This PPV offering has a bit of everything; title fights, a legend, a grudge match (4 years late) and the pro debut of a prospect who has more build up behind him by Bellator than some title challengers in the UFC.
I do disagree in the ordering of the fights. For one, whilst I appreciate that the welterweight and lightweight championship fights have more potential on paper to provide us with some fireworks as opposed to the light heavyweight fight. But I would lean towards something more along these lines for this card:
Phil Davis vs Ryan Bader
Fedor Emelianenko vs Matt Mitrione
Douglas Lima vs Lorenz Larkin
Chael Sonnen vs Wanderlei Silva
James Gallagher vs Chinzo Machida
Michael Chandler vs Brent Primus
Aaron Pico vs Zach Freeman
…not that my opinion matters, it’s just what everyone is accustomed to with how MMA cards have been. We also have the slight problem that Bellator’s next few cards may feel somewhat weakened given the competitors on this card.
Chael Sonnen x Wanderlei Silva
It’s doubtful that the feud between Wanderlei and Chael will end following this fight, but at least it has materialised after what seems like an eternity. Neither fighter has been particularly impressive in recent years; suspensions, age and opportunity hasn’t exactly been what it once was for these two veterans of the sport.
Silva has only fought 4 times in the last 7 years, going 2-2 and most recently outlasting Brian Stann in a brawl back in March 2013. At 40 years of age and a career that spans over 20 years, regardless of this fight outcome you might be inclined to think this is the last we see of “The Axe Murderer” in a MMA fight.
Sonnen (also 40) has fought as recent as this past January but his record of 1-4 dating back to UFC 148 would suggest his best years are behind him. In his fight with Tito Ortiz earlier this year, although appearing to be in what many would consider a good position, somehow ended up losing top control before succumbing to a reasonably effortless rear-naked choke.
Whilst clear that the Wanderlei we see compete tonight will be almost a completely different fighter to the Silva that tore through his opponents in Pride FC. It’s really only been his chin that has let him down of late.
He made things competitive in the Franklin fight and his finishes of both Stann and Cung Le show that he is still capable of winning fights in brutal exchanges. A signature flurry of aggression could be all he needs in the first round to hurt Sonnen and finish this fight.
A journeyman who has talked his way into some of the highest profile UFC events in recent history, Sonnen has always delivered in his promotional work and turning up to fight. In reality though, he’s a good wrestler who can smother on his opponents for 15 minutes at a time.
Although losses to Anderson Silva (twice) and Jon Jones are by no means something to be ashamed of, especially at the time of those fights, he’s not got much to offer the sport these days when it comes to actually fighting. His chin has faded, he’s not fighting at the weight class he had a successful career at – similar to Silva, I think this is the last we see of Sonnen (in a high profile fight).
This fight has two outcomes; either Wanderlei storms out ultra aggressive and finishes this fight early or Sonnen wears down on Silva after the brief flurries anticipated early into round one. I don’t think either fighters gas tank is in a condition as it once was, if I was to favour one of these two in that department it would be Sonnen.
I just think Silva is underestimated too much heading into this fight. Unlike Sonnen, Silva has the power and variety of attacks to finish this fight in the first exchanges. Sonnen will attempt to shoot in early, if he fails to do so he’ll probably get finished doing so.
Wanderlei Silva via TKO Round 1
Fedor Emelianenko x Matt Mitrione
Without question, Fedor will always be remembered as a pioneer of heavyweight MMA and despite the sport being relatively young, few have captured the fans attention as much as Fedor did in his prime years.
Like all good things in life, careers in MMA just don’t keep going the way they used to. Many of today’s legends of the sport have fallen. Despite Fedor getting back to winning ways following a 3-fight losing streak, his most recent fight with Fabio Maldonado is a clear indication that the end is near for “The Last Emperor”.
He will take on former UFC fighter and underrated knockout artist Matt Mitrione. A fighter who has spent his entire professional career competing in either the UFC or Bellator. His 11-5 record doesn’t do him justice.
Surprisingly light on his feet for a heavyweight. Mitrione darts around the cage with well timed straight punches and heavy leg kicks. Mitrione is a true knockout specialist, he needed less than a minute to finish Derrick Lewis (a fighter who took Mark Hunt into the 4th round) and has a career KO ratio of 91% in the fights he has won.
If you’ve seen both fighters last couple of fights, you would be wise to think Mitrione has a very good opportunity to win this fight. If these two fighters choose to stand and trade, whilst it could be anyone’s fight to win you would still favour the younger (just) more explosive fighter in “Meathead”.
