Top-10 Fighter Ryan Bader Leaving the UFC Behind to Join Bellator MMA

Steven RondinaFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2017

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 03:  Ryan Bader gets his hands wrapped backstage during the UFC 192 event at the Toyota Center on October 3, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Yet another ranked UFC fighter is packing his bags. Per a number of reports, including one from FoxSports.com's Damon Martin, light heavyweight top-10 staple Ryan Bader is heading to Bellator MMA:

Bader quickly established himself as a formidable light heavyweight by winning The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 in 2008 with a run that saw him defeat Tom Lawlor, Kyle Kingsbury and Vinny Magalhaes. He has bounced in and out of the title picture in the years since, taking notable wins over Rashad Evans, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Phil Davis.

This is the latest in a series of notable signings by Bellator MMA over the last year. The promotion, which was long criticized as having a shallow roster, has picked up a number of ranked fighters, including Benson Henderson, Josh Thomson and Rory MacDonald.

Just as interestingly, this is the latest instance of the WME-IMG-led UFC losing a high-level fighter. While the promotion's previous ownership group, Zuffa, curated an amazingly deep roster and rarely lost top-end talent, a handful of top-10-ranked competitors and a number of respected veterans have left in recent months, including Kyoji Horiguchi, Nikita Krylov and Takeya Mizugaki. Whether this is a momentary shake-up or a signal of shifting priorities for the UFC remains to be seen.

Bader defeated current Bellator champ Phil Davis in the UFC.
Bader defeated current Bellator champ Phil Davis in the UFC.Michael Campanella/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Regardless, Bader joins Bellator at an opportune time. With Davis holding the light heavyweight title, he could be in line for a championship bout in his debut with the company. If not, there are a slew of interesting matchups for him, including former champion Liam McGeary and former Strikeforce champion "King" Mo Lawal. And of course, Bellator would likely be more than willing to let him move up to heavyweight, where he could face Matt Mitrione or Bobby Lashley.

Expect Bader to be officially introduced as a Bellator fighter at Bellator 175 on March 31, and an announcement of his first opponent to come shortly thereafter.