Bellator 160: "Henderson vs. Pitbull" takes place this Friday (Aug. 26, 2016) at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., featuring a No. 1 contender Lightweight eliminator match between two former champions, Benson Henderson and Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, in the Spike TV-televised main event of the evening.
The four-fight Spike TV broadcast also features a second Lightweight fight with two men hoping to move closer to contention, and an undefeated prospect at Featherweight in his biggest showcase fight to date.
Let's break it down:
155 lbs.: Benson Henderson (23-6) vs. Patricio Freire (25-3)
"Smooth" Benson Henderson didn't look too smooth against Andrey Koreshkov in his Bellator debut. He was a favorite coming in given his reputation as the former UFC and WEC Lightweight champion, and had won two UFC fights at Welterweight before changing promotions, but the Bellator Welterweight champion's size and strength proved to be too much for Henderson to overcome. The obvious question after his loss was whether or not he'd return to Lightweight.
Bellator came up with a compelling scenario for him to move down to 155 by having former Featherweight champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire move UP from 145. Freire was already returning to contention at 145 with a win over Henry Corrales, but instead of working his way back to a fourth fight with Daniel Straus he's taking on a new challenge in an equally competitive weight class. If he beats Henderson he'll have a chance to avenge his brother Patricky.
How realistic is that possibility though? Freire has the striking advantage with 10 knockouts to just two for Henderson, and none of his three losses have come the same way, which means in a gunfight "Pitbull" can give more than he receives. On the flip side few fighters in recent history have a better record than Henderson when it comes to outpointing opponents in fights that go the distance. With almost half his wins by submission (10 of 23) he is at least Freire's equal (nine submissions) on the ground. Henderson has only been knocked out once in 29 fights so if he's using his reach advantage (70" to 65") he should be able to outpoint Freire and then seal rounds with late takedowns.
Final prediction: Benson Henderson via unanimous decision for his first Bellator win
155 lbs.: Saad Awad (19-7) vs. Derek Anderson (13-2)
A second intriguing Lightweight fight joins Henderson vs. Freire at Bellator 160, and this one also features a man who just competed at Welterweight, although Awad won his bout against Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos. In his return to 155 he'll look to string together his second straight win and his fifth in six fights, with the one loss in that span coming to the aforementioned Patricky Freire at Bellator 141.
Anderson's record over the same span is a little more spotty at 3-2, but he has bragging rights given he's beaten Freire twice, most recently at Bellator 147 in San Jose last year. 11 of his 13 wins come via finish (five knockouts, six submissions) while Awad can also tout 15 of 19 wins by finishes (eight knockouts, seven submissions). It's a tough fight to call given Awad is the better power striker on paper, but Anderson has a small height and reach advantage (6'0" to 5'10", 74" to 73.5") that could play in his favor. Awad may choose not to risk it and work a ground game.
Final prediction: Saad Awad earns a close unanimous decision over Anderson
145 lbs.: Bubba Jenkins (11-2) vs. Georgi Karakhanyan (24-6-1)
To say these two men are familiar with each other is putting it mildly. Jenkins certainly hasn't forgotten that tight guillotine choke Karakhanyan froze him with at Bellator 132, though he's gone on an impressive three fight win streak since. Karakhanyan has been going in the opposite direction since they met, most recently dropping a unanimous decision loss to former champion Pat Curran. Karakhanyan believes that gives him the edge since he fought harder guys losing than Jenkins fought winning, but an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Jenkins will be wary of committing to any takedown that gives Karakhanyan his neck again, but he will take Karakhanyan down - repeatedly.
Final prediction: Jenkins wins via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: A.J. McKee (4-0) vs. Cody Walker (7-2)
Corrales came into Bellator undefeated and looking to upset Daniel Straus, but nothing went his way that night -- or since that night. Now he's on the bubble of elimination if he drops to 0-4 in Bellator, and the 4-0 McKee is not afraid to be the man who puts him on the chopping block. Bellator has carefully stepped up his competition level in each fight and is clearly banking on him as a future contender. He has finished every fight in the first round so the biggest advantage for Walker may be to push the pace and go later rounds, but cardio is a question since Walker is a late replacement. Nothing about losing to J.C. Cottrell in LFC convinces me that even going the distance will help.
Final prediction: A.J. McKee wins via second round knockout
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of Bellator 160: "Henderson vs. Pitbull" tomorrow night, with real-time results throughout the evening followed by Spike TV fights at 10 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.