Bellator 183: “Henderson vs. Pitbull” takes place Sat., Sept. 23, 2017 at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. The headline fight for Bellator’s return to the city sees “Smooth” Benson Henderson try to return to form against a fearsome Lightweight striker in Patricky “Pitbull” Freire.
They are not the only 155 pound stars to take the stage that night. Contenders Adam Piccolotti and Goiti Yamauchi will square off on the main card. Aaron Pico will look to rebound from a humiliating defeat at Bellator NYC by dropping down to Featherweight. The promotion has also brought in Roy “Big Country” Nelson to make his debut.
Let’s break it down:
155 lbs.: Benson Henderson (24-7) vs. Patricky Freire (17-8)
Things haven’t gone as smoothly as Benson Henderson planned. The former WEC and UFC Lightweight champion obviously hoped to ride a wave of momentum when he left UFC in 2016 and got an immediate title shot against Koreshkov. After that didn’t work out, Henderson earned a title shot by fighting the OTHER “Pitbull” in Patricio Freire, who unsuccessfully attempted to move up to his older brother’s weight class. No worries though — things worked out fine for him in the end. One can’t say the same for Henderson as he fell short against Michael Chandler, losing his second title opportunity in the promotion and two out of three since joining Bellator.
Now the man who gave himself the Arthurian descriptor of “The Once and Future King” when he announced his Bellator arrival is far enough from the throne it may take several fights to climb back to the top. He may not even be around long enough for that to be possible if he fulfills his vow to become an active duty serviceman for his country. That makes this fight even more critical for Henderson — the clock is ticking and he doesn’t have time to keep trading off wins and losses. Henderson’s last best shot to earn his way back to the top is here and now against Freire.
“Pitbull” is just about the worst case scenario for fellow divisional Lightweights though. He’s not as successful as his brother Patricio, tends to be streaky in his wins and losses, and often falters when handed the biggest opportunities. That leads many of his opponents to both overlook and underestimate him, and those who have did so at their own peril. 11 of 17 wins (65%) have come by knockout, and that list includes stars like Josh “The Punk” Thomson, “Caveman” David Rickels and current four fight winning streak contender Derek Campos.
Henderson has natural advantages he needs to employ to find success. The wrestling skill he honed at Dana College many years ago will be key. Although Freire is a BJJ black belt he only has ONE win by submission, and the resilient “Bendo” has only tapped twice in 31 fights, so he should have little fear of going to the ground. He stands 5’9” with a 70” reach, so he can impose a size advantage on Freire at 5’7”, but Freire’s knockout proficiency is increased thanks to his 71” wingspan. The biggest mistake Henderson could make is to stand and deliver in the pocket. He may be accused of fighting cautiously and defensively in the win, but if he ducks under Freire’s power and times the double leg over and over, he’ll deny “Pitbull” his chance to hit a home run.
Final prediction: Benson Henderson wins via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Roy Nelson (22-14) vs. Javy Ayala (10-5)
Former IFL champion and winner of season ten of The Ultimate Fighter, Roy “Big Country” Nelson has faced and beaten some of the biggest and baddest men on the planet. Kimbo Slice? He beat him by TKO in one of the biggest audiences ever for TUF on Spike or MMA on TV period — 5.3 million viewers with a DVR adjusted peak of 7.25 million. He’s knocked out Mirko Cro Cop, Matt Mitrione, Cheick Kongo and “Bigfoot” Silva just to name a few, and two of those four are now Bellator stars themselves vying for a crown in a division currently without a champion.
If the big man with the Buddha belly is hungry for more competition he’s certainly got his plate full with “Eye Candy” Javy Ayala. He may be little known outside the promotion, but Ayala has five knockouts in his 10 wins, and he absolutely STARCHED debuting MMA legend Sergei Kharitonov in just 16 seconds last time out. Those tuning in for the first time to see Nelson’s return to Spike TV may not see just how dangerous Ayala is, but if the two were to fight in a phone booth it’s a 50/50 proposition either one could wind up on his back looking up at the lights.
