so I wanted to enjoy it.”
He added: “Might go on, maybe not, we’ll find out. This is my last fight on my deal with Bellator. They’re paying me a lot of money. I might have [underperformed in] my contract, so going into renegotiations, I don’t know how they’re going to treat me.”
Lee leaves Phoenix the villain?
Birmingham fighter Aiden Lee was furious when his fight with Henry Corrales was stopped in the third round. Lee had taken his allotted time to recover from an accidental peek, and referee Mike Beltran decided to stop the contest.
Lee appeared to want more time and his angry response sparked boos from the Phoenix crowd.
Corrales was given a technical decision after the scorecards were revealed, which did nothing to dampen Lee’s frustrations as he shook his head and walked away.
You have to feel for Lee, although he would have needed a great finish in the final round to overturn what had been a dominant performance for most Corrales.
Fight fans on social media and in the arena clearly felt Lee was tricking the eye, but it shows just how polarizing those kinds of results can be. Often it’s the victim of an accidental hit that draws the most fury from the crowd, but surely you must feel for Lee, who otherwise would have had more than two minutes to find a Hail Mary moment.