Bellator 165: "Chandler vs. Henderson" takes place this Saturday (Nov. 19, 2016) at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., featuring a Lightweight main event between two-time champion "Iron" Michael Chandler against former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 155-pound roost ruler, "Smooth" Ben Henderson. Both have a lot to prove -- and a lot to lose -- in this important divisional bout.
The same can be said of Spike TV's co-main event, though, as undefeated Welterweight sensation Michael Page puts his perfect (11-0) mixed martial arts (MMA) record on the line against Fernando Gonzalez, winner of five straights fights. It would be hard to rationally argue that the winner of this fight isn't next in line for a title shot at 170. They are joined by three more intriguing televised fights.
Let's break it down:
155 lbs.: Michael Chandler (15-3) vs. Benson Henderson (24-6)
Chandler seemed unstoppable for four straight years, amassing a pristine record (12-0), including a submission of current UFC star Eddie Alvarez that crowned him a Lightweight champion for the first time. In 2013, however, the wheels came off and Chandler hit a rough patch, losing the title back to Alvarez before he left the organization and then losing two in a row to "Ill" Will Brooks. Brooks, too, would eventually leave the Bellator MMA and vacate the title, paving the way for a resurgent Chandler to once again ascend to the top. His one punch knockout of Patricky Freire earned him gold once again.
At the same time, Chandler went on his current three-fight win streak, former UFC/WEC champion Benson Henderson was trying to re-invent himself as a Welterweight. Back-to-back wins over Brandon Thatch and Jorge Masvidal gave him the confidence to challenge Andrey Koreshkov when he jumped ship to Bellator. Unlike Chandler, he was unable to pick up a third win in a row or a title belt, forcing him to reconsider and return to 155 pounds. And a bizarre ending to a No. 1 contender eliminator match with Patricio Freire got us to where we are now.
Can Henderson capture gold again in a division he once dominated in two promotions? It's certainly a close match up on paper. Chandler is 30 years old, 5'8" and has a 72-inch reach. Henderson is 32, 5'9" and has a 70-inch reach. They were both outstanding collegiate wrestlers at the University of Missouri and Dana College, respectively. The biggest difference is Chandler's power -- seven knockouts in 15 wins (46 percent) versus just three in 24 wins (12 percent). We know Chandler has a punch that could drop a buffalo, but Henderson has only been knocked out once. He's got a good chin, elusive head movement and an ability to outpoint opponents in five round fights that stuns his critics. The reach and the power should theoretically given Chandler the edge, but barring another freak injury we're in for a tough fight.
Final prediction: Michael Chandler retains the title via split decision
170 lbs.: Michael Page (11-0) vs. Fernando Gonzalez (25-13)
The question everyone seems to ask about Michael "Venom" Page is, "When will he really be tested?" Other than former UFC fighter Nah-Shon Burrell, none of his Bellator opponents have gone the distance. And the majority have been summarily dismissed in the first round. Page took the challenge of the more experienced Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos seriously, but he, too, was a victim of the unorthodox striking of Page, falling victim to a flying knee at Bellator 158. It seems like Page is close to a title shot, but his naysayers insist that he hasn't fought a "real" opponent.
If neither Burrell nor Santos were that opponent, perhaps Gonzalez is finally the man. He may have been a relative unknown among casual fans at the start of his Bellator run, but five straight MMA wins over tough foes like Marius Zaromskis and Gilbert Smith also put him on a short list of future No. 1 contenders. The only downside to anointing him would be his occasional drug test failures for marijuana metabolites, but given those violations occurred in California, none of the results of his wins have been overturned.
With a record dating back to 2003 he's as "real" as it gets.
How do the two Welterweight prospects stack up? Gonzalez is not huge for the weight class at 5'9" with a 68-inch reach, but he's as durable and tough as it gets. And with finishes in 64 percent of his wins (nine knockouts, seven submissions), he offers challenges anywhere the fight goes. Page's karate and kickboxing background have made him an elusive and unpredictable opponent to scout. And at 6'3" with a 77-inch reach, his imposing size at 170 pounds makes him hard to deal with. Honestly, he'd be a tough out even at 185 pounds. The only hint of a weakness we've seen is cardio, but for Gonzalez to make that pay dividends he'd have to push Page into the third round. He has a better chance to do it than most.
Final prediction: Michael "Venom" Page adds another knockout to his highlight reel
205 lbs.: Linton Vassell (16-5, 1 NC) vs. Francis Carmont (25-11)
This is arguably the sleeper fight of the main card. Both men will undoubtedly be looking into Phil Davis' direction the moment the result is official. Carmont would certainly like to avenge his loss to Davis at Bellator 142, the bout that rocketed the new champion into title contention. It's his only loss in his last four fights. Vassell, meanwhile, returned to his winning ways in a revenge match with Emmanuel Newton at Bellator 149, but needs to string together a few quality victories to return to contender status. Beating the "Limitless" Carmont would be the kind of feather he needs in his cap.
Vassell shares many qualities with former champion Liam McGeary (besides being English). He's a tall drink at 6'4" with an 82-inch reach. He's also longer than Carmont at 78 inches, although "Limitless" stands 6'3," so they will see almost eye-to-eye trading shots. Initially they seem even in the power department with six knockouts apiece, but Carmont has had 14 more fights total, so he's not landing kill shots very often. By virtue of having more fights, he also has more submissions at 11 to Vassell's seven. Carmont is 35, Vassell is 33, so in many respects these men are mirrors except one -- Carmont's losses -- twice as many overall. He has been knocked out three times, Vassell two, so both have a tough chin. Run the simulation 10 times and it probably goes even (5-5), but ultimately a call must be made.
Final prediction: Francis Carmont edges out a split decision with the judges
155 lbs.: Adam Piccolotti (8-0) vs. Brandon Girtz (14-4)
The word "prospect" is thrown around so much in MMA that it loses potency, but at 8-0 with three straight submissions, Piccolotti is worth applying it to. Brandon Girtz is not the guy to face to stay undefeated, though. Melvin Guillard "hand-picked" Girtz for his Bellator debut and that backfired big time. He has starched two of his last three opponents with his hands in less than one minute flat. Piccolotti's team has definitely gone "all in" with their chips here. A third straight win on a televised main card will make the argument that he deserves title contention, but a streaking Girtz has to feel the same way about handing Piccolotti a first loss. Even if Girtz gives up his neck (a Piccolotti specialty), he has only been tapped once.
Final prediction: Brandon Girtz wins a unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Keri-Anne Taylor-Melendez (0-0) vs. Sheila Padilla (2-0)
The professional experience doesn't really tell the story here since Taylor-Melendez is an experienced Muay-Thai kickboxer with a solid record (6-2). Can that experience transition to success in MMA? Rolling with her husband, Gilbert Melendez, and the rest of the Cesar Gracie "Skrap Pack," you'd have to say, "Yes." Good on Padilla for having more experience, but nobody is crowing about her striking skills with two decision wins. The experienced striker beats the MMA fighter here whether it stays standing or goes to the ground -- I don't think she'll be caught in anything she hasn't seen before.
Final prediction: Keri-Anne Taylor-Melendez by second round knockout
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 165: "Henderson vs. Chandler" on Saturday night (Nov. 19, 2016), with results throughout the evening for the Spike TV fights at 9 p.m. ET. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.