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Bellator 176 preview, predictions for 'Carvalho vs Manhoef 2' on Spike TV

Carvalho vs Manhoef 2
Carvalho vs Manhoef 2
Bellator MMA

Bellator 176: "Carvalho vs. Manhoef" takes place this Saturday afternoon (April 8, 2017) at Pala Alpitour in Torino, Italy, featuring a rematch that was originally scheduled for Bellator 168 finally going down to settle a grudge dating back to Boise, Idaho, last year.

The first Middleweight title fight between “Blessed” Brazilian champion Rafael Carvalho and Dutch kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Melvin “No Mercy” Manhoef underwhelmed fans and judges alike, leaving it hard to determine who won rounds at times and ultimately resulting in a narrow split decision that favored the champion on two out of three cards.

This time everyone involved is looking for a more decisive fight that answers who is Bellator’s true 185-pound king, which should also (in theory) open up the division for new challengers in 2017. Three other MMA fights will join the broadcast on Spike TV.

Let’s break it down:

185 lbs.: Rafael Carvalho (13-1) vs. Melvin Manhoef (30-13-1, 2 NC)

Thanks to Rafael Carvalho pulling out of Bellator 168 with an injury, the last preview of this rematch got scratched, but most of the talking points are still the same. With 28 of his 30 career MMA wins coming by knockout (93 percent) it's up to "No Mercy" Manhoef to put it on Carvalho in the rematch and not leave it to the judges again, yet somehow retain the energy he needs just in case the fight goes just as long. Cautious and conservative in the early rounds may have helped the 40-year-old with his cardio in their first meeting, but didn't give him enough points to win close rounds with a majority of the judges.

Meanwhile, Carvalho can't afford to coast given he just barely escaped with the title last time. And Manhoef may even judge him to be a “wounded animal” given the delay in making this fight. Despite his last performance, Carvalho is still a finisher in 76 percent of his wins (10 out of 13) and has shown the power to finish a fight with one perfect kick. Timing is everything. Manhoef may be so eager to exchange that his hands are up, leaving his body exposed. Manhoef is willing to take that risk, so it’s up to Carvalho to find the opening he didn’t last time and exploit it, but if he goes after it too hard Manhoef could drop him with just one punch.

Final prediction: Rafael Carvalho wins via unanimous decision

130 lbs.: Anastasia Yankova (4-0) vs. Elina Kallionidou (5-1)

International bombshell Anastasia Yankova spent her last fight camp sharpening up her game at American Kickboxing Academy. It may have been too early in the process for those improvements to be evident, though, given her fight with Veta Arteaga went to a split decision. As the old saying goes, though, “a win is a win” and the submission specialist will look to show her continued growth into a well rounded martial artist who is more than just a pretty face.

For Kallionidou this is a second chance at the big dance after a lackluster performance against Sinead Kavanagh. She was out-struck throughout that fight and seemingly taken down at will, so there was plenty for the formerly undefeated prospect to learn from and work on afterward. The biggest question here is who benefits more from the 130-pound Catchweight. Both fighters are 5’5,” but Kallionidou is eight years younger (only 18) so my feeling is that Yankova packs a lot more size and strength into her frame, plus has the extra years of sports competition experience Kallionidou lacks. It’s nice of Bellator to give her a second fight, but it won’t work out well.

Final prediction: Anastasia Yankova wins via rear-naked choke

155 lbs.: Samba Coulibaly (11-4) vs. Mihail Nica (5-0)

I respect Nica as an undefeated fighter, but I can’t imagine he’s had anywhere near the degree of experience that Samba Coulibaly has, taking his 16th professional fight (and on short notice) here in Italy. The French fighter picks up 55% of his wins (six of 11) by submission. That experience could play out well for Coulibaly, but he’s a smaller fighter coming up to 155, and Nica has finished ALL of his fights in the first or second round by either TKO or submission. I expect experience to give Coulibaly the edge over his opponent.

Final prediction: Samba Coulibaly wins via technical knockout

155 lbs.: Djamil Chan (12-3) vs. Valeriu Mircea (13-4)

Rounding out the Spike TV-televised card is a fight where Chan is looking to rebound from a fight he seemingly had won that the referee refused to stop. Mircea is also coming off a loss in his last Bellator fight, having been submitted with a triangle by Goiti Yamauchi. Chan has more power with nine of 12 wins by knockout (75 percent), but Mircea has finished 11 of his 13 wins (85 percent) and seems to flow freely from striking to submissions, picking up his victories wherever the openings are. Chan’s size will be hard to overcome, though -- he towers over Mircea at 6’2” vs. 5’9” and, barring a fluke, should be able to use that to his full advantage.

Final prediction: Djamil Chan wins via knockout

That’s a wrap!

MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 176 this weekend with results from Spike TV at 3 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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