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Bellator 172 preview, predictions for 'Fedor vs Mitrione' on Spike TV

Bellator MMA

Bellator 172: "Fedor vs. Mitrione" takes place tomorrow night (Sat., Feb. 18, 2017) at SAP Center in San Jose, California. Having last fought in the United States nearly six years ago, "The Last Emperor" Fedor Emelianenko is looking to make a big impact against "Meathead" Matt Mitrione and notch his sixth straight win live in Spike TV's main event of the evening.

The supporting cast includes a pair of Lightweights who would like to earn a championship shot against Michael Chandler, as well as a pair of Heavyweights with their own aspirations inside the Bellator cage, including one of Mitrione's former foes.

Let's break it down:

265 lbs.: Fedor Emelianenko (36-4, 1 NC) vs. Matt Mitrione (11-5)

It's hard not to get excited about the idea of this fight -- the spectacle of seeing Emelianenko return to North America for the first time in a half-decade -- and he comes into the main event on a five-fight win streak. That streak hasn't been without controversy though, including a recent fight with Fabio Maldonado where a judge was fired after appearing to score the fight for Emelianenko without noticing he was nearly finished in the first round. In fact, if he was anybody other than "The Last Emperor" the fight could easily have been stopped ... but it wasn't.

That's not the only thing that tarnishes the throne of the once dominant Heavyweight legend. His unbroken win streak from 2001 to 2009 should not be forgotten. He beat real competition during his era -- names like Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt and Andrei Arlovski just to name a few. The problem was (and is) that Emelianenko has always been small for a Heavyweight at 5'11," 235 pounds, with a 74.5" reach. This flaw was finally exposed in Strikeforce when he was submitted by the 6'4" Fabricio Werdum and finished by the monstrous "Bigfoot" Silva in back-to-back fights. When the promotion realized its mistake and gave him a guy his size in Dan Henderson, he got knocked out AGAIN via H-Bomb.

That was the last fight fans saw Emelianenko in the States for a while. Since that time, he's fought exclusively in Russia and Japan, taking a three-year break during that span for a self-imposed retirement. And as he's now nearing 41 and had a really bad round with Maldonado, we need to evaluate the Emelianenko of 2017 with much different eyes -- ones that are still respectful, but also wary of his vulnerabilities.

The same can be said of Matt Mitrione, though. He's no spring chicken at 38, either, and while he's got a significant size advantage at 6'3" and 254 pounds, Fedor used to beat larger opponents regularly in his prime. Furthermore, even though Mitrione is undefeated in Bellator, he, too, benefited from a referee who wouldn't stop a fight. Had Mitrione not gotten such a late start in his MMA career, there's no telling how far he could have gone in UFC, but even now "Meathead" makes mistakes more experienced fighters wouldn't, relying on his heart and will to bail him out in bad situations. Sometimes that works ... and sometimes it doesn't.

UFC was willing to cut Mitrione because he was too inconsistent and at times too reckless to break through to the upper echelon of the division. In Bellator's Heavyweight division, he's a much bigger fish in a much smaller pond, and a win over Emelianenko is exactly the stepping stone he needs to move to the head of the line toward claiming the vacant Heavyweight title. It's hard to not see a win setting up a superfight with Bobby Lashley or a rematch with Cheick Kongo provided the latter wins as well. Matter of fact, it's hard to see Mitrione not winning if he uses his size and reach correctly. As long as he keeps Emelianenko at range the fight is his.

Final prediction: Matt Mitrione notches the biggest knockout win of his career

155 lbs.: Josh Thomson (22-8, 1 NC) vs. Patricky Freire (16-8)

Josh "The Punk" Thomson is looking for a fight with Lightweight champion Michael Chandler, but he's going to have to wait a little bit longer. Standing in his way is the man who lost a fight to Chandler at "Dynamite 2" in St. Louis to crown a new champion for the vacant belt. Thomson is looking for his third straight win since jumping to Bellator in his third straight appearance at SAP Center, so the San Jose native will definitely have the crowd on his side. Freire is not to be taken lightly, though, with 10 out of 16 wins coming by way of knockout. Still, when you think of the elder Freire, it's hard not to notice that he tends to fall short of title contention after stringing two or three wins together. I expect the same here.

Final prediction: Josh Thomson wins the co-main event via triangle choke

265 lbs.: Cheick Kongo (25-10-2) vs. Oli Thompson (17-9)

Speaking of "The Darkness," here is the aforementioned Kongo, holder of a career win over Mitrione at UFC 137. Kongo has been fighting in Bellator a bit longer, though, going 7-2 over his last nine fights, currently riding a three-fight win streak toward possible title contention. The lone blemishes inside the Bellator cage are a split decision loss to Muhammed Lawal and his previous title shot against Vitaly Minakov. Despite those setbacks, it's hard to argue any Heavyweight in Bellator has been better over the same span of time save for Bobby Lashley.

"The Spartan" Oli Thompson will look to redeem himself after a tough loss to Mitrione in London, but the jury's still out on whether the former holder of "Britain's Strongest Man" is up to the task of facing world class competition, having also lost both of his UFC fights in a short stint there. While his five straight wins in 2015 were impressive, they were against virtually nobody you've heard of except perhaps pro wrestler Ikuhisa Minowa a/k/a "Minowaman." Being the strongest outside of the cage doesn't mean you're the best inside of it.

If Thompson were a much younger man I might lean his way, but even at four years Kongo's junior (37 to 41), I can't see that being enough to make up for the other disparities. Kongo uses every bit of his 6'4" size and 82" reach to his advantage, making it incredibly difficult for opponents to tag him, then dragging them to the ground and humbling them through their inability to shake him off. Some men could overcome giving up three inches in height and seven inches in reach, but Thompson simply can't overcome Kongo's experience edge. While Thompson has been fighting pro wrestlers not named Bobby Lashley, winning some and losing some, Kongo's been in there with the best both Bellator and UFC had to offer. Even if you don't find him exciting, his ability to win against the best is proven, and Thompson's just not.

Final prediction: Cheick Kongo scores another decision victory

170 lbs.: Josh Koscheck (17-10) vs. Mauricio Alonso (12-7, 1 NC)

Koscheck was twice scheduled to face Paul Daley and twice it fell through, so for him to be brought in this time Bellator must be pretty sure he's going to win this time around. The problems are numerous, though -- a nearly two-year lay off from fighting, and five straight losses in UFC where every single Welterweight he faced seemed to eat his lunch. The good news for Koscheck is that Alonso is a middling Brazilian fighter who lost his only Bellator fight thus far to Nick Pica at "Dynamite 1" in this venue. In addition, 50 percent of his wins (six of 12) have come by decision, so if he wants to grind he'll fall straight into the wheelhouse of Koscheck as a four-time All-American, which one can assume is why they booked it.

Final prediction: Josh Koscheck wrestles his way to a unanimous decision

That's a wrap! will deliver coverage of Bellator 172 tomorrow night, with results throughout the evening starting at 7 p.m. ET for "Prelims" undercard matches followed by Spike TV 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.

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