Arizona Digest: Bellator MMA heavyweight champion Ryan Bader set to face Fedor Emelianenko

Bellator MMA undisputed heavyweight champion Ryan Bader is just a few days away from his main event bout at Bellator 290 at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif., where he will look to retain his title against one of the legends of mixed martial arts, Fedor Emelianenko.

Bader, a former wrestler at Arizona State fighting out of Chandler, is also a former light heavyweight champion who has won 10 of his last 12 fights in posting a career 31-7 record. The 39-year-old took the heavyweight title from Emelianenko (40-6) four years ago with a big left-handed strike to the head 35 seconds into the bout, and the barrage of punches that followed that strike for a stoppage of the fight.

"It's a one-punch knockout 35 seconds, you know, there's not a ton you can take from it," Bader told the Arizona Republic on Friday. "I feinted and I threw and connected. So I took that away. … Pretty short-lived, but I just kind of approach it like a new fight, there's not too much takeaway from that first fight."

Emelianenko, 46, has announced that this is to be the final fight of his storied career. Bellator 290 will be aired live on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. MST on CBS, the first network television event for the promotion.

Bader will look to remain unbeaten at heavyweight and defend his title for the third time.

"Obviously we're both getting older, you know, he's quite a bit older than me, and his last fight and all this kind of stuff. And I'm at top of my game, you know, I'm a heavyweight champion. I've been a champion since I've answered Bellator back in March 2017," Bader said "I've never not had a belt, so I'm at the top of my game, for sure. But with Fedor, it doesn't matter how old he is, he's always a dangerous opponent. He's got that power, he still has that speed."

Bader's last fight was on May 6, 2022, in Paris, where he won a unanimous decision over Cheick Kongo.

— José M. Romero

Taylor Montgomery receives sponsor exemption to WM Phoenix Open

Taylor Montgomery tees off on hole one to start the final round of The American Express on the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.
Taylor Montgomery tees off on hole one to start the final round of The American Express on the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.

PGA Tour rookie Taylor Montgomery will receive the third of five available sponsor exemptions for the 2023 WM Phoenix Open Feb. 9-12 at TPC Scottsdale.

Montgomery has made the cut in all nine events he’s played this season, landing in the top 25 eight times with four top-10 finishes. His best outings were third place in the Fortinet Championship last September, and fifth at last week’s The American Express in La Quinta, Calif.

Also, the Phoenix Open announced more celebrity commitments to the Feb. 8 Annexus Pro-Am: Cardinals all-time leading receiver Larry Fitzgerald, NFL Hall-of-Famer Jerome Bettis and recently retired Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt.

—Staff report

Major League Pickleball set for Mesa debut

The first Major League Pickleball event of the season is set for Thursday morning, the start of four days of play at Legacy Sports USA in Mesa.

Players from the newly formed AZ Drive of the MLP's Challenger Level begin group play at 10 a.m. against the Atlanta Bouncers. The Drive and 11 other Challenger Level teams will play three group stage matches on Thursday, with the quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday and the championship of MLP Mesa on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The Premier Level teams begin play on Friday and will follow a similar format, with group stage play Friday starting at 8 a.m. and Saturday, then semifinals and the championship match Sunday at 5 p.m.

The four-player AZ Drive roster is Sarah Ansboury of South Carolina, Sarah Burr of Australia, Wesley Burrows of Los Angeles and Andreas Sijelstrom of Florida.

A single day grounds pass with stadium access is $10. Full event tickets for all days of matches are $35.

—José M. Romero

Dulle promoted to Phoenix Rising FC club president

Phoenix Rising FC announced it has promoted General Manager Bobby Dulle to club president. Dulle initially joined team as chief operating officer ahead of its rebrand from Arizona United on Nov. 28, 2016. Prior to the rebrand, the franchise had a record of 29-43-14. Since the rebrand, Rising has established itself as one of the top teams in the USL Championship with a record of 104-45-35. Dulle was promoted to general manager in 2018.

“Bobby has been a steadfast leader since 2016 through both extremely positive and challenging times,” Rising FC Governor Bill Kraus said in a statement. “... Through it all, Bobby has been the glue that holds it all together on both the business and sporting sides of the franchise.”

Holmes receives exemption to WM Phoenix Open

Two-time champion J.B. Holmes will receive the second of five available sponsor exemptions for the the 2023 WM Phoenix Open Feb. 9-12 at TPC Scottsdale. This will be the 17th Phoenix Open appearance for Holmes, whose 2006 and 2008 victories are among his five wins on the PGA Tour, the latest being the 2019 Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles. Holmes also was part of two victorious U.S. Ryder Cup teams.

Phoenix March NASCAR race gets new sponsor

The March NASCAR Cup Series race will now be known as the United Rentals Work United 500, Phoenix Raceway announced. “We’re excited to continue expanding our relationship with such an engaging and committed partner like United Rentals,” track president Latasha Causey said in a statement. “Their dedication to building a memorable brand presence, both for their fans and their stakeholders, is unmatched. Bringing those values to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway was the natural next step.”

