One of Bellator’s most highly anticipated cards takes place on Saturday, when heavyweight legends Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir face off in the Bellator 198 main event for the right to advance to the semifinals of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix tournament. In the co-main event, streaking featherweight Emmanuel Sanchez continues his quest for an elusive title shot when he fights UFC vet Sam Sicilia.
The rest of the main card sees Rafael Lovato Jr. and Neiman Gracie looking to keep their undefeated records intact against Gerald Harris and Javier Torres, respectively, and the MMA debut of highly touted Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert and Conor McGregor associate Dillon Danis.
What: Bellator 198
Where: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Ill.
When: Saturday, April 28. The Bellator.com preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET and the five-fight main card airs at 9 p.m. ET live on the Paramount Network.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir
This is a heavyweight dream match years in the making, and even if both men are past their prime, there’s a lot to like about this fight.
It’s unfortunate that Fedor Emelianenko’s most recent bout ended with him on the wrong of end of a rare simultaneous knockdown from which he was too slow to recover before opponent Matt Mitrione pounced on him for a first-round TKO-win at Bellator NYC. “The Last Emperor” actually entered that contest on a five-fight win streak that he compiled competing in Russia and Japan, but for most North American fans this was their first glimpse of the former Pride legend in years and seeing him finished again evoked painful memories of his losses to Dan Henderson, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, and Fabricio Werdum.
Emelianenko was once known for his unyielding durability, and he showed glimpses of that in his controversial majority decision win over Fabio Maldonado in June 2016. However, that diminishing attribute will be tested by Frank Mir, one of the heavyweight division’s all-time great finishers.
Mir, 38, will also be seeking redemption, having gone just 2-6 in his last eight fights and he saw his 14-year-run with the UFC end under the cloud of a USADA suspension. He’s looked a step slow in his last two losses to Mark Hunt and Andrei Arlovski, which won’t be as much of an issue against the 41-year-old Emelianenko.
This will be yet another fight in Emelianenko’s career where he is giving up considerable size to his opponent, but Mir is no lumbering hulk like Brett Rogers, Hong-man Choi, Bob Sapp, or Zuluzinho. Mir has the skills to make the most of his height and weight advantage and if Emelianenko just tries to truck through Mir’s offense, it will end poorly for him.
Emelianenko should have the advantage on the feet and it’s not out of the realm of possibility at all that he boxes up Mir and finishes him with strikes given that the former UFC champion has been susceptible to knockouts in the past (eight of Mir’s 11 career losses have come by way of strikes). Ring rust could also be a factor, as Mir hasn’t fought since March 2016, so a quick start for Emelianenko could be his path to victory.
In all likelihood though, this ends similar to the Mitrione and “Bigfoot” fights with Mir getting Emelianenko on his back, whether via takedown or knockdown, and battering him with ground and pound until the referee has to save Emelianenko from himself.
Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Sam Sicilia
The time is now for Emmanuel Sanchez to prove he belongs among the elite.
He may have already done so having knocked off a trio of champions on his current three-fight win streak that includes former Bellator titleholders Daniel Straus and Marcos Galvao, and former World Series of Fighting titleholder Georgi Karakhanyan. The key for Sanchez has always been his versatility and his ability to push the pace. Once he gets that downhill momenutm going, it’s hard to keep up with him.
That’s the dilemma Sam Sicilia will face and though he’s a heavy-hitter, it will be a tall order for him to knock out the hardy Sanchez, who has never been finished in 19 professional bouts.
Sanchez might not have the power to put Sicilia away, but he has more than enough to keep him honest. His defensive skills along with his diverse striking game should be enough to earn him a convincing win on points and possibly a long-awaited crack at a Bellator championship.
Rafael Lovato Jr. vs. Gerald Harris
Gerald Harris is swooping in to save this fight on short notice and it’s going to take all of his experience to overcome the talented Rafael Lovato Jr.
Even under the best of circumstances, this would be a tough go for the 38-year-old Harris who actually retired last October after winning eight of his last nine fights. That said, he’s a solid puncher with a strong wrestling base, so even with little time to prepare he could still be a stiff challenge for Lovato.
Lovato, a decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, has surprised many not only with his willingness to battle it out on the feet but with the success he’s had in that department. He won his Bellator debut in 13 seconds last March and was comfortable exchanging with Chris Honeycutt in his most recent fight, though he sprinkled in plenty of grappling to win a clear-cut decision.
The pressure of Harris is usually enough to give him an advantage, but Lovato is such an effective grappler that he won’t be bullied and definitely won’t fall prey to one of Harris’s signature slams. For the second straight bout, Lovato will see the scorecards and he’ll again walk out with a win.
Neiman Gracie vs. Javier Torres
The build of Neiman Gracie continues, but he isn’t getting a layup in Torres. The 33-year-old Mexican welterweight is a decent veteran who has had brushes with major promotions, though he’s yet to have his big moment. Torres lost by TKO in his lone appearance for the World Series of Fighting (following a first-round in which he endured several eye pokes), and he’s twice competed for a spot on The Ultimate Fighter, never making it past the qualification rounds.
Unfortunately for Torres, he doesn’t have the skills to stop Gracie from getting this to the mat and though he has submission skills of his own, it goes without saying that he’s not on Gracie’s level. Gracie wins this one via tap out.
Dillon Danis vs. Kyle Walker
The matchmakers couldn’t have picked a better opponent for the debuting Dillon Danis. Kyle Walker is a gamer who will happily come forward and engage, which should leave him open to whatever Danis has in his bag of tricks. The truth is we have no idea what kind of MMA talent Danis has, though his time spent training at SBG Ireland and his high-level BJJ competition experience should carry him through the day.
A finish might be too much to ask of the brash Danis in his first fight, but Walker’s limited ground game should make him easy pickings for Danis to control on the mat en route to a decision nod.