Bellator 290 Report: Fedor Emelianenko retires from MMA after second loss to Ryan Bader
Bellator 290 took place on Saturday night, from the Kia Forum in Inglewood, California. This event was built around the retirement of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, as he competed for the final time in his career in the cards main event, challenging Ryan Bader for his Bellator Heavyweight Championship. Bader and Emelianenko fought previously at Bellator 214 in January of 2019, a fight that Bader won by knockout in just thirty-five seconds to capture the Bellator Heavyweight Championship, a title in which he’s defended three times since then. After the loss to Bader, Emelianenko won back-to-back fights by first-round knockout, defeating Quinton Jackson and Tim Johnson respectively, and it was ultimately decided that Fedor would rematch Bader for the title in the final bout of his lengthy career. This card featured another title fight in the co-main event, as the undefeated Johnny Eblen attempted to defend his Bellator Middleweight Championship against Anatoly Tokov, who has accumulated a record of 7-0 since joining Bellator MMA in 2017. Commentary for this card was provided by the team of Mauro Ranallo and John McCarthy, and the analytical team consisted of Josh Thomson and Amanda Guerra.
- Nikita Mikhailov def. Darrion Caldwell by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
- Diana Avsaragova def. Alejandra Lara by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
- Grant Neal def. Karl Albrektsson by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
- Chris Gonzalez def. Max Rohskopf by TKO at 1:22 of Round 2
- Steve Mowry vs. Ali Isaev resulted in a draw (28-28 all)
- Henry Corrales def. Akhmed Magomedov by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
- Lorenz Larkin def. Mukhamed Berkhamov by KO at 1:41 of Round 1
- Brennan Ward def. Sabah Homasi by TKO at 1:34 of Round 2
- Johnny Eblen def. Anatoly Tokov by unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46) to retain the Bellator Middleweight Championship.
- Ryan Bader def. Fedor Emelianenko by TKO at 2:30 of Round 1 to retain the Bellator Heavyweight Championship
- Neiman Gracie def. Dante Schiro by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
- Jaylon Bates def. Jornel Lugo by split decision (29–28, 29–28, 28–29)
- Isaiah Hokit def. Peter Ishiguro by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
- Yusuf Karakaya def. Ethan Hughes by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
DARRION CALDWELL (15-6, 135.8) VS NIKITA MIKHAILOV (8-2, 135.4) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Caldwell partially landed a flying knee early, however, Mikhailov caught the leg and the fighters began to wrestle in the clinch against the cage. Caldwell eventually secured the takedown, and he quickly took Mikhailov’s back on the ground. Mikhailov escaped the dangerous position, but Caldwell maintained top position and began to work from the guard of Mikhailov. Caldwell was able to remain in this position until time expired in the round, clearly taking the first five minutes on the scorecards. 10-9 Caldwell.
Caldwell immediately took Mikhailov back to the ground to begin the second round, where he chased after a rear naked choke from the back of Mikhailov. Mikhailov attempted to turn into top position, but Caldwell was wise to it, and Caldwell was able to remain in a dominant position, working from the guard of Mikhailov. Eventually, the fighters stood up due to inactivity, but Caldwell brought Mikhailov right back down to the ground, where the fight remained until the end of the round. 20-18 Caldwell.
Mikhailov was able to keep the fight on the feet for the majority of the third round, staying just out of Caldwell’s range, while landing numerous leg kicks. Eventually, Mikhailov opted to change levels and he secured a takedown of his own, with roughly two minutes to work. Caldwell escaped to his feet but ate a left hand from Mikhailov moments later. Mikhailov was able to take Caldwell down one last time before time expired, but the fight ultimately went the distance. 29-28 Caldwell.
WINNER: Nikita Mikhailov by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
Caldwell’s offensive output throughout this fight was very low, and that’s what cost him on the scorecards here. Caldwell was able to control Mikhailov on the ground throughout the vast majority of the first two rounds but was doing very little damage, and Mikhailov was actually able to out-strike Caldwell from his back. It was certainly frustrating to watch, as this is far from the first time in which the lack of activity from Caldwell cost him despite his top control time, and he has now lost four consecutive fights, effectively removing Caldwell from title contention in a division in which he was once the champion. Mikhailov improved to 3-1 in Bellator MMA with this win.
DIANA AVSARAGOVA (5-0, 128.8) VS ALEJANDRA LARA (9-6, 125.8) – FLYWEIGHT
Avsaragova missed weight by 2.8 lbs, and was fined a percentage of her purse.
