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Bellator 208 predictions, preview for ‘Fedor vs Sonnen’

The Last Emperor
Fedor Emelianenko
Bellator MMA

Bellator 208: “Fedor vs. Sonnen” takes place TONIGHT (Sat., Oct. 13, 2018) at NYCB Live in Uniondale, New York. The second card of an action-packed weekend for Bellator MMA will determine the second half to the finals of the Heavyweight Grand Prix.

Let’s break it down:

265 lbs.: Fedor Emelianenko (37-5, 1 NC) vs. Chael Sonnen (31-15-1)

We’re now one bout away from knowing which fighters will collide in the tournament finals. Before that happens “The Last Emperor” and “The American Gangster” are scheduled for a maximum of three rounds if needed. If PRIDE legend Fedor Emelianenko can land a power shot to the chin that may not be necessary. To date he’s won 11 fights by knockout including his last bout with Frank Mir. What’s often forgotten is that Emelianenko is even better at submissions, having racked up 17 in his career. Though he’s been relying on his power more as he gets older (and he just turned 42) his ability to catch Sonnen in a choke if he tries one takedown after enough is a real threat.

Sonnen isn’t exactly a spring chicken himself at 41, and although he’s on a two fight win streak against Wanderlei Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, both men showed absolutely zero ability to stuff a takedown. Sonnen cruised to a unanimous decision in both fights. He’ll have to avoid both Fedor’s power and his ground game, but stifling power strikers is exactly what he did to his previous Bellator opponents. The majority of his wins came by decision (19) so the old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” may be a perfectly good indicator of Chael Sonnen’s strategy in this semi-final bout.

Standing 6’1” with a 73” reach, Sonnen’s ability to stand and trade isn’t entirely unprecedented, as the man with the self-described “largest arms in West Linn” does have seven career knockouts. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the reach advantage on Emelianenko, who is just an inch shorter but has a wingspan that’s three inches longer. That’s another reason Sonnen will want to wrestle with Emelianenko rather than have a firefight. It’s not as though other people haven’t had the same idea though. In his last seven fights, Fedor finished four opponents by knockout, and another submitted to strikes — arguably before he would’ve been knocked out too. I’m betting on power over wrestling here.

Final prediction: Fedor Emelianenko wins via third round TKO

185 lbs.: Alexander Shlemenko (56-11, 1 NC) vs. Anatoly Tokov (26-2)

I’m going to step out on a limb here and potentially saw it off behind me with the following statement — there’s no chance Alexander Shlemenko wins this fight. I have a world of respect for the nearly 70 fight veteran and former Middleweight champion, but he’s lost two straight fights and at 34 that extensive bout record has taken a toll. Tokov is only six years younger but he’s had half as many pro fights and he’s on a two fight WIN streak. He’s shorter than Shlemenko at 5’10 to 5’11” but holds a two inch (73”) reach advantage and his only loss dating back all the way to 2012 was a majority (not unanimous) decision. He combines fearsome power (15 knockouts) with excellent skill on the canvas (six submissions) and he’s simply going to overwhelm Shlemenko in all aspects of the game.

Final prediction: Anatoly Tokov wins by second round knockout

155 lbs.: Benson Henderson (25-8) vs. Saad Awad (23-9)

“Everything else is virtually identical.” That’s a phrase we often hear Mike Goldberg say. If you look at the stat line for this fight it might seem to apply. Benson Henderson only has two more wins compared to Saad Awad, while the latter only has one more loss. Henderson is 5’9” with a 71” reach, while Awad is 5’11” with a 73.5” reach. Both have bounced back and forth between Lightweight and Welterweight. The biggest difference for these two men is momentum. Awad is on a four fight win streak that includes two technical knockout stoppages, while Henderson is 2-3 in five Bellator fights and only just returned to his winning ways against Roger Huerta. If I was making odds I might make it a narrow lean to Awad, but the measure of respect I have for multiple time world champion Henderson swings it the other way. That’s the one thing Henderson has over Awad going in — the confidence of being a former WEC and UFC Lightweight champion. In a sport where “everything else is virtually identical” self-confidence is the one thing that NEVER is.

Final prediction: Benson Henderson wins a unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Cheick Kongo (28-10-2) vs. Timothy Johnson (12-4)

The comments section at MMA Mania can be pretty savage, and I won’t be surprised if they brand this a boring battle between castoff UFC Heavyweights. On paper though everything about this fight has great potential. Kongo is on a six fight win streak and just came off an impressive first round finish of Javy Ayala. Johnson’s 4-3 record in UFC may not seem sterling, but those four wins include names like Marcin Tybura and Daniel Omielańczuk. It was a bit surprising they’d cut him loose to sign with Bellator, but if the young strong bull from North Dakota (33 years old, 6’3”, 263 lbs., 78” reach, nine finishes) can impress against the elder statesman (43 years old, 6’4”, 242 lbs., 81” reach, 17 finishes) then he’s stamped his ticket to stardom in a whole new organization. Every time I think Father Time will catch up to Kongo I’m surprised yet again, and Kongo uses size to his advantage in a way most other Heavyweights can’t or won’t. If I was placing a bet I’d go with Johnson, but I look at the way Kongo has owned this division and I can’t tell you to pick against him.

Final prediction: Cheick Kongo wins a unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Henry Corrales (15-3) vs. Andy Main (12-3-1, 1 NC)

Corrales is doing “OK” in his Featherweight career for Bellator with three straight wins over quality opponents like Cody Bollinger, Noad Lahat and Georgi Karakhanyan. The only problem is he stretched those three wins over a two year span, so he’s not really active enough to gain much traction. The MMA Lab fighter will definitely have the moral (and vocal) support of teammate Benson Henderson and vice versa though, so that’s a plus. Main was fairly active himself until a triangle choke win over Nam Phan in 2015, and has gone 1-1 in two fights since. The bigger risk of ring rust is on Main. He’s a Miller Brothers fighter with 58% of wins by submission (seven of 12) and that is a risk factor for Corrales, who has tapped in two-thirds of his losses. The winner of this fight needs to get busy in a hurry.

Final prediction: Henry Corrales by technical knockout

That’s a wrap! will deliver coverage of Bellator 208 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.

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