Bellator 193: “Larkin vs. Gonzalez” takes place Fri., Jan. 26, 2018 at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif. Coming on the heels of a “tent pole” event six days earlier with Douglas Lima vs. Rory MacDonald is a difficult task, but Paramount Network is hoping a solid main card will draw.
It’s certainly an intriguing dynamic considering both of the main eventers are potential Welterweight challengers for the winner of last week’s title match, but both men also agreed in advance to take this fight at a catchweight of 180 pounds.
Let’s break it down:
180 lbs.: Lorenz Larkin (18-7, 1 NC) vs. Fernando Gonzalez (27-14)
It has been a rough road for Lorenz Larkin so far in Bellator. He had to take a five round title fight in his promotional debut and lost a unanimous decision to Lima. His next bout was considered to be his rebound match but Paul “Semtex” Daley had other plans. It might be difficult to argue that a third straight loss would hurt Larkin given he has history with Scott Coker dating back to Strikeforce, but it could knock him all the way back to preliminary fights on internet streams and certainly leaves him far removed from returning to No. 1 contender status.
Meanwhile Fernando Gonzalez has consistently delivered ever since joining the promotion in 2014, winning seven out of eight MMA fights with his lone loss coming in a split decision against Michael “Venom” Page. One of his most impressive performances came last August in Verona, New York at Bellator 182. Gonzalez missed weight and had his back against the wall, and for two rounds Brennan Ward capitalized and took him down repeatedly, but Gonzalez seized the moment in R3 and caught Ward in a guillotine choke for the immediate finish.
A catchweight fight benefits Gonzalez far more than Larkin, as does the fact “The Menifee Maniac” gets to take the bout in a venue so close to home he could almost walk to the venue. The Riverside born and trained Larkin will be equally popular in Cali though which negates any potential home turf advantage. On paper Larkin has the size advantage at 5’11” with a 72” reach versus Gonzalez being 5’9” with a 68” reach, but Larkin fights orthodox and Gonzalez fights southpaw, and if Larkin didn’t see the strikes Daley threw his way it could only be worse here. The thing that nags me though is that Larkin has beaten better competition: Robbie Lawler, Neil Magny, and Santiago Ponzinibbio to name a few. Bellator has yet to see him at his best.
Final prediction: Lorenz Larkin wins a majority decision
155 lbs.: Saad Awad (21-9) vs. J.J. Ambrose (26-7, 2 NC)
If you’ve been following Bellator for a while you know that bionic warrior Saad Awad is one of their most reliable Lightweights. His track record for the promotion goes all the way back to 2009, and he’s 9-6 in 15 fights overall. The only downside is that he goes on streaks — he wins two, loses one, wins three, loses two, and so on. At present he’s on a two fight win streak, and he could ever stretch it out to four or more he’d definitely be high on the list for a title shot or at the very least a No. 1 contender fight. He’s proven he can hang with and finish anyone with nine career knockouts and seven submissions.
J.J. Ambrose is also a fighter with Bellator experience, but he hasn’t been seen there in four years since David Rickels finished him at Bellator 103. He’s done well for himself since that time in winning seven of his last nine, and may be on the verge of making a big splash in his return. He’s worked with everybody from Phuket Top Team to American Kickboxing Academy to round out his skill set, and he finished five of his last seven wins with submission chokes. 58% of his wins overall come via submission (15 of 26).
Ambrose comes in at 5’9” with a 69.5” reach, but that’s a huge disadvantage against Awad, who at 5’11” with a 73.5” reach can (and has) take Welterweight fights on occasion. Ambrose certainly stands a chance if he can get Awad to the ground, but both Ryan Quinn and Zach Freeman found out that strategy can backfire in a big way. Ambrose is the younger fighter at 30 vs. 34, but in my opinion the size, experience AND power all play to Awad’s advantage in this contest even though Ambrose technically has more fights on his record.
Final prediction: Saad Awad wins via second round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Kendall Grove (23-17, 1 NC) vs. A.J. Matthews (8-7)
These two fighters need to turn things around in a hurry. After two straight Bellator losses in the last two years Grove can no longer afford to rest on his laurels as a winner of The Ultimate Fighter even though he remains a popular figure in the sport. For Matthews it’s even worse. In his early days in Bellator MMA he was a 6-1 prospect, but he’s only won two fights in the last five years since. He’s lost heartbreaking split decisions, close unanimous decisions, and straight up been finished by Anatoly Tokov and Hisaki Kato. Matthews just needs to stop losing period or he’ll have more to worry about than being .500 — he’ll need to find a new promotion to fight for. Grove is only in better standing because of his name value and his exceptional height and reach advantage. Both need to take this fight like their back’s against the wall.
Final prediction: Kendall Grove wins via rear naked choke submission
155 lbs.: Jake Smith (6-2) vs. Steve Kozola (8-1)
“Thunderbeast” Steve Kozola had been on the warpath until Bellator 184, at which point “Jetsetter” Carrington Banks out wrestled him for three rounds in a lopsided unanimous decision. Until that point Kozola had finished all of his opponents in either the first or second round including seven straight knockouts. Can he regain that form at Bellator 193? “The Half-Black Attack” Jake Smith won’t make it easy. The Portland, Oregon based fighter has had a journeyman’s career fighting here, there and everywhere from Titan FC to King of the Cage, but along the way he’s picked up four knockouts in six wins (67%) and he’s well rested after being off since May of 2017. Who can say how much he improved in the last eight months? We’ll know soon enough. Smith may want to shoot for the legs and see if Kozola hasn’t shored up that weakness, but if Kozola can put the thunder on his chin it may be a quick night.
Final prediction: Steve Kozola wins via technical knockout in the first round
That’s a wrap!
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