The fighters traded heavy hands to begin the fight before Avsaragova landed a solid kick to the body. A straight shot from Lara found its home through a flurry from Avsaragova, but Avsaragova seemed to be doing slightly more damage with her counterstrikes whenever Lara picked up the aggression. The straight right hands from Avsaragova were constantly finding their target, and I thought Avsaragova’s gauging of Lara’s distance was the difference maker in this opening round. 10-9 Avsaragova.
Avsaragova continued to land those counter right hands in the second round, tagging Lara whenever Lara attempted to mount some offense. Lara worked her jab, causing some visible reddening to the left side of Avsaragova’s head. Neither fighter was really throwing their strikes in combination, instead largely landing singular shots before retreating. Lara’s pressure seemed to be making Avsaragova uncomfortable later in the round, which led to numerous moments of success in the round’s final minutes. 19-19.
Lara connected with a heavy left hand early in the third round, as well as a solid right hook. Avsaragova continued to look for counters, but Lara seemed to be landing heavier shots by this stage of the fight, knocking Avsaragova’s head back whenever she landed with power. I thought Lara’s output was strong throughout this final round, and she likely earned these final five minutes on the scorecards. 29-28 Lara.
WINNER: Diana Avsaragova by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
While I gave the edge to Lara, this was a very close fight, and I was unsurprised to see that the judges were split on it. Avsaragova was a step ahead of Lara throughout the first half of the fight, but Lara eventually opted to just start marching forward, and that pressure led to a great deal of success throughout the second half of the bout. Personally, I thought that Lara did enough damage late in the second round to steal it back, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who saw the round for Avsaragova either. Avsaragova is now 4-0 in Bellator MMA following this victory.
GRANT NEAL (7-1, 205.2) VS KARL ALBREKTSSON (13-4, 205.2) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
Neal shot for a takedown in the fight’s opening minute, but Albrektsson was able to defend the attempt. Albrektsson and Neal exchanged leg kicks, and Neal was able to tag Albrektsson with a short-left hook before taking him down with just under two minutes to work. Albrektsson largely did a good job of defending himself on the ground, and he returned to his feet just before time expired in the round. 10-9 Neal.
Albrektsson continued to look for leg kicks in the second round while engaging Neal in occasional heavy exchanges in the pocket. Much like the first round, Neal eventually decided to take the fight to the ground, and once again, he found success, grounding Albrektsson with roughly three minutes to work. Albrektsson escaped to his feet with two minutes remaining, where he went right back to the lead leg of Neal (who was taking the kicks well). Close round, but I gave the slight edge to Albrektsson. 19-19.
Albrektsson did not change strategy in the final round, as he continued to attack the lead leg of Neal. Neal dug into the body with a hook before shooting for another takedown. This time, Albrektsson was able to defend the attempt, and the fight continued to play out on the feet. Albrektsson connected with a solid right hand late in the round but did not follow up on it. Neal attempted to end the fight with a takedown, however, there was not enough time remaining in the round for it to have any true impact. 29-28 Albrektsson.
WINNER: Grant Neal by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29)
This was yet another close fight on this card that went the distance, and once again, I found myself disagreeing with the judge’s decision. While the fight was indeed close, I thought that Albrektsson just did a bit more damage with his leg kicks and strikes to the head in the final two rounds, and his output was slightly higher than Neal’s as well. Neal had the edge in terms of takedowns and control time, however, he did not do much damage with these positions, nor did he threaten any submissions, so I did not think these moments outweighed the edge in damage from Albrektsson. Regardless, Neal’s arm was raised here, and his record now stands at an impressive 7-1 in the promotion.
CHRIS GONZALEZ (8-2, 155.6) VS MAX ROHSKOPF (7-1, 155.6) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Gonzalez landed the first heavy shot of the fight, a big right hand as Rohskopf was on the retreat. There was a very impressive scramble at one point that resulted in the fight staying on the feet, but the exchange showcased both fighters grappling ability. Rohskopf landed a strong counter right hand as Gonzalez pressed forward, and when Gonzalez attempted to respond, Rohskopf threatened a takedown to relieve the pressure. This was a very close round.
Rohskopf secured a takedown early in the second round, here he was momentarily able to mount Gonzalez. Gonzalez escaped to his feet in impressive fashion, and he knocked Rohskopf to the ground with a right hand, before finishing the fight with ground-and-pound strikes.