The newly titled Cup race will be run March 12, capping a weekend of racing at the Avondale oval that will begin March 10 with the ARCA Menard Series Tire 150 and continue the next day with the NASCAR Xfinity Series United Rentals 200.

—Staff reports

Registration for 19th annual Pat's Run under way

Registration is now open for the 19th annual Pat's Run.

The 4.2 mile run benefitting the Pat Tillman Foundation's Tillman Scholars Program is back in person in Tempe on April 15 this year, but people can also sign up to participate in a virtual run.

Children 12 and under can sign up for the 0.42 mile Kids Run.

Funds from Pat's Run help the foundation unite and empower our community of more than 800 Tillman Scholars, remarkable veterans and military spouses who carry on Pat's commitment to service beyond self and embody his values of service, scholarship, humble leadership and impact.

Runners race toward the end of the 18th annual Pat's Run in Tempe on April 23, 2022. The race was held in honor of former ASU football player Pat Tillman. It was the first time in two years that the race was held in person.
Runners race toward the end of the 18th annual Pat's Run in Tempe on April 23, 2022. The race was held in honor of former ASU football player Pat Tillman. It was the first time in two years that the race was held in person.

The course will finish at the 42-yard line at Sun Devil Stadium.

Participants in the 4.2 mile run, which begins at 7 a.m., April 15, will receive a limited edition Sport-Tek race shirt and the first in a three-medal series.

Cost for the 4.2 mile run is $45 through Jan. 31. The Kids Run is $15 through Jan. 31.

Visit pattillmanfoundation.org/pats-run/ for more information and to register.

Nominees sought for Ethical Athlete Scholarship awards

The Better Business Bureau Serving the Pacific Southwest, joining the Arizona Interscholastic Association, seek nominations for Arizona high school student-athletes for the BBB Ethical Athlete Scholarship awards.

These athletes are ones who do the right thing, no matter who is watching, according to a news release.

Parents, coaches, teachers, students and community members can nominate athletes. Applicants must share a story on what makes them an ethical athlete. They must have at least a 2.75 grade-point average.

Six students will be chosen from a panel of community judges and each given $1,000 in college scholarship money.

Former Phoenix Mountain Pointe volleyball player Mimi Harris, who now plays for Alabama State, was a 2022 scholarship recipient for making sure the right call was made on the final point of a club match that decided the outcome.

The ball fell inbounds, not out-of-bounds as it was ruled that gave her team the win. She let the referee know that the ball was in and the call was reversed, causing her team to lose the match.

“In my heart I knew I had to tell the ref the truth as that is how I was raised,” Harris said in the news release. “Ethics and integrity can be instilled in all of us.”

Her decision gained national attention.

Three Ethical Athletes are chosen during two nomination periods with applicants received now and through Feb. 28, and then again from March 1 through April 30.

To learn more about the scholarship and to nominate Arizona high school athletes visit athlete.bbbcommunity.org. Sponsors who are interested in supporting this year’s scholarship can email scholarships@bbbcommunity.org for more information.

—Richard Obert

Coyotes forward Clayton Keller will represent the Coyotes at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game

Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller will represent the Coyotes at the 2023 NHL All-Star Game. Keller was among the eight players named to the Central Division team that will compete at the tournament-style game in Sunrise, Florida on Saturday, Feb. 4.

The selection marks Keller’s third All-Star appearance, tying Keith Tkachuk and Teppo Numminen for the most All-Star game appearances in Coyotes history.

Despite coming into this season with a leg injury that cut last season short, Keller leads the Coyotes in scoring with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists). He leads the team in assists and is tied for the lead in goals.

“It definitely means a lot,” Keller said. “Coming into this year, I didn’t know what to expect with just the rehab and things like that. It was great to recover fast, the trainers did a great job, my coaches and teammates all made it super easy on me coming back. They weren’t too hard on me at the beginning and let me have some time to get my legs back and feel good again.”

Dec 29, 2022; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes wing Clayton Keller (9) takes the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Mullett Arena.
Dec 29, 2022; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes wing Clayton Keller (9) takes the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Mullett Arena.

State golf calendar loaded with big events at front end of season

The golf calendar has flipped to 2023 and the countdown is on to the WM Phoenix Open. The new year also sees the return of the LPGA to the Valley, as well as the first visit by the new LIV Golf League.

The Phoenix Open, a popular stop on the PGA Tour, will be held the same week as a Super Bowl in the Valley for the fourth time. The final round on Feb. 12 will conclude in Scottsdale about 20 minutes before kickoff to Super Bowl 57 in Glendale. This will be the 88th rendition of the tournament, and the 36th time it will be held at TPC Scottsdale.

A month later, and on back-to-back weeks, the expanded LIV league and LPGA will play in the state. The LIV Golf League, which had just eight events during its inaugural season last year, will have 14 in 2023, including a stop in Marana, just north of Tucson, March 17-19. Then, the LPGA returns to Arizona for the first time since 2019 with the LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain in Gold Canyon.

