Ryan Bader remained a two-division Bellator MMA champion after a dominant performance Saturday night. He did not, however, walk away from the cage a winner.
The main event of Bellator 226 in San Jose, California, was declared a no contest at 3 minutes, 53 seconds of the first round after Bader unintentionally poked heavyweight challenger Cheick Kongo in the eye and the Frenchman could not continue.
Bader, who also owns the light heavyweight belt, was putting on a masterful performance on the feet and on the canvas before the foul. Moments into the fight, he clipped Kongo with a straight left hand, then nailed him with it again, sending his challenger into retreat.
Bader was poised in his pursuit, continuing to land until Kongo tried to turn the fight into a grappling match.
That suited Bader, a two-time Division I All-American wrestler out of Arizona State. He took Kongo down and seized dominant position, moving to side control, then full mount, from where he continued his assault of punches and elbows.
"I felt great. It sucks for it to end like that," said Bader (27-5, 1 NC), who is unbeaten in his past eight fights. "Every shot I was hitting him with was hurting him. Took him down, beat him up a little bit, and whatever happened, who knows? He couldn't continue, and here we are."
Bader, 36, said he did not realize he had poked Kongo's eye.
"You're in the heat of the battle there," he said. "Fingers go in the eye all the time. It was unintentional."
For Kongo (30-10-2, 1 NC), 44, it was a second failed attempt to win the Bellator heavyweight championship. In 2014, he lost a decision to then-titlist Vitaly Minakov. He earned this second chance by reeling off an eight-fight winning streak, with the most recent victory coming against Minakov in January.
After the main event, Kongo's friend Quinton "Rampage" Jackson tried to enter the cage and confront Bader. Jackson, 41, who last fought in Bellator a year ago, has a history with Bader, who defeated him in 2012 while they were in the UFC.
Bellator 226 also featured four opening-round bouts in the promotion's 16-man Featherweight Grand Prix. Making it through to the quarterfinals were Emmanuel Sanchez (second-round submission of Tywan Claxton), Pedro Carvalho (second-round submission of Sam Sicilia), Adam Borics (second-round TKO of Pat Curran) and Derek Campos (unanimous decision over Daniel Strauss).
The other four round of 16 bouts will take place on Sept. 28 at Bellator 228 in Inglewood, California.