WINNER: Chris Gonzalez by TKO at 1:22 of Round 2
While there was likely less than thirty seconds of combined grappling time throughout this fight, the scrambles in this fight were very impressive, with both fighters showcasing some very high-level grappling ability. The majority of this one played out on the feet however, and in the end, Gonzalez caught Rohskopf with a pair of right hands that effectively ended the fight, securing the knockout victory early in round two. Gonzalez’s Bellator record improved to 7-2 following this win.
STEVE MOWRY (10-0, 1 NC, 253.4) VS ALI ISAEV (9-0, 261.8) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
Isaev took Mowry down about a minute into the fight, where he began to work from the guard of Mowry. Isaev was not terribly active from top position, as Mowry was busy off of his back, but the fighters were never stood up, and Isaev spent the near entirety of this round in top position. This was a tough round to score, as Mowry was the more active fighter from his back despite Isaev’s top position, and in the end, I thought that difference in activity likely gave Mowry the edge in the round. 10-9 Mowry.
Mowry began the second round with a takedown of his own, and he was able to take Isaev’s back in the round’s opening minute. Mowry just began to throw down strikes, and Isaev was largely unable to improve his position, resulting in him taking a considerable amount of damage here. The fight was close to being stopped, but Isaev was able to turn into Mowry, giving up mount with over three minutes to work. Mowry started looking for an arm triangle, but couldn’t finish the submission, and instead, he opted to posture up, where he continued to throw down brutal ground and pound. Somehow, Isaev made it to the end of the round, but he was in desperate need of a finish going into the final round. 20-17 Mowry.
The fighters traded hands to begin the final round before Isaev opted to take Mowry to the ground as he did in round one. His activity was not overwhelming, but unlike the first round, he was able to trap Mowry against the cage and prevented Mowry from out-landing him as he did in the first. The fight went the distance, and I scored the bout 29-27 in favor of Mowry.
RESULT: Draw (28-28 all)
I thought Isaev looked a bit rusty here, which isn’t surprising given there was a nearly four-year layoff for him going into this one, but Isaev returns to the sport now at 39 years of age, and his window of opportunity is certainly narrowing. Despite Isaev’s control time in the first round of this fight, I gave the round to Mowry based on his activity from his back. The judges obviously disagreed, and with the following rounds being fairly clear cut (with round two being an extremely clear 10-8 for Mowry), this fight resulted in a draw, and neither undefeated fighter took home their first loss on this night. I would not be opposed to these fighters running it back in the future, but I don’t expect that particular rematch to be immediately put together either.
HENRY CORRALES (20-6, 145.6) VS AKHMED MAGOMEDOV (9-0, 145.2) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Magomedov chased after a takedown early and was able to drag Corrales down against the cage. Corrales was continuously able to escape from Magomedov, but whenever he created distance, Magomedov would immediately chase Corrales back down and re-engage him in the clinch. With ninety seconds remaining in the round, Corrales was finally able to break away from Magomedov, and the fighters exchanged strikes until time expired in the round. 10-9 Magomedov.
Corrales attacked the lead leg of Magomedov before the fighters traded hooks. Magomedov landed a strong combination of strikes, as Corrales attacked the body of Magomedov. A right hand from Magomedov landed with power, and he attempted to follow it up with a takedown, to no success. The leg kicks from Corrales were having a clear effect on Magomedov, as were his body shots. Magomedov landed a strong uppercut, as well as a right hook that found its target. This was a very close round. 19-19.
Corrales defended a takedown attempt to begin the final round. Magomedov stuck with it, and was able to take Corrales down momentarily, but Corrales popped right back to his feet, where he was able to keep the fight for the remainder of the round. Magomedov landed a solid one-two, and Corrales responded with a hook. The leg kicks from Corrales were still doing significant damage whenever they landed, and they very well may have been the difference maker in what was otherwise another close round. I scored the fight 29-28 for Corrales.
WINNER: Henry Corrales by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
When Corrales made his Bellator debut in June of 2015, expectations were high for the then-undefeated, King of the Cage double champ, but those hopes were soon extinguished after a trio of losses to begin his run in the promotion. Since then however, Corrales has built himself back up, and really carved out his spot in the promotion’s featherweight division, accumulating a record of 9-3 since that first string of losses. This was another strong performance from Corrales, this time against a very tough opponent in Akhmed Magomedov, who came into this fight undefeated. It was certainly a close fight, but Corrales’s work to the lead leg and body of Magomedov paid off, slowing Magomedov’s pace, while dramatically reducing the threat of the takedown. I would not be opposed to seeing Corrales fight a ranked opponent in his next bout, and despite the loss here, I don’t think that Magomedov is that far out from ranked competition either.