The LPGA's development circuit, the Epson Tour, will play twice in Arizona in 2023, once at Longbow in Mesa in mid-March, the other in Tucson concluding April 2.

The PGA Tour Champions will have two stops in Arizona this year as well, one in Tucson in February as well as the series finale — the Charles Schwab Cup Championship — at Phoenix Country Club in November.

This May will mark the third and final time the NCAA men's and women's championships will be held at Grayhawk. Starting in 2024, the events will be staged in Carlsbad, California.

Finally, there will be a USGA event in Arizona for the 17th time and first since Forest Highlands in Flagstaff hosted the 2019 Women's Mid-Amateur. The U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Championship is set for Troon in Scottsdale Sept. 30-Oct. 5.

—Todd Kelly, Golfweek

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 12: Sam Ryder of the United States reacts to his hole-in-one with Brian Harman of the United States on the 16th hole during the third round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 12, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 12: Sam Ryder of the United States reacts to his hole-in-one with Brian Harman of the United States on the 16th hole during the third round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 12, 2022 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Mercury open 2023 season May 19 at LA

Coming off a league-best 10th consecutive playoff appearance, the three-time WNBA champion Mercury will begin the 2023 season at Los Angeles on May 19 to tip off a 40-game schedule that’s the longest in WNBA history, up from 36 games.

The Mercury will open their home schedule at 1 p.m. on May 21 against Chicago to start a three-game homestand, before heading back on the road for five of their next six. The WNBA will play a more balanced schedule that has Phoenix playing seven teams four times (Dallas, Indiana, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Seattle and Washington) and four teams three times (Atlanta, Chicago, Connecticut and New York). Like last season, the Mercury's 2023 schedule is backloaded with home games, with 9 of the final 15 set for Phoenix.

Tickets to the May 21 opener at Footprint Center are on sale at mercury.wnba.com/2023schedule to purchase opening day tickets and view the full 2023 schedule. (Tickets to other games will be made available at a later date).

—Staff reports

Bader set to headline Bellator 290

When Bellator MMA makes its network television debut on Feb. 4, 2023, Chandler-based heavyweight Ryan Bader will be featured in the main event. Bader, who wrestled at Arizona State and is now the promotion's heavyweight world champion, faces Fedor Emelianenko in a battle of two experienced veterans headlining the Bellator 290 card. Bader (30-7) and Emelianenko (40-6) will go at it inside the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif., where they fought for the first time on Jan. 26, 2019.

Bader won the 265-pound title by defeating Emelianenko in just 35 seconds during the finale of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix.

The card also features Yoel Romero vs. Vadim Nemkov for the Bellator light heavyweight world championship.

—Jose M. Romero

LPGA returning to Greater Phoenix in 2023

Jin Young Ko signs an autograph after the third round of the Founders Cup LPGA golf tournament Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Phoenix.
Jin Young Ko signs an autograph after the third round of the Founders Cup LPGA golf tournament Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Phoenix.

The LPGA's first full-field event of the 2023 season will be the LPGA Drive On Championship, March 23-26 at Superstition Mountain Golf Club in Gold Canyon, marking the tour's return to the Phoenix area since the 2019 Founders Cup.

The LPGA season will begin Jan. 19-22 at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida. The tour then moves to Asia for three events in Thailand, Singapore and China. The LPGA hasn't competed in China in three years due to ongoing travel restrictions.

Superstition Mountain hosted the Safeway International from 2004-08 and is home to a number of LPGA players.

The LPGA last played in event in Arizona in 2019 when Jin Young Ko won the Bank Of Hope Founders Cup at Wildfire at JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix. The 2020 Founders Cup never happened in March of 2020 as COVID-19 shut down golf tours for several months.

The LPGA introduced tour-backed Drive On events during the pandemic after several tournaments were cancelled. "Drive On" is the LPGA slogan.

Beth Ann Nichols, Golfweek

Arizona Diamondbacks' Christian Walker hits a solo home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Brandon Sloter)
Arizona Diamondbacks' Christian Walker hits a solo home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Brandon Sloter)

Diamondbacks' 1B Christian Walker wins Fielding Bible Award

Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker was named winner of 2022 Fielding Bible Award by Sports Info Solutions, which grades the top defensive players at each position

According to SIS, Walker was the "runaway leader in Defensive Runs Saved at first base with 17, the most by a first baseman since Joey Votto had 18 in 2017. Walker dominated defensively with outstanding range and was the only first baseman to convert more than 50% of opportunities on balls hit to his right into outs. He joined Paul Goldschmidt as the only Diamondbacks first basemen to win the award (he won in 2013, 2015, and 2017)."

The Fielding Bible awards began in 2006.

Also, Walker and second baseman Ketel Marte have been named finalists for the Silver Slugger Award, presented by Louisville Slugger. MLB managers and coaches vote for the players they determine to be the best offensive producers at each position. Winners will be announced Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. on MLB Network.

—Staff report

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today. 

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Digest: Ryan Bader to face Fedor Emelianenko at Bellator 290