Nelson’s advantages include his experience, having had over twice as many fights as his opponent, and his formidable stature at 6’0” and always tipping the Heavyweight scale limit. Nelson has a 72” reach and will need all of it, as Ayala is 12 years younger than him at 29 and has both one inch in height and three inches in reach. While Nelson’s chin is almost legendary in the sport, age can make even the most resilient jaw fragile, and Father Time is not kind to legends. On paper the fight metrics seem to lean Ayala’s way, and he’s proven to be an upset specialist before, so for him to do it again would not be shocking. That said I can’t bring myself to predict a loss for Nelson in his very first bout for a new organization. He’s coming in fresh and motivated. If that chin hasn’t cracked he’ll take Ayala’s best shot and deliver one better as he’s already done so many times.
Final prediction: Roy Nelson wins via second round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Paul Daley (39-15-2) vs. Lorenz Larkin (18-6, 1 NC)
Two Welterweights coming off big losses have the opportunity to change their fortunes in this featured fight. Champion Douglas Lima proved to be too much for Larkin in his Bellator debut, but the former Strikeforce and UFC star still owns four wins in his last six fights overall. He can’t earn his way back into contention immediately even with a win over Daley, since “The Red King” Rory MacDonald and “Spartan” Andrey Koreshkov are both ahead of him in line, but a loss would put him so far out of the running he might question why he jumped ships to ride with Bellator.
Paul Daley on the other hand had his fill of UFC seven years ago and given how he and Dana White seem to feel about each other it’s unlikely he’d ever come back. That’s okay though given Bellator likes his explosive finishes, including five knockouts in his last six wins, and six wins in his last eight fights overall. His performance against Brennan Ward will be featured in highlight reels for the promotion for years to come. Despite submitting to MacDonald in his debut, Daley can bounce right back to form if he conquers Larkin here.
Daley will welcome any chance to exchange hands with Larkin given his 29 knockouts in 39 wins (74%). Larkin’s power can test those who lack caution as well with 11 finishes in 18 wins (61%). Larkin stands 5’11” with a 72” reach, so while he’s a bit taller than the 5’9” Daley he’s well short of his 76” wingspan. Larkin had trouble executing even when he had a reach advantage over Lima (71”) so this could quickly turn into hell for “Da Monsoon.” His best hope may simply be to goad Daley into a firefight, let the more muscular fighter gas, then overwhelm him in the second or third round. That strategy has only worked for elite fighters like the aforementioned Lima or Tyron Woodley though. Most people can’t stand the ferocity of his offense for that long.
Final prediction: Paul “Semtex” Daley scores a first round knockout
155 lbs.: Adam Piccolotti (9-0) vs. Goiti Yamauchi (21-3)
Bellator is spreading around the Lightweight wealth on this card and two promising fighters get their chance to shine and potentially upstage the headliners with this bout. Piccolotti has finished opponents in two thirds of his wins (six out of nine) and faced his toughest test to date at Bellator 165 against Brandon Girtz, still finding a way to win in the end. Yamauchi presents even more problems than Girtz. He’s won 17 of 21 by submission, tapping out an amazing 81% of his opponents, and he has a four inch reach advantage at 74” to 70”. Yamauchi is even the younger fighter at 24 versus 29, yet has almost three times more pro experience. I don’t like calling for an undefeated fighter to suffer his first loss but this is just a bad match-up in every way.
Final prediction: Goiti Yamauchi submits Adam Piccolotti in round three
145 lbs.: Aaron Pico (0-1) vs. Justin Linn (7-3)
The bar was set high when Aaron Pico was dubbed “MMA’s greatest prospect” upon signing with Bellator. Unfortunately it was set TOO high and Zach Freeman was his downfall. The cliche in MMA is that “you learn more from a loss than a win” though and hopefully the young man who once dreamed of Olympic gold learned everything he needs to know. Things don’t seem to be getting much easier as Pico will face another fighter with 10 pro fights under his belt in Justin Linn. The good news for Pico is that Linn comes in off back to back losses to Matthew Lopez and Cody Gibson. The bad news is that Linn has finished six of his seven wins - two knockouts and four submissions. Pico’s teammates will tell you that nobody works harder, but this time it’s not about that work, it’s about not making more rookie mistakes.
Final prediction: Aaron Pico takes a unanimous decision
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 183 tomorrow with “prelims” from Spike.com at 7 followed by live fights on Spike starting at 9:00 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.