"The British are coming!"
They're coming to Connecticut, actually, and they're prepared to wage all out war inside the confines of a Bellator MMA cage.
Bellator 134 "British Invasion" takes place this Friday (Feb. 27, 2015) at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. A full slate of five fights is set to air on Spike TV, featuring an array of names familiar to both casual and hardcore fans, headlined by 205-pound champion Emanuel Newton.
"The Hardcore Kid" has been on a roll for over two years now, with seven straight wins and two successful defenses of the undisputed light heavyweight title, most recently against Linton Vassell via rear naked choke. It's no coincidence that Vassell looks to avenge that loss in a bout earlier in the evening against the always-unpredictable Sokoudjou.
Check out our full preview for the Bellator 134 main card below:
205 lbs.: Emanuel Newton (25-7-1) vs. Liam McGeary (9-0)
Newton has a slew of strengths going into this fight, not the least of which is his confidence, given he just keeps rolling in fight after fight. Even when he might be down on the scorecards in a title match, more often than not he gets a spectacular finish and takes it out of the judges' hands, a spinning backfist being just one of many tools in his shed.
If the hard-hitting McGeary (55-percent of his wins come back knockout) hopes he can stop Newton with his hands, the bad news is that Newton has only been knocked out ONCE in 33 professional fights. The rest of McGeary's wins have come via submission, but his odds of tapping at Newton are only slightly better -- he's only submitted twice.
The difference here is going to be whether or not McGeary can outlast Newton, and since McGeary has yet to see a fight go the distance (and only one reached the third round) there's absolutely no telling what his stamina will be like in a championship fight. It's the best way to beat Newton though -- outlast him and outpoint him -- as he's 8-4 in 12 decisions. As an undefeated prospect, McGeary looks good on paper, but if the old cliche "you learn more from a loss than a win" has any substance, it's likely that he's dropped by the more experienced Newton and improves upon his game.
Final prediction: Emanuel Newton via fourth-round knockout.
170 lbs.: Paul Daley (35-13-2) vs. Andre Santos (37-9)
The mercurial Paul "Semtex" Daley made a spectacular promotional debut at Bellator 72, then was cut from the promotion due to legal problems of his own creation. New Bellator President Scott Coker believes in second chances and redemption, and offered Daley a second chance to return to the promotion, though he won't be getting the title fight on Friday night he was hoping for.
Daley will instead face the equally-experienced Andre Santos, who defeated former Strikeforce standout James Terry at Bellator 129. The good news for Daley is that Santos has a chink in his armor in the form of his chin, with almost 50-percent of his losses coming via knockout, and they call Daley "Semtex" because of the explosive dynamite in his hands.
Final prediction: Paul Daley via first-round technical knockout.
265 lbs.: Cheick Kongo (22-9-2) vs. Muhammed Lawal (14-4, 1 NC)
This fight is a bit of a strange affair. The original "British Invasion" card was scheduled to feature Bobby Lashley vs. James "The Colossus" Thompson, but Thompson and ultimately Lashley withdrew from the scheduled bout. Lawal volunteered to take Thompson's place and move up to heavyweight, but now faces Cheick Kongo instead.
Lawal may walk around as a natural heavyweight before his weight cut, but at only six feet tall he's on the smaller side of either weight class, while Kongo is the naturally bigger man at 6'4", 235 pounds. Lawal's natural advantages are his Oklahoma State wrestling credentials (Division I All-American and conference champion in his weight class) and his ground defense, as he has yet to be submitted in a fight.
If this were simply a matter of size and experience I would favor the perennial heavyweight contender Kongo, but given that Lawal will have to cut very little weight for this fight (perhaps none) he'll go into this bout as fresh and healthy as at any point in his career. For a guy who nearly had his career ended by a staph infection that's a big deal, and all Lawal needs to do is set up the takedown with jabs and leg kicks until Kongo gets irritated and swings for the fences. Once Kongo overcommits he'll wind up on his back, where Lawal wins fights all day, every day.
Final prediction: Muhammed Lawal wins via unanimous decision.
205 lbs: Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (16-12) vs. Linton Vassell (14-4, 1 NC)
Sokoudjou's fight record seems like a journeyman's career to the uninitiated. Veteran fight fans know that's far from the truth. Though his track record may be inconsistent, the "African Assassin" has felled some of the biggest trees in sport, giants like Jan Nortje and Bob Sapp, and early in his career he scored huge upsets over Ricardo Arona and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. He's a natural talent who can shine against any opponent when everything comes together.
Vassell has a lot of natural talent as well, but has been much more successful in application of it, reeling off a three-year unbeaten streak until he finally lost against Emanuel Newton via rear naked choke. That streak also saw him become a UCMMA light heavyweight champion, a title he abandoned to try his luck in Bellator, and so far "The Hardcore Kid" is his only blemish in the promotion.
Sokoudjou has scouted Vassell's track record of going for takedowns and sinking in submissions (50-percent of all wins) but knowing what your opponent plans to do and being able to stop it are two completely different things. It's also entirely possible for Vassell to switch his pitch up and go for a knockout -- he's stopped five fights with his hands. Sokoudjou needs to be wary of that power since eight of his 12 losses come from being left unable to continue via striking exchange.
Final prediction: Linton Vassell wins via split decision.
185 lbs.: Brennan Ward (9-3) vs. Curtis Millender (7-0)
An injury forced Michael "Venom" Page out of this featured bout with Curtis Millender, an unblemished prospect with two knockouts and five decisions under his belt. Ward was once equally as touted in the "up-and-coming" category, quickly earning a title shot against "The Storm" Alexander Shlemenko, quickly losing said same via guillotine choke. After a two-fight skid he's got to try to regain his old form, but Millender is not going to make it easy for him. Ward's All-American wrestling goes head-to-head with Millender's skill set, wrestling since he was eight years old. In a push I'll go with Ward as a former Bellator tournament winner.
Final prediction: Brennan Ward via unanimous decision.
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of Bellator 134 "British Invasion" on Friday night (Feb. 27), with the first fight streaming live online at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the televised portion of Bellator 134 which airs live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
See you then!