With Rory MacDonald seemingly next in line for a shot at welterweight champion Douglas Lima, the pressure is on the four fighters atop Friday’s Bellator 182 event.
In the main event, former champ Andrey Koreshkov looks to put his November title-losing knockout defeat to Lima behind him against the surging, but largely untested, Chidi Njokuani. In the co-main event, Brennan Ward hopes to put a 1-2 run in the rearview mirror against fellow veteran Fernando Gonzalez.
With McDonald vs. Lima likely on the horizon and Paul Daley vs. Lorenz Larkin booked for September, anything less than dominant wins from the headliners could find them lost in the shuffle of the competitive welterweight division.
Also on the main card is rising featherweight star A.J. McKee. McKee puts his unbeaten record on the line against the most experienced opponent he’s ever faced, 10-year vet Blair Tugman.
Bellator 182 takes place at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y. The main acrd airs on Spike following prelims on MMAjunkie.
Here are five reasons to watch the event.
1. Former champ vs. rising contender
Koreshkov won the welterweight belt in July 2015 with a decision win over Lima. In his first defense, Koreshkov spoiled the Bellator debut of former WEC/UFC champion lightweight champion Benson Henderson when he swept him on the judges scorecards. A rematch with Lima followed. Koreshkov was about a 3-1 favorite before that fight, but Lima turned those odds on their head in the third round when he caught an overly aggressive Koreshkov with a fight-ending left hook.
Njokuani is on the best run of his MMA career. He’s unbeaten in nine straight fights, including his most recent outing – a unanimous decision win over Melvin Guillard. Koreshkov (19-2 MMA, 10-2 BMMA) represents a huge step up for Njokuani (17-4-1 MMA, 4-0 BMMA), and the timidity he showed early in the Guillard fight is a concern against a tactician like Koreshkov.
Koreshkov, currently No. 14 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings, paid with his title when he lost his composure against Lima. Don’t expect that to happen again. Expect this fight to be a technical battle in which both men look to fight at range and capitalize on openings as they present themselves.
2. Coming back from a rough one
Devastating would be one way to describe Ward’s January knockout loss to Daley. Daley ended Ward’s night midway through the second round when he laid him out with a flying knee. A bloodied Ward left the cage on a stretcher with a nasty cut near his eye that was about the size of Daley’s kneecap.
Bellator 182 is Ward’s (14-5 MMA, 9-5 BMMA) first return to the cage since that head-rattling loss. His opponent in the 178-pound catchweight contest, Gonzalez (26–14, 6-1 BMMA), most recently fought in March when he earned a decision win over Brandon Girtz.
Ward always has been an aggressive fighter who goes for the early finish. He’s left the first round just once in his past eight fights. It’s going to be interesting to see if the loss to Daley, just the second KO defeat of his career, has Ward rethinking his ultra-aggressive strategy against the often slow-starting Gonzalez.
3. Fully on board
A.J. McKee’s MMA career began with five straight finishes inside the Bellator cage. With a run like that, it was no surprise McKee was tagged as a future featherweight star. That talk slowed after he won his next two fights by decision. McKee didn’t look bad in those fights, but both performances were missing something. Whatever that was, McKee found it in his most recent bout when he knocked out Dominic Mazzotta with a first-round head kick.
After that highlight-reel stoppage, McKee said his motivation might have slipped a bit in his two previous bouts.
“Honestly, this is just me getting serious now, locking down and really focusing on my career,” McKee said. “This is my life. This is my career. This is what I do for a living — just being 100 percent on board now, training like an animal and putting in that work every day.”
The re-energized McKee faces a much more experienced opponent at Bellator 182. Tugman (10-6 MMA, 5-2 BMMA) has twice as many fights as McKee (8-0 MMA, 8-0 BMMA), but his record is not nearly as stellar. Tugman has won his past three fights, most recently a submission victory over Tom English at Bellator 178.
Another thing to look forward to in this fight, if McKee wins, is the inevitable trash talk he’ll undoubtedly direct at fellow unbeaten rising star James Gallagher.
4. Different goals
Chris Honeycutt and Ben Reiter
The middleweight bout between Chris Honeycutt and Kevin Casey is an interesting matchup. Pegged as a hot welterweight prospect upon signing with the promotion in 2014, Honeycutt won two fights by knockout before Paul Bradley stopped him in 40 seconds in January 2016. The knockout loss was Honeycutt’s first career defeat.
Honeycutt reined in his aggression a bit after that loss and concentrated on shoring up his overall game. The result has been three consecutive decision wins. Most recently, he defeated Ben Reiter at a catchweight of 195 pounds. During that fight, Honeycutt let some wild striking creep back into his arsenal.
With his confidence back, Honeycutt (9-1 MMA, 4-1 BMMA), who moved to middleweight in mid-2016, looks to make his way up the 185-pound rankings against Casey (9-5-2 MMA, 0-0-1 BMMA).
Casey is winless in his past five bouts. Most recently, he had a majority draw in his Bellator debut against Keith Berry. Casey came close to finishing that contest in the first round, but the resilient Berry stayed alive. Casey faded badly as the fight wore on, allowing Berry to tie things up on the scorecards.
A win over Honeycutt would provide a huge boost in confidence for Casey, who has not had his hand raised in victory since July 2015.
5. One year later
Joey Davis finished his college wrestling career at Notre Dame College in Ohio as a four-time NCAA Division II champion. He accomplished that feat by going a perfect 131-0, becoming only the third college wrestler to end his college career without a loss. The other two wrestlers who went unbeaten were Cael Sanderson who put together a 159-0 record in Division I and former UFC fighter Marcus LeVesseur, whose Division III record was 155-0.
Davis signed with Bellator in June 2016 after winning each of his five amateur MMA bouts. The promotion didn’t waste any time getting Davis into his first pro bout, throwing him on Bellator 160 a year ago against Keith Cutrone.
Davis looked tentative in that fight, which he won by decision. He knocked Cutrone down early, but his striking game was reliant on single punches, and the lack of combinations didn’t allow Davis to set up his power shots. Not surprisingly, Davis’ takedown game was impressive. He was able to hold Cutrone down once the fight hit the mat, but he fell short in his ground striking. Davis appears to have the tools for success – he just needs time to learn how to implement them.
It’s been nearly a year since the Cutrone fight. What fans want to watch for is how Davis has progressed during that time under coach Antonio McKee.
Davis (1-0 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) faces Justin Roswell in a 175-pound catchweight bout. Roswell (1-1 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) is 1-1 with a first-round submission win and a first-round TKO defeat on his record.
For more on Bellator 182, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News
Source: MMA Junkie