Bellator 180: "Sonnen vs. Silva" takes place tomorrow (Sat., June 24, 2017) at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. The wait is almost over and the fun is soon to begin as a fight years in the making dating back to TUF Brazil 3 is finally set to take place as Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva meet in a pay per view main event.
Bellator MMA has stacked up their MSG debut to an almost ridiculous degree. The PPV itself is so full that a Phil Davis title fight wound up on free television just to lure viewers into the main card. If this isn’t the biggest card for the promotion in all of 2017, it will certainly be remembered as among the top five, and almost certainly exceed the interest level in Sonnen vs. Ortiz.
Let’s break it down:
205 lbs.: Chael Sonnen (29-15-1) vs. Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1, 1 NC)
Fight fans have every reason to be skeptical of the “grudge match” when two fighters who vowed pain and punishment on each other hug it out and shake hands after a bout. Chael Sonnen in particular is well known for cashing checks with his mouth, so anything he says has more to do with promoting a fight than actual deep-seated animosity. Even if it’s a work on Sonnen’s part though, Silva has always taken the disrespect personally and responded in kind to the antics of the “American Gangster.” Now at last he gets his chance to shut Sonnen’s mouth with his fists.
What can we expect from these fighters in 2017 though beyond the trash talk? Sonnen hasn’t won a fight since 2013, and Tito Ortiz humbled him in January, so beyond the fact he’s a former collegiate All-American who nearly beat Anderson Silva on wrestling alone, we are left with an aging fighter (40) with the largest arms in West Linn, Oregon. His great physique may make for memorable press conferences and photo ops, but it doesn’t make him faster going for a takedown, and the one thing wrestlers can’t afford to lose is their speed.
The good news for Sonnen is that “The Axe Murderer” Silva is himself damaged goods. He also hasn’t won a fight since 2013, and was suspended for refusing a drug test the last time he was scheduled to face Sonnen. It took two years for Silva to get a lifetime ban in Nevada overturned, and while that freed the way for him to fight elsewhere thanks to commission reciprocity, four full years off from fighting can’t be beneficial to a man who’s now 40. The sex appeal of Silva lies largely in a reputation he made in PRIDE FC all the way back in the 2000’s.
Based on that past history though Silva can NOT be underestimated as a knockout artist, with 30 of his 38 wins (79%) coming in brutal fashion. His percentage of wins overall (73%) is also impressive, but having 52 fights with so many of them being wars takes a hard toll on your body. His record over his last 10 fights is much less impressive, winning just 40% of the time. Sonnen’s record is 50% over his last 10 bouts, but it’s more telling that he’s only won one of his last five. You’d be right to question if Sonnen cares more about getting paid for a fight than ACTUALLY winning the fight, and since Silva takes everything Sonnen says personally, his motivation level to win is off the charts. It could be either man’s last fight but it matters far more to Silva.
Final prediction: Wanderlei Silva via first round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Fedor Emelianenko (36-4, 1 NC) vs. Matt Mitrione (11-5)
If you’re experiencing deja vu reading this preview it’s with good reason — we’ve talked about this fight before. That’s honestly why I’m adding a fight from the “Prelims” portion of the card to my preview, because very little has changed from then to now other than Mitrione having a few kidney stones removed. Mitrione’s talent level is high, his inconsistencies perplexing, but his opportunity to notch a historic milestone huge. Emelianenko is unquestionably a MMA legend, but after taking a beating from journeyman Fabio Maldonado, I have more reasonable doubts than Jay-Z’s debut album. His five fight win streak includes a three year retirement and a lot of fighters who ARE questionable in the 2010’s, so if Mitrione fails here it’s because he bought the Emelianenko hype instead of believing in his own skills.
Final prediction: Matt Mitrione wins via first round knockout
170 lbs.: Douglas Lima (28-6) vs. Lorenz Larkin (18-5, 1 NC)
Long renowned as the “Phenom” of Bellator’s Welterweight division, the resilient 29-year-old Douglas Lima has earned a chance to make the first defense of his second title reign on one of the grandest stages in sports. To do so he’ll have to dismantle the former UFC and Strikeforce standout Lorenz Larkin, winner of four of his last five with his only loss coming in a somewhat questionable split decision defeat against Albert Tumenov.
