After he signed a free-agent deal with Bellator, former UFC light heavyweight contender Ryan Bader was booked to face Muhammed Lawal in his promotional debut, but an injury forced “King Mo” from the fight. That gave Bader the opportunity to meet then-light heavyweight champion Phil Davis at Bellator 180.
Bader won by split decision, and the victory earned him the first major title of his 10-year career. On Friday Bader looks to defend that title when he meets Linton Vassell in Bellator 186’s main event.
In the co-main event, Ilima Macfarlane faces Emily Ducote for the Bellator’s inaugural women’s flyweight title.
Former champ Davis also appears on this card and welcomes Bellator newcomer Leo Leite to the promotion.
Bellator 186 takes place at Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State’s campus in University Park, Pa., with a main card on Spike following prelims on MMAjunkie.
Here are five reasons to watch the event.
1. Put the lesson to good use
Not long after Bader took the light heavyweight title from Davis at Bellator 180, Bellator President Scott Coker told MMAjunkie he was leaning toward Bader vs. Lawal for the freshly minted champ’s first title defense. That didn’t sit well with Vassell, who defeated former champ Liam McGeary at Bellator 179.
“I do feel disrespected,” Vassell told MMAjunkie. “I feel like what I’ve done is not enough. Beating former world champions is not enough. If you’ve got a bigger name, then you’re going to get the fight – win or lose. No disrespect for Mo, but his recent record is win, loss, win, loss.
“When Scott was asked the question (about who was next), he didn’t even mention my name. He just said, ‘Yeah, Mo will be next in line.’”
In August, the promotion gave Vassell (18-5 MMA, 7-2 BMMA), who is No. 14 in the most recent USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA light-heavyweight rankings, what he wanted: the opportunity to fight the No. 3-ranked Bader (23-5 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) for his title.
This is Vassell’s second shot at the light heavyweight crown. In his previous title fight, then-champ Emanuel Newton submitted him in the fifth round. Vassell had the champ in trouble multiple times during that contest with his own submission game, but he couldn’t force the tap.
Vassell, who is in the midst of a three-fight winning streak, has waited three years for his second shot at Bellator gold. He’s said he learned from his first title fight loss, and we’ll find out if that’s true at Bellator 186.
2. Run it back with higher stakes
Macfarlane has had a wild ride in MMA. She made her pro debut in 2015 and won that fight with a 10-second knockout. Video of the stoppage quickly went viral after her overmatched opponent, Katie Castro, was dubbed a “soccer mom.” Since then, Macfarlane has done an excellent job of shaking off whatever stigma came with that win. She’s now 6-0, and at Bellator 186, she meets Ducote for the inaugural flyweight title.
This is the second meeting between these two. In the first fight, Macfarlane scored a unanimous-decision victory. Since that bout, Macfarlane (6-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA) has one win – a first-round armbar submission – while Ducote (6-2 MMA, 4-1 BMMA) has a submission win and decision victory to her name.
The first matchup between these two was fairly even. Ducote had the advantage on the feet, but Macfarlane’s aggressive ground game won her the fight.
3. Risky business
Former light heavyweight champ Davis (17-4 MMA, 4-1 BMMA) meets promotional newcomer Leite at Bellator 186.
Even though this is Leite’s (10-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) first fight with Bellator, he’s no neophyte when it comes to combat sports. He enters this bout as a former dual-division titleholder with Legacy FC. He also sports a perfect 10-0 record. Leite has also won world championships in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The only mark against the Brazilian is that he hasn’t fought in nearly a year.
This is a high-risk, low-reward fight for Davis. Not only is he fighting at the school where he won an NCAA Division I national wrestling championship, but he also faces an opponent who lacks the name recognition of many of his former foes. If Davis, who is ranked No. 4 in the light-heavyweight division, loses this fight, his road back to a title shot could lengthen.
4. The spoiler
Zach Freeman raised his profile considerably in his most recent fight. Freeman was the man Bellator picked to fight the much-hyped Aaron Pico in his pro debut. Freeman ran over Pico, submitting him in 24 seconds in front of a stunned crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Freeman (9-2 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) takes a considerable step up in competition at Bellator 186, where he faces 14-fight Bellator veteran Saad Awad (20-9 MMA, 8-6 BMMA), who has been in the cage with some of the best fighters in the promotion’s lightweight division.
Awad has had mixed results in those fights, but he’s a tough, well-rounded fighter who puts a lot of pressure on his opponents. Awad defeated Ryan Quinn by decision in his most recent bout.
If Freeman can get past Awad, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bellator fast-tracked him into a fight against a top-five lightweight in his next outing.
5. Stepping up
Ed Ruth (3-0 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) wanted a step up in competition for his fourth professional fight. He gets that in former UFC competitor Chris Dempsey (11-5 MMA, 0-0 BMMA), who had a four-fight run with the UFC between 2012-2016.
During that time, he went 1-3, and his three losses all came via first-round knockout. In his most recent bout, Dempsey was knocked out in 40 seconds by Adam Hunter at a regional show (Hunter signed with the UFC after that victory).
Ruth, a three-time NCAA Division I national wrestling champion at Penn State, turned pro in MMA in 2016.
Since inking his deal with Bellator, Ruth has looked like a solid prospect. He’s still working on his situational awareness, and he does rely heavily on his wrestling, but he’s making steady progress. One thing in Ruth’s favor in this fight is Dempsey’s takedown defense, which was a mere 16 percent during his UFC tenure.
For more on Bellator 186, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News
Source: MMA Junkie