Bellator 190: “Carvalho vs. Sakara” takes place Sat., Dec. 9, 2017 at Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence, Italy. For one man it’s a chance to assert his dominance as the Middleweight champion. For the other it’s the chance to be a hero in his homeland by scoring a huge upset.
For this international affair Bellator has also offered a Ukrainian kickboxer turned MMA fighter a chance at her third straight win and a once streaking Lightweight a chance at redemption.
Let’s break it down:
185 lbs.: Rafael Carvalho (14-1) vs. Alessio Sakara (19-11, 2 NC)
The single fact you absolutely need to know about Rafael Carvalho is that the “one” in 14-1 was his very first pro fight. From March 10, 2012 to the present day Carvalho has been flawless, and as a result he collected the vacant Middleweight title at Bellator 144 in 2015 against former champion Brandon Halsey in what at the time would have been considered an upset. In hindsight Halsey’s time on top and even in Bellator MMA seems destined to have been short lived, as he now plies his trade in M-1 Challenge and has given up Middleweight to fight at 205.
Carvalho’s title reign got off to a less than auspicious start with a split decision win against Melvin Manhoef, but after dominating Manhoef in the rematch, Carvalho is emerging the force to be reckoned with his long win streak should have indicated all along. You’d expect a strong champion to face someone like Gegard Mousasi or John Salter, but neither were established as contenders (in fact Mousasi wasn’t even in the promotion) when this card was put together. Instead to appeal to the local fans in attendance, Italy’s own “Legionarius” Alessio Sakara got the nod.
If this seems like a flimsy reason for a fighter to earn a title shot you’d be right, but Sakara can at least boast that he’s currently on a three fight win streak including both Bellator appearances to date. That argument falls apart though with even a cursory glance beneath the surface. Sakara’s first opponent Brian Rogers was 12-8 when they met, an exciting yet erratic fighter whose record is evidence enough of his inconsistency. His next opponent “Mexicutioner” Joey Beltran can be described the same way and likewise only had four more wins than losses at 17-3, 1 NC.
The saying goes that “any man with two hands has a fighting chance,” and Sakara can boast that 13 of his 19 MMA wins have come via knockout or TKO. The problem here is that Sakara has always lost to even the most marginally better of opponents. He’s been literally a “check the box and cash the check” fighter for the likes of Drew McFedries, Chris Leben and Nico Musoke, and never even stood a prayer of a chance against the likes of Chris Weidman, Brian Stann and Dean Lister. Sakara’s impressive wins come against unimpressive foes. What we’re looking at here is a man who knocked out James Irvin seven years ago being marketed as a contender when he’s just plain not.
Final prediction: Rafael Carvalho smokes Alessio Sakara via knockout in three minutes or less
125 lbs.: Lena Ovchynnikova (12-4) vs. Alejandra Lara (6-1)
Ukrainian kickboxer Lena Ovchynnikova was earmarked as a star from the moment she arrived in Bellator thanks to her stunning looks and her accomplished record as a kickboxer. Unfortunately Rebecca Ruth made her Bellator debut the same night and was clearly the hungrier and more prepared fighter of the two. Bellator hit the reset button and gave Ovchynnikova a second chance with fights against more winnable opponents, although the much MUCH smaller Helen Harper nearly submitted her in the first round before being finished in the second.
There are no more “gimme” fights for Ovchynnikova now. “Azul” Alejandra Lara has finished five of her seven opponents (three knockouts, two submissions) and owns the size advantage at 5’7” versus 5’5” coming into Florence. If there’s a black mark on Lara’s record it’s her lack of activity in only taking an average of one fight per year since 2011. One might be tempted to make the same argument of Ovchynnikova until realizing she used to split her time between kickboxing and MMA and only recently made a full time commitment to Bellator. If she keeps Lara at range and uses her striking techniques to the fullest she can win, but Lara is a strong upset candidate.
Final prediction: Lena Ovchynnikova takes a split decision victory
155 lbs. Brandon Girtz (14-7) vs. Luka Jelcic (10-2)
“Cold Roll” Brandon Girtz was once ON a massive roll in Bellator, accumulating three straight wins including a knockout of Derek Campos. His fortunes have gone in reverse of late as he’s now suffered three straight losses, although a bloody and memorable rematch with Campos certainly won him fans if not the winner’s purse. The potential is still there for Girtz to do great things in the Lightweight division, but a fourth straight loss would be an enormous setback.
It is not necessarily good fortune for Girtz to be facing Luka Jelcic here, a 10-2 fighter never seen before in Bellator, but a Straight Blast Gym prospect nonetheless who owns four straight wins — two by submission and the most recent two by knockout. In terms of their trajectory they couldn’t be going in more opposite directions, and if Jelcic wants to establish his name outside of Europe and become the latest FOC (Friend Of Conor) to emerge onto the international scene, all he needs to do is dispatch Girtz on Spike TV. With a frame more akin to a Middleweight or Light Heavyweight at 6’0”, the only thing Jelcic needs to fear at this point is the weight cut.
Final prediction: Luka Jelcic defeats Brandon Girtz via technical knockout
155 lbs.: Mihail Nica (6-0) vs. Carlos Miranda (10-3)
Mihail Nica is quietly sneaking up the ranks as an undefeated fighter, making an impressive Bellator debut that only lasted 36 seconds, but that just means he needs to face tougher competition going forward. The more veteran Carlos Miranda will provide that test, making his Bellator debut at 10-3 and currently on a four fight win streak. Ironically Miranda may be even further under the radar than Nica as the method of victory in two of his fights is UNKNOWN, which I didn’t even think was possible in the global information age we live in. His recorded victories include four knockouts, one submission and three decisions. Nica has split his wins 50/50 between knockouts and subs, so even though Miranda is the Brazilian fighter, I suspect Nica will be the one to take it to the ground looking for a finish.
Final prediction: Mihail Nica wins by rear naked choke in round two
That’s a wrap!
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