LORENZ LARKIN (24-3, 171) VS MUKHAMED BERKHAMOV (14-0, 171) – WELTERWEIGHT
The fighters traded hard leg kicks to begin the fight, and Berkhamov was really trying to get Larkin out of there early, throwing some massive right hands. During a brief clinch exchange, Larkin separated with a heavy elbow, and the elbow caught Berkhamov flush in the forehead, knocking him out cold.
WINNER: Lorenz Larkin by KO at 1:41 of Round 1
This was a beautiful knockout from Larkin, who has always done excellent work from the clinch throughout his career. Larkin and Berkhamov fought previously in July of 2022, and the fight ended in a no-contest after an illegal elbow from Larkin rendered Berkhamov unable to continue, so it was perhaps poetic that the rematch would end with a perfectly legal one ending the bout in brutal fashion. Larkin has now won seven of his last eight fights, with the no-contest against Berkhamov being the one bout in which Larkin failed to take home the win. Larkin has not lost a fight in over five years, and if he sticks to one division, whether that be middleweight or welterweight, a title shot does not seem out of the realm of possibility for Larkin in the near future.
SABAH HOMASI (17-10, 170.8) VS BRENNAN WARD (16-6, 170.8) – WELTERWEIGHT
Unsurprisingly, this fight began at an unsustainably wild pace as both fighters attempted to finish the fight quickly. Homasi opened up a cut on the left side of Wards face, and the early leg kicks from Homasi were having a clear effect on the lead leg of Ward. Ward was looking a bit rough on the feet here, and he opted to change levels and take Homasi to the ground, where he worked his way to the back of Homasi as Ward searched for a rear naked choke. Homasi escaped to his feet and landed a flying knee, which Ward just ate before landing a stepping knee of his own. Homasi slipped on another jumping knee attempt, and Ward followed him down, keeping top position for a short period of time before Homasi escaped to his feet. A right hand from Ward seemed to hurt Homasi late in the round, but he was unable to capitalize on the moment before time expired.
Ward knocked Homasi to the ground early in the second round, and he immediately closed the distance as he attempted to finish the fight. Homasi picked himself up, but he was clearly hurt, and a head kick from Ward dropped Homasi once again, where Ward ended the fight with ground and pound.
WINNER: Brennan Ward by TKO at 1:34 of Round 2
This was a tremendously entertaining fight, just as you would expect between these two fighters. Homasi had Ward in trouble early, but Ward was able to weather the storm, and as the fight progressed, he began to fire back, eventually overwhelming Homasi towards the end of the first round. By the start of the second round, Homasi looked exhausted, and Ward quickly dropped him, where he just continued to pour on the attack before dropping Homasi for a second time with a head kick and finishing the fight. It was a great performance for the former middleweight title challenger, and he has now won three consecutive fights by second-round knockout since returning to the sport in 2022. After the fight, Ward called for a title shot, as well as a fight against Dalton Rosa.
JOHNNY EBLEN (12-0, 184) VS ANATOLY TOKOV (31-2, 184.8) – BELLATOR MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Tokov landed a solid right hand in the opening seconds of the fight, and Eblen responded not long after with a quick combination of strikes that put Tokov on the retreat. Tokov landed another counter right hand before attempting a takedown, but the attempt was defended by Eblen. The fighters traded elbows on a break from the clinch before Eblen defended another takedown attempt from Tokov to end a very competitive round. 10-9 Eblen.
Eblen came out swinging in the second round, and I thought Tokov countered well to land the stronger shots. Tokov’s jab was finding its home, which in turn prompted Eblen to fight with more aggression as he attempted to turn it into a wilder bout. The fighters exchanged one-twos, with both men landing with considerable power. Tokov staggered Eblen with a right hand after sprawling on a takedown attempt, but if Eblen was hurt, he recovered quickly. Eblen landed an elbow that sat Tokov down, and as Tokov picked himself up, Eblen secured a takedown to end the round in an advantageous position. 20-18 Eblen.
