Bryan Baker (center; file photo) praised trainer Thomas Denny’s (right) game plan. | Rob King/Sherdog.com
With his chronic leukemia now in full remission, Bryan Baker kicked off his 2011 campaign with a bang Saturday, dropping Joe Riggs with a short hook to earn a spot in Bellator Fighting Championships’ fifth-season middleweight tournament.
“My heart was ready. I trained my mind. I knew my body would follow,” Baker said at the Bellator 43 post-fight news conference. “I was 100 percent confident. I accomplished game plan. My coach, Thomas Denny, put together a superb game plan, and I executed it.”
Baker punished the UFC veteran with knees in the clinch before ending Riggs’ night with a left hand at 3:53 of the second round.
Following his victory, Baker took center cage once again, but this time there would be no fight. The middleweight instead dropped to a knee and proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Megan Vargas, who accepted in front of the crowd at the First Council Casino in Newkirk, Okla.
“My heart is just doing back-flips right now,” said Baker. “I can’t express how much this girl cares for me and how much I love her. I want to give world to her. That cage is hers as much as it is mine. We’re going to conquer it together. There are a lot of good things in store for us.”
With the victory, Baker moves one step closer to a shot at Bellator’s middleweight title. The California-based “Beast” has knocked on that door before, as he fought his way to the finals of the promotion’s Season 2 tournament, ultimately losing to Alexander Shlemenko in their June 2010 final.
Baker could receive a chance to avenge that loss, as Shlemenko may also find his way into the upcoming tournament if he can navigate Brett Cooper at Bellator 44 on May 14. Bellator Season 5 is expected to kick off Sept. 17 at Bellator 49. Until then, Baker will have to concentrate on other things, like setting a date for his wedding.