Ryan Bader and his team
Ryan Bader defended his Bellator heavyweight title for a third time

Ryan Bader ground out a unanimous decision win over home favourite Cheick Kongo to retain his heavyweight title and frustrate the French fans at Bellator 280 in Paris.

The American, 38, used his wrestling over five rounds to control his French opponent, 46, in a rematch lacking in standout moments.

It was an underwhelming end to the biggest MMA event in France’s history.

The sport was only legalised in the country in 2020.

In the co-main event, Yoel Romero earned an impressive late TKO victory, stopping American Alex Polizzi with one second left in the fight.

The 45-year-old Cuban never looked in any danger and it was the last of a number of crushing left hands throughout the fight which convinced referee Mike Beltran to step in at the end.

Kongo falls short in title bid again

Ryan Bader and Cheick Kongo
Much of the fight played out with Bader wrestling Kongo against the cage

The fight against Bader marked the first time Kongo had fought for a world title on home soil and the third chance at winning Bellator heavyweight gold.

The bout was long overdue for Kongo, who felt he should have been granted a rematch against Bader much sooner than three years after their first encounter.

That fight ended in controversial circumstances, as an accidental eye-poke from Bader left Kongo unable to continue and a no-contest declared.

One of the biggest cheers of the night came when Kongo was shown on the big screen inside the 20,000 capacity Accor Arena, wrapping his hands pre-fight.

There was a sense of anticipation in the air among the Paris crowd that Kongo could deliver the country’s finest MMA moment against Bader, but they were ultimately left disappointed.

Shortly into the first round, Bader set the tone of what was to follow as he wrestled Kongo against the cage and controlled his back throughout, without ever delivering any meaningful damage.

As the bout wore on, the Paris crowd grew increasingly frustrated, whistling and jeering as Bader took each round with little drama.

Kongo failed to excel in the stand-up and had no answer for Bader’s wrestling skill as what could be his final opportunity at a world title slipped away.

Following the fight, Bader, who extended his MMA record to 30 wins and seven defeats, called out Britain’s Linton Vassell, who is on a four-fight winning streak.

The pair have met previously, with Bader securing a TKO victory in 2017.

“It was a fun fight, the first fight,” said Bader in the post-fight press conference.

“I’ve been watching him in the heavyweight division and Linton has made his name, he’s in the mix and jumped the other guys, so he seems the next logical guy.”

Romero entertains in dominant victory

Yoel Romero
Romero’s win over Polizzi was his first in five fights

Romero showed why he is still one of the most popular names in the sport with an impressive win over Polizzi.

Polizzi, 30, was a late replacement for the fight after Melvin Manhoev was forced to pull out with an injury.

Romero’s popularity is endearing as fans rose to capture the moment he made his way to the cage on their phones.

The Cuban showed the speed, athleticism and explosiveness he is known for as he outclassed Polizzi throughout.

Romero landed a number of big left hands during the fight, knocking Polizzi down multiple times, while utilising his wrestling background to prevent a number of takedown attempts.

Polizzi had no answer to Romero’s power and by the time he was felled again at the end of the third round, referee Beltran decided he had seen enough.

Following the victory, Bellator announced Romero’s fight with Dutchman Manhoev, 45, would be rearranged for Dublin in September.

“It’s going to be a hell of a fight – the fans are going to be the winner, I’m looking forward to it,” said Manhoev as he joined Romero inside the cage after the fight.

French athletes impress on the undercard

Elsewhere, the popular Yves Landu got back to winning ways by stopping Britain’s Gavin Hughes in the first round following some knees and a kick to the body.

The Frenchman, 35, then wowed the Paris crowd by backflipping off the cage and dancing on his hands during the post-fight interview.

There were also wins for fellow French fighters Gregory Babene, Davy Gallon, Bourama Camara, Youcef Ouabbas, Lucie Bertaud and Thibault Gouti.

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