Eblen changed levels and took Tokov back to the ground in the opening minute of round three. Tokov was able to pick himself up, but Eblen returned him to the ground repeatedly, mixing in some ground and pound shots whenever possible. Tokov broke away with half of the round to work, but the momentum was entirely on the side of Eblen, who got back to work with a series of leg kicks. The fighters traded heavy shots back on their feet until the end of the round. 30-27 Eblen.
Eblen was able to take Tokov down early in round four, where he sat him down against the cage. Much like the previous round, Tokov did a fine job of defending himself but was largely unable to create separation, and Eblen repeatedly brought Tokov back to the ground whenever he picked himself up. Unlike round three, Tokov was unable to separate himself from Eblen before the conclusion of the round, and this was a very clear five minutes for Johnny Eblen. 40-36 Eblen.
Tokov was in need of a finish going into this fifth round, but the threat of the takedown from Eblen kept him hesitant. Eblen landed a heavy right hand, the first big strike of the round, and Tokov fired back with a short combination. Eblen eventually took Tokov back to the ground, where he kept him for the remainder of the round, barring a late suplex from Eblen that got a huge reaction from the crowd. 50-45 all.
WINNER: Johnny Eblen by unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46) to retain the Bellator Middleweight Championship.
While Tokov certainly had his moments throughout the fight, this was largely a dominant performance from Johnny Eblen, who has looked absolutely phenomenal thus far into his Bellator run. To effectively shutout the likes of Gegard Mousasi and Anatoly Tokov is no easy feat, but Eblen has accomplished just that in his two Bellator title fights, and right now, it’s tough to imagine anyone in Bellator’s middleweight division unseating Eblen to take the promotions middleweight throne. Fabian Edwards will be facing Gegard Mousasi on an upcoming Bellator show, and Eblen stated that he would like to face the winner of that fight in his next bout, so the winner of that one will in all likelihood face Eblen for his title next, especially if it’s Edwards who walks away from that one victorious.
RYAN BADER (30-7, 1 NC, 234.4) VS FEDOR EMELIANENKO (40-6, 1 NC, 236.2) – BELLATOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
The fighters touched gloves to begin the main event. Bader backed Fedor up early, and a right hand from Bader sent Emelianenko to the ground early. Bader followed him to the ground and began to throw down hammer fists, cutting Fedor open near his right eye. Emelianenko was unable to escape from under Bader, and Bader just threw down strikes until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Ryan Bader by TKO at 2:30 of Round 1 to retain the Bellator Heavyweight Championship
MMA is generally an unkind sport to its legends, and this fight was no exception. This fight played out in a similar fashion to their first meeting, with Bader’s clear physical advantages quickly overwhelming the 46-year-old Emelianenko. Fedor took a lot of damage here, which I don’t think anybody wanted to see, but once again, these are the unfortunate realities of the sport. After the fight, numerous MMA legends came into the cage to pay their respects to Emelianenko, who left his gloves in the middle of the cage to an ovation from the crowd.
In the prime of his career, Emelianenko had an aura surrounding him, unlike any other fighter in the sport. While heavyweight fighters in the sport often have lengthy careers, their peaks are often fairly short, but Fedor’s was anything but. Before Fabricio Werdum’s defeat of Emelianenko in 2010, Emelianenko held a record of 31-1 (1 NC) in the sport, with that one loss coming due to a controversial doctor’s stoppage just seconds into one of his first fights. It was a truly legendary run, with the bulk of it taking place in PRIDE FC, where Emelianenko reigned as the promotions heavyweight champion from March of 2003 until the closure of the promotion in 2007. Emelianenko would go on to have success in multiple promotions following PRIDE’s closure until a trio of consecutive losses in Strikeforce marked the beginning of the legend’s decline. Still, he accumulated a very respectable record of 9-3 following these fights, challenging for Bellator’s heavyweight title twice before his retirement. Despite being undersized for a heavyweight, Emelianenko was a force that steamrolled through the vast majority of his opponents, defeating the likes of Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, Pedro Rizzo, and Frank Mir throughout his career. His speed was unmatched on the feet, and in the prime of his career, his grappling was untouchable as well, utilizing his backgrounds in Sambo and Judo to great effect. Despite his unmatched legacy at heavyweight, Emelianenko was always a quiet and humble individual, which in a way, only added to his mystique. He was a truly legendary figure of the sport, and if this was indeed his last fight, Emelianenko retires from the sport with a professional record of 40-7 (1 NC).