At Bellator 207, the promotion moves one step closer to crowning a new heavyweight champion.
Matt Mitrione and light heayvweight champion Ryan Bader face off in Friday’s main event for the right to advance to the finals of the Bellator Heavyweight World Grand Prix. Awaiting one of these men will be either Fedor Emelianenko or Chael Sonnen, and the chance to win a title that has been vacant for two-and-half years.
The heavyweight co-main event features veterans Roy Nelson and Sergei Kharitonov. Nelson has struggled to find consistency in recent years, alternating wins and losses in his last seven bouts, including going 1-1 so far in his stint with Bellator.
Kharitonov returns to the promotion for the first time since knocking out Chase Gormley at Bellator 175. That kicked off a four-fight win streak as he went on to compete in China and Russia, and now he looks to break into the heavyweight title picture with a win over Nelson.
In other main card action, Lorenz Larkin faces short-notice replacement Ion Pascu in a Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix alternate bout, Kevin “Baby Slice” Ferguson Jr. makes his lightweight debut against Corey Browning, and Carrington Banks looks to rebound from his first loss when he takes on the undefeated Mandel Nallo in a lightweight bout.
What: Bellator 207
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
When: Friday, Oct. 12. The preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET and will stream live on MMA Fighting, and the five-fight main card will air on Paramount Network and stream on DAZN starting at 9 p.m. ET.
Matt Mitrione vs. Ryan Bader
Here we have what might be the most difficult matchup to predict in the whole heavyweight grand prix.
Matt Mitrione and Ryan Bader entered the tournament as two of the favorites due to their superior athleticism and recent success in the Bellator cage. Neither man has lost since joining the promotion and it’s because they’ve put their specialties to good use: Mitrione with his speed and power, Bader with his wrestling and crushing ground-and-pound.
Size will be a factor here, as the smaller Bader will not simply be able to bully his way to a takedown. However, he’s excellent at using his big right hand to close the distance before changing levels for shots and dragging his opponents to the mat. This is going to be a huge problem for Mitrione, who has had issues with grapplers in the past, though he’s improved his takedown defense and his agility allows him to be evasive.
Mitrione’s reach will aid him as he circles and pokes at Bader while looking for a knockout shot. If Bader becomes too predictable with his movement, Mitrione could end up doing some serious damage.
It’s a close call, and much of the result will depend on how effective Mitrione is at avoiding being taken down. On this occasion, “Meathead” should have enough in the tank to either keep the action primarily on the feet for three rounds and take a decision or find Bader’s chin for a late finish.
Roy Nelson vs. Sergei Kharitonov
There’s over 30 years of MMA experience stepping into the cage for this fight, and that’s not even counting Roy Nelson’s grappling exploits or Sergei Kharitonov’s boxing and kickboxing. Suffice to say, these two have seen it all, and it’s a small miracle that they’ve somehow never fought.
It’s no secret what Nelson wants to do. He’s either going to walk Kharitonov down and hunt for a massive overhand right or work for a bodylock to take this fight to the mat. Kharitonov has a solid ground game, but that’s still an area where Nelson should edge him out.
On the feet, Kharitonov won’t make this easy for “Big Country.” He has an effective jab and a significant height and reach advantage — four inches in both measurements — so if Nelson can’t locate his power punches, he doesn’t have much hope of winning a striking battle based on volume.
I’m just not that confident that Kharitonov can avoid the big hit for 15 minutes. Nelson isn’t the one-punch destroyer that he used to be, but he’s still a major KO threat, and once he connects, Kharitonov is going down.
Ion Pascu vs. Lorenz Larkin
All you have to do is look at the fact that both of Ion Pascu’s Bellator appearances have been booked about two weeks out from fight night to know what a gamer he is. Unfortunately for Pascu, sheer toughness won’t be enough to top Lorenz Larkin.
Pascu has explosive takedowns as well, but Larkin has rarely been controlled on the ground since establishing himself at his proper weight of 170 pounds. The southpaw style of Pascu isn’t likely to be an issue for Larkin either, as “The Monsoon” has shown he can adapt to a variety of stances.
That’s Larkin’s greatest strength, his standup versatility. He’s as fast as any welterweight in Bellator and Pascu is going to have to wade through a storm of leg kicks, straight punches, and spinning strikes. If Pascu can’t find a way to disrupt Larkin’s rhythm, he’s going to get styled on.
Pascu has never suffered a loss via strikes and that won’t happen here, but Larkin will cruise to a decision win.
Kevin Ferguson Jr. vs. Corey Browning
It’s not easy to evaluate “Baby Slice” just based on his game footage, since there’s so little of it. But in his last three fights, all first-round victories, Kevin Ferguson Jr. has shown himself to have pop in both hands and the killer instinct to finish once his opponent is hurt.
Browning comes into this matchup with some decent grappling skills. His best chance at pulling off the upset here involves him pressuring Ferguson against the cage and wearing him down to defuse the dangerous Team Bodyshop product.
Outside of that, Browning isn’t expected to last long against Ferguson and for good reason. Ferguson is stronger, hits harder, and has a developing jiu-jitsu game that is probably already too much for Browning.
This should be another first-round finish on the résumé of “Baby Slice”.
Pick: Ferguson Jr.
Carrington Banks vs. Mandel Nallo
This is a huge step up for Mandel Nallo, who has proven to be an exciting fight finisher so far in his young career. In Carrington Banks, he faces a wrestler who can snuff out dynamic opponents with his strong top game.
However, Banks is going to have to show that he can be more productive on the ground, as his inability to manufacture offense there cost him in his last fight, a third-round submission loss to Adam Piccolotti. Fortunately for Banks, one of his greatest strengths is his stamina, which means he’ll have plenty of time to figure Nallo. That’s assuming Nallo doesn’t land a crushing head kick like he did in his Bellator debut or catch Banks with a submission early.
I’m leaning towards Banks here, if only because Nallo is such an unknown property having never fought past the halfway mark of the second round. We have no idea how he’ll fare in the proverbial deep waters. That’s not to say that Nallo can’t get a surprise win because he’s certainly one to watch at 155 pounds, I’m just sticking with the safer choice.