However, Fedor is not a one trick pony and we’ve seen Mitrione in all sorts of trouble when he’s been wobbled or taken down. You probably couldn’t ask for a better send off to a career than a win in Madison Square Garden so although it’s a risky pick to take, I see Fedor surprising Mitrione with a second round stoppage.
Fedor Emelianenko via TKO Round 2
Douglas Lima x Lorenz Larkin
I still think it is odd that the UFC never felt the urge to resign Larkin. In the 3 years he competed with the promotion he went 5-5 but since moving down to 170lbs had gone 4-1.
In his most recent fight he stopped Neil Magny inside the first round, following that performance one would expect him to be a fight or two away from title contention, instead the UFC didn’t present much of an offer with his contract renewal – Bellator’s offer was better and here we are.
Fighting for a world championship at Madison Square Garden, some may question the opposition but in all honesty aside from Askren, Lima has a good case in being the best welterweight in MMA not signed in the UFC.
This fight has so much potential, both are dynamic strikers and whilst Larkin has a slight speed advantage in his approach, Lima is the more powerful striker and will increase his volume the more comfortable he gets in the fight.
Volume of strikes has been something that has affected Larkin throughout his career, along with the ability to avoid the takedown. Whilst the latter shouldn’t be so much of a difficulty in this match up he can’t afford to offer Lima too many openings.
Both fighters are good kickers which makes for an interesting fight. Lima is the more well-rounded of the two and might look to counter kicks by attempting to grab or use his boxing to pepper away at Larkin, similar to what Tumenov did.
As a five round fight I think this favours Lima. Larkin will definitely be at his most explosive and dangerous in the opening rounds. Lima tends to grow stronger and increase his work rate as the fight goes on, I’m not implying Larkin doesn’t, but he tends to relax a little in his fights.
Larkin has shown more urgency since dropping down to welterweight and it is evident with his 3 TKO finishes in his 3 victories. This fight is very close to call, although Lima has never fought in the UFC – he’s got a good case in having fought a higher level of competition at 170lbs over the years than “The Monsoon” has.
This is by far one of the most appealing fights of the night. Larkin could provide us with another highlight reel finish, which wouldn’t surprise me. I’m just leaning towards the Champion defending his belt based on his experience of 5-round fights and his ability to transition smoother with all aspects of MMA.
Douglas Lima via Unanimous Decision
Michael Chandler x Brent Primus
Primus finds himself in the same position Chandler was in when he challenged Eddie Alvarez at Bellator 58 back in 2011. Although, it is worth mentioning that despite a shorter career span in MMA – Primus is older than Chandler so you would expect them to share similar physical attributes and capabilities.
Chandler has been through some wars since 2011. He rematched Alvarez in a slugfest at Bellator 106 and then dropped back to back fights with Will Brooks before getting back to winning ways in 2015, most recently getting the better of Benson Henderson.
Given all of the fights on this card, oddly, Chandler sits as one of the biggest favourites in the bookies eyes. Rightfully so given his track record over that of Primus. But Brent’s record shouldn’t fool you.
On paper, his two most recent wins by split decision don’t exactly look as good as Chandler’s victory of Benson and KO of Patricky Freire but he’s undefeated and hasn’t suffered the setbacks Chandler has had to overcome.
Primus doesn’t stand out in one particular aspect but he does everything at a good enough level that he’s been able to figure out his opponents weaknesses and capitalise. Chandler has few of them, but he is susceptible to being hit in the face and he often forgets about his game plan and opts for phone booth exchanges.
I think Primus will surprise the MMA community and upset Chandler over a 5-round fight. Unless Chandler can finish this fight he’s been on the wrong end of some decisions in the past and I fear he may find himself on the end of another as Primus does enough to eek out a decision, only just.
Brent Primus via Split Decision
Aaron Pico x Zach Freeman
Pico is considered the future of this sport. This will be his professional debut and he makes it on one of the grandest stages in sports against an opponent with 10 fights.
At just 20 years of age, the AKA fighter brings a high pedigree of wrestling (Olympic trials) and boxing (Golden Gloves Champion) to the table. He’s in tremendous shape and his explosiveness in the opening exchanges should be leagues ahead of whatever offerings Freeman will have to display.
If the hype is real, this fight won’t last long. Pico will touch gloves and then proceed to tag Freeman, drag him to the mat and smash him until the referee seems fit to stop the fight.
The only real question I have with this fight is why it is taking place on the PPV portion of this card. Pico is clearly someone you would want to promote so in that sense I can somewhat agree with the decision for him to be on it.
But his opponent is essentially cannon fodder and obviously it would be a massive upset if Freeman was to win this fight – so why showcase Pico on such a high risk platform? This shows that the new Bellator are willing to take risks, I think it will come off in this case.
Aaron Pico via TKO Round 1