Usually, I break down the UFC card and make predictions, but this week sees Bellator MMA promoting one of their biggest cards ever as they make their debut at Madison Square Garden. Technically, Bellator is claiming to put on two shows that night: Bellator 180, which will be shown live in the United States on Spike TV, and Bellator NYC, a five-fight main card that takes place immediately after Bellator 180 in the same building but on pay-per-view. This certainly sounds like a prelim card and a main card to me, but what do I know? The card is Bellator’s second foray into the pay-per-view market, the first being a 2014 event that sold a dismal 65,000 pay-per-views but came before the company fired CEO Bjorn Rebney and replaced him with former Strikeforce owner Scott Coker. Hopefully, the company makes a better showing this time; with this card, it should.
PHIL DAVIS vs. RYAN BADER
This bout, which headlines the preliminary card on Spike, is a rematch from UFC on Fox 14 when Bader pulled off a split decision win in Sweden. Fast-forward 30 months, and both fighters have jumped ship from the UFC to Bellator, with Davis having won the Bellator light heavyweight title in his last outing. This will be Bader’s first fight under the
Bellator banner. Since we have seen this fight before, our primary question must be how has each fighter progressed since their last bout against one another? Davis is 4-0 since the last meeting, all in Bellator. He submitted Emmanuel Newton and then knocked out Francis Carmont before winning a decision victory over Mo Lawal and then-champion Liam McGeary. Davis’s real strength seems to be his smothering wrestling, with his two finishes in Bellator being the only ones he has managed in the last five years. Bader, on the other hand, is 3-1 in the UFC since these two last faced off. He has a decision win over former UFC champ Rashad Evans, a KO loss to Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, and two KO wins over Ilir Latifi and Antonio Rogeria Nogueira. To answer my own question, Bader seems to me to have advanced more than Davis is rounding out his skill set since their last fight. Bader is an excellent wrestler who has greatly improved his striking and power since their last excursion. Davis is a little better as a wrestler, but he will get manhandled in any striking exchanges he has with Bader. I think Ryan wins this in a decision.
DOUGLAS LIMA vs. LORENZ LARKIN
The curtain-jerker for the pay-per-view card features Lima, the Bellator welterweight champ, against another former UFC fighter, Lorenz Larkin. Lima is 16-2 over his last 18 fights while Larkin is 5-5 in his last ten, though they have certainly fought different competition. Lima has scored T/KO’s in eight of his last nine wins, including his last match where he took back the belt he had lost to Andrey Koreshkov just 16 months earlier. Lima’s other loss in the last eight years? Ben Askren, one of the top welterweights in the world. By contrast, Larkin has been very inconsistent of late, scoring solid wins against Jorge Masvidal and Neil Magny while also losing to Albert Tumenov and Costas Phillipou. In the end, I think the striking and timing of Lima will be too much and he will score a TKO in the second.
AARON PICO vs. ZACH FREEMAN
This fight is more intriguing for the unknown than for what we know. Aaron Pico is 0-0, making his MMA debut on Bellator’s biggest card ever. Zach Freeman is 8-2, an experienced fighter who has fought for titles in lower promotions. Freeman has ten
professional fights to none for Pico and he has finished six of his eight victories, but make no mistake, Zach Freeman was signed solely to be fed to Aaron Pico. You see, Aaron has never fought in the sport, not even as an amateur, but he may be the biggest prospect the sport has ever seen. Pico has devoted his life to freestyle wrestling, earning medals across the globe as a cadet and junior while representing the United States. He missed making the Olympic team in 2016 on a tiebreaker; he would’ve been the first teenager to make the Olympic wrestling team in 40 years. But, you think, MMA has a long history of great amateur wrestlers who have come into the sport. What makes this one so special? Well, his list of accomplishments extends far beyond wrestling: 2008 national pankration champion, 2010 European Gold Cup pankration champion, 2008 PAL national boxing champion, and 2009 junior gold gloves champion, as well as California state titles in both sports. Pico will most likely win this fight; the most intriguing question is how good will he look doing it? I smell a first-round knockout.
MICHAEL CHANDLER vs. BRENT PRIMUS
The third title fight to take place in Madison Square Garden on Saturday evening will be for the Bellator lightweight title. Michael Chandler (16-3) will defend against the heretofore unbeaten Brent Primus (7-0). Primus, though unbeaten, has faced fairly light competition so far with a split decision victory over Derek Anderson being his only quality win. Chandler has a loss to former UFC champ Eddie Alvarez and two to Will Brooks, but he has also defeated the best of the rest in Bellator’s lightweight division, including a win against Alvarez and one over former UFC champion Benson Henderson. This fight will probably be mostly a stand up war with a few takedowns tossed in to change the pace, but I see Chandler getting the finish in the middle rounds.
FEDOR EMILIANENKO vs. MATT MITRIONE
Oddly, a card that features three title fights will not have a belt on the line in the co-main or main events. In the penultimate matchup of the night, The Last Emperor, perhaps the greatest heavyweight of all time, will face off against Mitrione, a former NFL player and
TUF participant. Fedor once won 28 straight fights over a decade against some of the best competition in the world, but he lost three consecutive fights in 2010 and 2011 and retreated to Russia and Asia to fight lower-quality competition. He is now on a five-fight win streak, including an early Christmas gift given to him by judges that worked for him in his last fight, and has decided to return to the upper echelons of the division to face Mitrione, a top-15 heavyweight that has a mixed record against some very tough competition. The key to this fight is really going to be which Mitrione shows up. If it’s the one that knocked out Derrick Lewis in less than a minute, he should make short work of the Emperor. If Mitrione is slow and plodding, chances are that Fedor lands with his still-formidable power and puts Meathead to sleep. Either way, this ends with someone taking a nap inside the first frame. I’ll call Mitrione, but it all depends on him being on his game.
CHAEL SONNEN vs. WANDERLEI SILVA
The main event may not be for a belt, but it carries no less meaning for that fact. This may be the biggest grudge match we have ever seen in the sport, and it has been brewing for over three years. The trouble started as these two were coaching on a season of TUF:Brazil. Since then, Silva served a lengthy suspension for refusing a drug test and Sonnen served one for failing a test. Neither has won a fight since 2013 with Silva having been out of the cage for the last four years and Sonnen having lost one contest, this past January to Tito Ortiz. I think that the bad blood gets in the way of any great technique here. The Axe Murderer will try to knock Sonnen’s head off, but I expect the American Gangster to quickly score a double leg takedown and ground and pound Silva for a first-round TKO.