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We talked to Ryan Bader, Thiago Santos, other stars about PFL vs. Bellator


Ahead of the PFL vs. Bellator: Champs event on Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, theScore caught up with a handful of fighters competing on the card. Here are the highlights:

Ryan Bader, Bellator heavyweight champion

Scheduled to face PFL heavyweight champion Renan Ferreira in the main event

What did you think of PFL's acquisition of Bellator last November?

"Unexpected. It's always kind of - you have some anxiety about that. My opponent fell through for my last title fight in Bellator, so I definitely wanted to get that fight in not knowing what was going to happen. I didn't know if I was going to be fighting a year from that day (or) in May. When we finally got confirmation that the fight was coming in February, it kind of eased my mind a little bit. It's something new, something exciting. Definitely I get up for that. I'm rejuvenated, motivated doing this champ-versus-champ deal. Once I knew that there was a fight on the horizon, it was a lot better."

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Does it feel special to be headlining the event?

"Honestly, I don't really care about that kind of stuff too much. I'd rather be the first one on there, get it done, and hang out. It is cool, though, to look at that card and look at all the great fighters on there - champions, former champions - and headline that card. It's going to be a cool experience to go out to Saudi Arabia and have my first MMA fight out there. Something new. I've fought all over the world throughout my career, so it's not going to be too crazy for me."

Do you prefer to fight in the Bellator Champions Series or PFL heavyweight season?

"I'm pretty open, to be honest. I get paid very well just fighting these fights how I'm doing it now. If I kept that and went into the PFL tournament and had a little extra incentive at the end with the prize, that would be very intriguing. It sounds good to get that many fights in within a certain period of time. I do like that, that's why I liked the grand prix and all that - because I knew when I was fighting. If you defend your Bellator title, you might not know when you're fighting for six, seven months. I'm really open, especially at this point in my career - I like doing these new things."

What are the odds you face Francis Ngannou by the end of the year?

"I don't know. My concern is he goes out there and does really well and maybe beats Anthony Joshua. Why come back to MMA when you're making $20 million, you're boxing, you don't have to train as far as all the aspects of MMA? I hope I can go out there and beat Renan and then have that fight with him after his boxing deal. I think it's more up to him. Is he coming back to MMA? I feel like I'd be the only guy that he could really get matched up against, if he wants a legit champion. So, we'll see. That's just one of those deals where it's kind of up in the air."

Will you be rooting for Joshua to beat Ngannou?

"Probably. I feel like if Ngannou does win that fight, why would he come back? He'd be one of the hottest boxers out there."

What would you tell Ngannou if you were his manager?

"With the money that's involved in these boxing fights, especially fighting Tyson Fury and then Joshua, I would tell him to box. Box two more times and your kids' kids' kids are set for life if you're smart about it. But who knows? Maybe there's something in his contract that he has to come back to PFL. I have no idea. But I have a hard time thinking he comes back to MMA if he goes out there and wins."


Impa Kasanganay, PFL light heavyweight champion

Scheduled to face Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen in middleweight co-main event

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What are your thoughts about fighting Eblen instead of Vadim Nemkov, who recently vacated the Bellator light heavyweight title to move up to heavyweight?

"It wasn't a surprise. I knew I was gonna fight (Eblen). I thought it'd be Nemkov obviously because he was the light heavyweight champion. I don't think Nemkov vacated the title because of me; I think he really just wanted to go to heavyweight. I would've loved to fight him. I believe that one day we'll fight. It would be awesome and an honor.

"They wanted to do two champions. PFL versus Bellator. They asked if I could make 185 pounds and for sure I can still make 185. I look at this fight with Eblen as what I wanted: multiple weight classes. To get two weight class titles, that's rare."

What would a win over Eblen do for your career and status as a middleweight contender?

"It catapults me once again. It solidifies what I've always known and what I've always believed: I'm a champion and have a championship team. It solidifies the fact that I'm called to do this. In my career, yeah, it'll give me more attention. Some people consider him the No. 1 middleweight in the world. When I claim that victory, I'll be like, not 'I told you so,' but more like, 'Yeah, I knew it.'"


Thiago Santos, PFL light heavyweight

Scheduled to face Bellator light heavyweight Yoel Romero on main card

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Did a fight with Romero ever cross your mind when you were both in the UFC?

"Yeah, when I was fighting at 185, it came to my mind. Possible, it could happen. But after I moved up to 205, I thought it was never going to happen. But here we are."

What's it like to fight a striker after struggling against wrestlers in recent matchups?

"Romero likes to strike, but he has his wrestling. He can try to surprise me at anytime. His style is unpredictable. It makes me excited. He's a strong, explosive guy. And me as well. I'm going to try to keep this fight standing up. I like to strike and he likes to strike, so let's see what's going to happen."

