Bellator 207: “Mitrione vs. Bader” takes place tomorrow night (Fri., Oct. 12, 2018) at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Bellator’s return to the east coast brings an explosive match up between two friends seeking to advance to the finals of the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion’s Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Let’s not mess around — time to break it down:
265 lbs.: Matt Mitrione (13-5) vs. Ryan Bader (25-5)
The long road to glory stops in Connecticut for two guys who will have to stop liking each other for at least one day. Of the two, Ryan “Darth” Bader had the easier path in the tournament, stopping “King Mo” Lawal in 15 seconds back in May. The reigning Light Heavyweight champion had an easy transition to the Heavyweight circuit given he stands 6’2” and has a 74-inch reach. Combined with his outstanding wrestling credentials, you have a guy who was tailor-made to complete in this tournament, but with his knockout wins now in the double digit mark (10) you have to acknowledge his power as much as his amateur wrestling background.
Ole’ “Meathead” Matt Mitrione knows a few things about power, too. The former NFL player is a physically imposing specimen at 6’3” and 254 pounds. He’s built like a Mack truck and hits like one, too, with 85 percent of his wins (11 of 13) coming via knockout. A 79-inch reach makes him incredibly dangerous to go toe-to-toe with. Unless you are quicker on the draw and more accurate in your targeting, he’s going to hit you first and hurt you more in any exchange. The only man alive who could probably survive the pounding he can deliver unchecked is his first round opponent Roy Nelson, who he beat by majority decision.
What will happen when bad intentions and pride collide with good judgment? Fireworks. The excitement of them running to the center to throw bombs immediately is always possible with the impulsive Mitrione, but it’s far more likely that they will each respect the power game and spend at least a half minute feeling out the range. Bader is increasingly more confident in his stand-up, but the huge reach disadvantage will almost certainly tempt him to time an overhand punch, drop levels and hit a single- or double-leg takedown. Trying to keep Mitrione there against his will is a difficult proposition. If Bader can sweep quickly to side control, lay down some hammers and then go for an arm triangle choke before both men are too sweaty, that’s the ideal winning scenario. Don’t discount the possibility that Mitrione stuffs a takedown with brute strength alone as opposed to technique. In this case Bader needs to negate the range with pressure against the cage and dirty boxing. If he avoids power strikes his smaller size and faster speed will win the day. One wrong move will cost him dearly.
Final prediction: Matt Mitrione wins via first round knockout
265 lbs.: Roy Nelson (23-15) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (27-6, 1 NC)
Even though “Big Country” Roy Nelson has been trading wins for losses dating back to 2015, he’s still an incredibly dangerous (and popular) man inside the cage. Fourteen of his 23 wins come via knockout (almost 61 percent) — and no matter how much taller or bigger an opponent is — he can still find his chin. Kharitonov is a dangerous knockout artist, too, garnering 15 of his 27 wins (55 percent) of his wins through raw striking power. The downside for both men is that exchange of fireworks can (and often do) backfire — for Kharitonov that’s Javy Ayala, for Nelson that’s Mark Hunt, and so on. I expect Nelson to at least try to take down Kharitonov and go the safer route, especially given he’s 42 and is giving up the advantage to his opponent in nearly every category. Kharitonov is five years younger, four inches taller (6’4”) and has four more inches of reach (76). One good shot could land either man on his ass, but Nelson can trade his last loss for a win simply by taking down Kharitonov and keeping him there.
Final prediction: Roy Nelson wins via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Lorenz Larkin (19-7, 1 NC) vs. Ion Pascu (18-8)
Originally, Lorenz Larkin was to face Yaroslav Amosov for the alternate slot in the Welterweight Grand Prix, then Larkin was supposed to face Erick Silva instead (20-9, 1 NC), but Silva withdrew with an injury. Running out of options at this late date, Bellator found “Bombardierul” Ion Pascu (18-8) from Romania to step in. On the plus side, Pascu has won three of his last four fights (all in BAMMA). On the minus side, he was easily handled by Ed Ruth in his Bellator debut, and Larkin is a far more experienced fighter than Ruth. Pascu comes by his nickname for his ability to drop bombs, scoring knockouts in half of his wins (nine of 18). Larkin stands 5’11” with a 72-inch reach and holds 11 wins by knockout. Pascu stands two inches shorter, but has a slight one inch reach advantage. Given Larkin has had a full camp and Pascu is a short notice replacement, I give him little hope of pulling this off.
Final prediction: Lorenz Larkin wins via knockout
155 lbs.: Kevin Ferguson Jr. (3-1) vs. Corey Browning (2-1)
So far, Bellator has played it largely safe with giving “Baby Slice” Kevin Ferguson Jr. winnable fights. And tomorrow’s Bellator 207 match is no exception. Browning’s last fight was a loss to Aaron Hall more than two years ago, so he’s rusty and dusty, not to mention a skinny Lightweight at 5’11.” Ferguson is theoretically the same size, but his record of Catchweight fights shows how muscular he is and how hard a cut to 155 pounds can be for him. If he makes the weight safely with no issues, his ever-improving ground game and more recent experience play to his strengths both figuratively and literally. Browning’s only two wins are by submission, though, and that’s also Ferguson’s only loss, so it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility for Browning to have improved enough to win after two years off.
Final prediction: “Baby Slice” walks away with a decision
155 lbs.: Carrington Banks (7-1) vs. Mandel Nallo (6-0)
Aside from one bump in the road, “Jetsetter” Carrington banks has soared in his career. A lifelong wrestler cut from the “I’ll fight anybody” cloth, he tends to out-work opponents rather than finish them, taking five of his seven wins to the judges. Tri-Star Gym upstart Nallo is the exact opposite — two knockouts and four submissions for a 100 percent finishing rate. His quick finish at Bellator 189 opened some eyes, but Banks is figuratively and literally a much bigger fish to fry than a preliminary guy. Since Nallo has never been to the third round in his career, a fast start is his best chance to win, and if Banks turns it into a grind against the cage, Nallo is in for a rough night.
Final prediction: Carrington Banks wrestles his way to a victory
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 207 tomorrow with Paramount Network fights starting 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.