I don’t normally write Bellator previews, but this weekend’s Bellator card isn’t a typical Bellator card. It will be just the second time the company appears on PPV and the first time since 2014. The card, headlined by Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva has picked up as much traction as any MMA card this year and promises to be a spectacular, regardless of outcomes.
My main fear when Scott Coker announced this event was the booking strategy they’d go for. I hoped they make use of some of the high profile signings they’ve made in the last year and maybe some young stars like James Gallagher and AJ McKee, but part of me felt they might go full tentpole, giving us a card akin to Bellator 149 last February.
In actuality, I think Coker and co have got this card spot on. Personally I would have tried to fit AJ McKee and maybe someone like Ed Ruth in, but there’s very little to dislike. There’s the two tentpole fights atop the PPV portion of the card but there’s also three title fights and some interesting prospects. It’s definitely worth a watch and therefore I thought I’d write a few words.
I will not be covering the Bellator.com portion of the card, mainly as I know nothing of those on it, but I will be highlighting the Spike and PPV portions.
Spike TV/Bellator 180
Women’s Flyweight – Heather Hardy (0-0) vs Alice Yauger (4-5): One of the world’s best female boxers, this will be Hardy’s MMA debut. It’s very hard to gauge how good her overall game is, or how long Hardy will compete in MMA, but this should be entertaining. As her record shows, Yauger is durable but beatable and should offer a good barometer for Hardy. If Yauger is able to get this to the ground then she will have a major advantage, but the fight has to start standing and I think Hardy tastes victory in her debut. Prediction: Hardy via first-round TKO.
Welterweight – Neiman Gracie (5-0) vs Dave Marfone (5-2): As anyone familiar with Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or MMA is aware, the Gracie name is synonymous with one thing – grappling. Gracie has made quite the mark in his Bellator career thus far, racking up four wins, three by submission. In Marfone, Gracie faces a rugged striker with decent power but also a much smaller man. Marfone has previously fought at lightweight and is the smaller man and it’s hard to see anything other than another Gracie win. Prediction: Gracie via first-round submission.
Featherweight – James Gallagher (6-0) vs Chinzo Machida (5-2): Bellator management are very high on SBG product Gallagher and its not hard to see why. Aged just 20, Gallagher has already started to make his mark and this fight with Machida, brother of former UFC champ Lyoto, is a real step-up for him. Machida’s return to MMA has been quite the story and he’s got a 2-0 record in Bellator, but that won’t extend here. I doubt Gallagher gets the finish, but he’ll mix in takedowns and volume for the win. Prediction: Gallagher via UD.
Light Heavyweight – (C) Phil Davis (17-3) vs Ryan Bader (22-5): Despite the paucity of their first fight, I have really high hopes for this Light Heavyweight title affair. Davis seems to have discovered a new lease of life under Scott Coker’s operation and with his new contract in tow I expect Ryan Bader to be less conservative. Bader has more power than Davis and a decided advantage on the feet, but I’m favouring Davis. I think this could be a great fight and will be one to give the judges a workout, culminating in a second title defence for ‘Mr. Wonderful’. Prediction: Davis via SD.
Bellator NYC PPV
Lightweight – Aaron Pico (0-0) vs Zach Freeman (8-2): Damn am I excited for this. Without a doubt, Pico is the closest thing to a thoroughbred prospect MMA has ever seen. A junior world medallist in wrestling and a former golden gloves and pankration champion is about as complete a resume as a 20-year-old debutant could have. His KO of Josh Thomson in sparring last year also shows the youngster has power. Freeman is a tough out but a TKO defeat to Jake Lindsey doesn’t say a lot about his ceiling. I think this is an excellent showcase for Pico and I think he’ll open a lot of eyes. Prediction: Pico via second-round TKO.
Lightweight – (C) Michael Chandler (16-3) vs Brent Primus (7-0): This is a fight that shouldn’t be happening. That’s no knock on Primus, but he’s nowhere near the level of Chandler yet and two consecutive split decision wins (including one against Gleristone Santos that I thought he lost) hardly merit a title shot. Especially against the current version of Michael Chandler. Chandler seems to have regained his mojo and is arguably in the shape of his career and that beatdown he gave Benson Henderson puts him head and shoulders ahead of the other Bellator lightweights. Prediction: Chandler via first-round submission.
Welterweight – (C) Douglas Lima (28-6) vs Lorenz Larkin (18-5, 1NC): Another of Bellator’s high profile free agent signings, Lorenz Larkin, has been given an instant title shot and without a doubt this is my pick for fight of the night. Larkin seems to have found his home at welterweight, picking up two impressive wins on his way out of the UFC. Lima looked good against Paul Daley and in regaining the belt from Andrey Koreshkov, and these two should be evenly matched. Larkin probably has more power, but Lima’s timing is excellent. The Brazilian also has his wrestling to rely on and that should be enough to see him through in a great scrap. Prediction: Lima via unanimous decision.
Heavyweight – Fedor Emilianenko (36-4, 1NC) vs Matt Mitrione (11-5): Firmly in the GOAT discussion, Emilianenko is one of my favourite MMA fighters of all time and one of the main reasons I got hooked on the sport in the first place. He’s not the man he once was, and at 40 I wonder whether he’d be better served walking away, but here he is and he’s fighting Matt Mitrione, who’s morphed from that arsehole on TUF to a thoroughly respectable fighter, standing up for his fellow man. I’d personally love these two to go to war for 15 minutes and we get a draw but that probably won’t happen. What I expect will happen is Mitrione takes a couple of blows before clocking the legend and getting the TKO stoppage. Prediction: Mitrione via first-round KO.
Light Heavyweight – Chael Sonnen (28-15-1) vs Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1, 1NC): There’s a lot dislike about this fight, but I don’t care. I’m just going to sit back and enjoy it – whilst it lasts. These two have a combined age of 80 and Silva hasn’t fought in 4 years and appears to already be suffering from the effects of CTE. Sonnen’s dismal performance against Tito Ortiz earlier in the year makes it hard to pick him with confidence here, but I also cannot pick Wanderlei. A layoff that length at his age, and with more stringent drug testing, it’s hard to tell which Wanderlei we’ll get Saturday night. I suspect he gets caught by a takedown on one of his wild swings and eventually Chael will take his back and secure the submission. Prediction: Sonnen via first-round submission.