Do you expect to fight in the PFL light heavyweight season again or in the Bellator Champions Series?

"I don't know yet. We don't have any idea about it. I'm focused on my fight against Romero. I want to make a big win against him and then be ready for anything that the PFL offers.

"I don't have a preference. I just want to fight and keep busy. Doesn't matter if it's the tournament or big fights. I just want to keep fighting and I will be happy."

What do you need to do to snap your three-fight winless streak?

"The time comes for everyone. I'm not the same as when I was 30 years old. But I work hard, I try to do my best, I try to improve, I try to correct my mistakes. I believe I'm gonna do much better in this fight. I want to show everyone that I can do great things inside the cage. I prepared very well. I have to do it for me, my fans, for everyone - (show them) that I'm still alive and still can fight and still can become a world champion."

How do fighters tell they're not in their prime anymore?

"With me, it's more about injuries that I have. Many big injuries, small injuries. It doesn't heal the same like when you are young. I don't feel my speed lower or anything different. But injuries - it's not about the fight day, it's about the camp. You have to train many, many different martial arts. When your body is not the same, and you have many injuries, it becomes a little bit harder. Recovery isn't the same.

"When you're 30 years old, you do three training sessions a day, and the next day you're good. But when you're 38, 40 years old, the next day, you're like, 'Oh my god.' It hurts everywhere."

How much longer do you plan to fight?

"I believe two, maximum three years more."

Tell us about last year's six-month suspension after you tested positive for clomiphene (an ovulatory stimulant).

"It was a mistake. I put my nutrition in other hands. I had a prescription so I just trusted one doctor and I took some tablets that I didn't know weren't allowed. I never tried to hide this from the Nevada Athletic Commission, I showed everything. That's why they gave me a smaller suspension. It didn't give me any advantages in the fight. Everyone makes mistakes. But it's nothing I planned to do.

"I thought it was a natural supplement that helps to improve your testosterone. But it wasn't clean testosterone. The doctor in Florida told me, 'No, this is allowed, this is a natural thing.' I never did anything bad that could do bad things to my career. My mistake was trusting another person. It is what it is. Now I'm more careful about that.

"I try not to take almost anything now. Just whey protein. I'm not a guy who needs too many things. Because of my age, I tried to go to the doctor and do something that could improve. But I never tried to cheat."


Aaron Pico, Bellator featherweight

Scheduled to face Bellator featherweight Henry Corrales on preliminary card

David Fitzgerald / Sportsfile / Getty

Would you prefer to fight in the Bellator Champions Series or PFL featherweight season?

"For me, I would love to fight (Bellator featherweight champion Patricio) 'Pitbull' (Freire). I would love to win the Bellator belt. It's been a goal of mine since I was in Bellator, so to have that opportunity to fight him and win the belt, I would love to do it.

"I believe I deserve that shot. But you can you deserve all the things in the world. Doesn't mean that's going to happen. I gotta go out there and make a statement."

Why do you think you haven't received a title shot despite being 8-1 in your last eight fights?

"I don't know. I had some hiccups - I got hurt. That was the plan: fight (Jeremy) Kennedy and then fight 'Pitbull.' Obviously, it was derailed due to the injury (suffered in the loss to Kennedy) and shoulder surgery. And then it was like, 'OK, you need to fight one more, then you'll get a rematch with Kennedy, then the winner fights for the title.' I won that and then they said, 'Well, you need to fight Pedro Carvalho, and then you fight for the championship.' But I don't know. I've learned not to put too much emotional value on one thing. Because if it doesn't happen, then it's like, 'Ah, shit.'

"When it happens, it happens. That's how I live my life."

What advice would you give your younger self?

"If I could go back and tell myself one thing, I would tell myself to slow down. That's the biggest thing. Slow down, because you're gonna be a great fighter, but take your time. There's no rush. That's what I would tell myself. Try not to rush too much. If it doesn't feel right, and you don't feel comfortable fighting a certain guy, it's OK to say no. Not that they're better than you, you just need more experience."

Did you rush into fights you shouldn't have early in your Bellator career?

"Yeah, for sure. I think me fighting at 155 was a dumb choice. I was way too small. I even think fighting - I beat Leandro Higo, but I think that that was too much of a challenge for me at the time. I didn't know anything going into that fight. I was still learning. I knocked him out in the first round, but he's a tough guy and had more experience than I had."

Did that and other knockout wins give you a false sense of security in your skills?

"No. It didn't. I wasn't thinking like that going into those fights. I had the mindset like, OK, if the manager tells you you're gonna fight this guy, just fight him. There was no negotiating. It was just me being not stupid, but just that young stallion horse that thinks he can do whatever. But he needs time to develop, he needs the right rider, he needs the right coaches. And the only thing that's gonna make him better is time."

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