Ryan Bader will make his first light heavyweight championship defense since 2017 when he puts his belt on the line against Vadim Nemkov at Bellator 243.
The California-based promotion announced the bout on Saturday night. Bellator 243 takes place at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on May 9. The contest will serve as the evening’s headliner.
“I’m a 205er, been a 205er my whole career, and I want to go back down there,” Bader said in an interview on the Bellator 238 broadcast. “I owe it to the division to come back down. I wouldn’t have held up the belt if I wasn’t gonna go back down there, and now’s the time.”
After winning the light heavyweight title with a split-decision triumph over Phil Davis in his Bellator debut, Bader defended the belt with a second-round stoppage of Linton Vassell at Bellator 186 on Nov. 3, 2017. The Power MMA Team product then moved up a weight class and defeated Muhammed Lawal, Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko in the Bellator heavyweight grand prix to capture that division’s championship. Bader last appeared at Bellator 226, where his heavyweight title defense against Cheick Kongo ended in a no contest due to an accidental eye poke.
Russia’s Nemkov will enter the title bout on a six-fight winning streak, a stretch includes wins over Rafael Carvalho, Davis, Liam McGeary and Philipe Lins under the Bellator banner. The 27-year-old owns an 11-2 career mark, with all but one of his triumphs coming inside the distance.