Larkin’s one of the more underrated fighters in the sport, particularly after successfully dropping from Middleweight to Welterweight, which makes him an ideal acquisition for Bellator MMA. He’s got a 75% win ratio in fights (18 of 24) and finished 11 of 18 wins (61%) by knockout, including a dismantling of Neil Magny that should have kept him in UFC but didn’t. That’s good news against anybody other than Lima, who has an even higher 82% win ratio (28 of 34) and who is a prodigious knockout artist in his own right (13 finishes) and great at jiu-jitsu (11 submissions).
A clear strategy emerges for Lima in this fight — stand if you must, shoot if you can. At 6’1” with a 71” reach he’s well matched with Larkin, who is 5’11” with a 72” reach. He can work at range until Larkin gets too aggressive, shoot for the legs, then work Larkin over on the ground. A submission may be tough since Larkin hasn’t tapped in a single fight, but that’s no reason for Lima to not at least try. That fact has to give Larkin confidence though that even if he’s taken down he can and will survive the ground game and get to his feet, where he’s been deadly in the past. A lot of people are overlooking this fight who shouldn’t be given it’s a potential classic in the making.
Final prediction: Douglas Lima gets a unanimous decision after five rounds
155 lbs.: Michael Chandler (16-3) vs. Brent Primus (7-0)
In a talent rich division Brent Primus may have seemed an unlikely candidate to challenge Michael Chandler for the Lightweight title, but at 7-0 with four submissions you have to give the 32 year old some respect as a serious threat. That said he’s gone to split decision wins in his last two fights and his Bellator 153 performance was sub par at best. It hardly compares to the four fight win streak the two-time champion Chandler has been on, including a grueling five round war with Benson Henderson that solidified his reign on top. Honestly Primus just don’t have what Chandler does in any area — he doesn’t have the wrestling credentials, the one punch stopping power, or the pedigree of opponents he’s beaten. He’s only undefeated because he’s never faced Chandler before and that’s all about to change.
Final prediction: Michael Chandler via second round rear naked choke
155 lbs.: Aaron Pico (Debut) vs. Zach Freeman (8-2)
You may scoff at the notion that an inexperienced fighter is getting to debut in Bellator live on pay per view, but that just means you missed out on the hype when he was signed. Aaron Pico now has to either live up to or live down being dubbed “MMA’s greatest prospect” on the biggest stage possible. No pressure right? To make matters worse Zach Freeman is far from a scrub, winning 50% of his fights by submissions, presenting the danger that if the Olympic caliber wrestler Pico takes Freeman down he might pay for it in a big way. With all of that said I have this feeling that Freeman is somehow a “hand picked opponent” who they feel Pico can study tape on until a glaring weakness is exposed. I’m eschewing logic on this one and picking the prospect.
Final prediction: Aaron Pico wins his debut via unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Phil Davis (17-3, 1 NC) vs. Ryan Bader (22-5)
Last but certainly not least is a title defense for “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis against fellow former UFC star Ryan Bader. These two have history, with Bader picking up a split decision the last time they meant, which leaves the Bellator champion Davis itching for a chance to avenge that loss. For Bellator newcomer Bader though confidence has to be high knowing that he holds a win over the champ, meaning he just needs to repeat his performance over five rounds instead of three.
Both men have arguably the best wrestling pedigree of any Light Heavyweight in the sport in or outside of Bellator. Davis is a four-time All-American at Penn State, while Bader was a two-time All-American and three-time PAC-10 champion at Arizona State. One might assume that leads to matches where all of their time is spent scoring points via takedowns, but Bader has eight knockouts and four submissions to match the three knockouts and five subs of Davis.
While history may suggest that Bader has Davis’ number, Davis has also clearly improved as a fighter since leaving the UFC fold, and the jury is still out as to whether that move will be as beneficial to Bader. His wins over Ilir Latifi and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira showed his ability to finish with his knees and hands, but Davis has elusive head movement that makes it very difficult to land a power shot flush, which is why he’s never been knocked out in his MMA career. Relying on a “kill shot” would be to his detriment, leaving him gassed and vulnerable to being dominated either standing or on the ground, and a longer fight edges toward Davis in terms of cardio.
Final prediction: Phil Davis beats Ryan Bader by unanimous decision
That’s a wrap!
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