Bellator returns to SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., for Saturday’s Bellator 183 fight card, and the event features some very familiar names.
The main event competitors, Benson Henderson and Patricky Freire have had different experiences at “The Shark Tank” as of late. Henderson dropped his most recent fight there, a split decision to then-lightweight champion Michael Chandler. As for Freie, he knocked out former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson in his most recent bout at the arena.
In the co-main event, one of Bellator’s big – in both a figurative and literal sense – signings makes his debut. In that fight, Roy Nelson meets Javy Ayala.
The three other fights on the main card – Paul Daley vs. Lorenz Larkin, Adam Piccolotti vs. Goiti Yamauchi, and Aaron Pico vs. Justin Linn – might not be receiving the same amount of attention as the headlining bouts, but these three matchups have high stakes of their own.
Bellator 183 airs on Spike following prelims on MMAjunkie.
Here are five reasons to watch the event.
1. Post-surgery ‘Bendo’
It turns out Henderson wasn’t fighting at 100 percent during his first three Bellator bouts. In April, Henderson, who is currently No. 12 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA lightweight rankings, told MMAjunkie he’d seriously damaged his knee before his promotional debut, a unanimous decision loss to then-welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov.
In December, after his decision loss to Chandler, Henderson went under the knife. Henderson said the surgery repaired a torn “ACL, MCL, two meniscus and a bunch of loose cartilage.”
If the surgery did its trick, expect Henderson (24-7 MMA, 1-2 BMMA) to use his speed and motion to work from the outside to pick apart Freire (17-8 MMA, 10-7 BMMA) with powerful kicks. If Henderson’s knee is not up to par and he’s not able to move as well as he did in the past, Freire’s chances of catching Henderson with his powerful hands increase exponentially.
It’s unlikely that the winner of this fight will earn an immediate shot at the lightweight title. Bellator President Scott Coker told MMAjunkie in June he was leaning more toward a rematch between champion Brent Primus and Chandler.
Freire defeated Josh Thomson by knockout in his most recent fight.
2. Big signing
After nearly eight years with the UFC, Nelson signed a free-agent deal with Bellator in May. Nelson, who never got a shot at UFC gold, left the promotion with a losing record. Despite that, the vet, with his iron chin and one-punch knockout power, was always one of the more popular UFC heavyweight fighters.
Bellator has been loading up at heavyweight lately. The division now features Matt Mitrione, Cheick Kongo, Sergei Kharitonov, Bobby Lashley, Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir. While none of these fighters is a young man, they all do make for an interesting lineup. This is especially true since they’re all jockeying for a shot at a title that has been vacant for more than a year.
Nelson (22-14 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) begins his pursuit of Bellator gold against Ayala (10-5 MMA, 5-2 BMMA). Ayala enters this fight coming off a stunning one-punch knockout win over Kharitonov at Bellator 163.
3. Bad blood
Daley and Larkin both have the same goal: to get a crack at welterweight gold. Larkin (18-6 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) lost a unanimous decision to current champion Douglas Lima in his most recent fight, while Daley (39-15-2 MMA, 5-2 BMMA) dropped a decision to Lima in a 2016 title-eliminator.
While a shot at the belt is the longterm goal for these two, the short-term goal is a return to the win column. Like the No. 8 ranked Larkin, Daley enters this fight coming off a second-round submission loss to Rory MacDonald.
This matchup promises a return to form for Daley and Larkin. Daley has never been a ground fighter; MacDonald exploited that deficiency. Larkin had never participated in a five-round fight before his bout with Lima. That fact might have affected Larkin’s game plan and effectiveness in that bout.
This fight is a three-round affair. Fans should expect these two strikers, who don’t seem to like each other in the least, to get after it early. Between them, Larkin and Daley have 40 knockout victories and just two true knockout losses.
4. Knocking on the door
Piccolotti passed his first big test inside the Bellator cage when he earned a unanimous-decision win over the more experienced Brandon Girtz in November. At Bellator 183, Piccolotti (9-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA) faces another opponent with more experience, 23-fight veteran Yamauchi (21-3 MMA, 7-2 BMMA).
Piccolotti, best known for his ground game, showed improved striking in the Girtz fight. Piccolotti used his height and reach advantages to work from the outside, touching Girtz with a good mix of kicks and punches. That striking should come in handy against Yamauchi, who is very dangerous off his back after winning 17 contests via submission. Yamauchi has won his two most recent fights by first-round tap-out.
These two lightweight prospects are inching toward the top of the division. A win in this matchup is likely to earn the victor a shot at a top-five opponent.
5. Give it a second try
Bellator has handled most of their recent blue-chip signings with kid gloves. The promotion has matched unproven fighters such as Ed Ruth, Tyrell Fortune, Jarod Trice and Joey Davis against opponents equally unproven opponents. For some reason, the promotion didn’t do that with Pico, its most hyped prospect.
In his first pro fight, Pico matched up against 8-2 Zach Freeman. Just 24 seconds into that bout, Pico tapped to a guillotine choke from the former RFA lightweight title challenger.
Pico (0-1 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) drops to featherweight at Bellator 183 to face another much more experienced opponent in Linn (7-3 MMA, 0-0 BMMA). Linn, who turned pro in 2010, enters this fight with losses to former UFC fighter Cody Gibson and current UFC combatant Matthew Lopez in past two outings. Linn has not fought since his April 2016 loss to Gibson.
Pico’s calamitous loss to Freeman puts even more pressure on him for his second fight. If he loses, Pico can expect to hear murmurs and whispers of “he’s a bust” from unforgiving MMA fans. Pico needs to bounce back in a big way against Linn.
For more on Bellator 183, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Filed under: Bellator, News
Source: MMA Junkie