Bellator 194: “Mitrione vs. Nelson 2” takes place Fri., Feb. 16, 2018 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. A figuratively AND literally huge main event will headline this card as the second bracket of the Heavyweight Grand Prix is the focus for the evening.
That’s not to say Bellator MMA has nothing else to offer this evening though. In addition to the rematch in the main event, two Lightweights will meet again in the co-main event, and a former Light Heavyweight champion looks to get back on track after a loss to Linton Vassell.
Let’s break it down:
265 lbs.: Matt Mitrione (12-5) vs. Roy Nelson (23-14)
Roy Nelson jumped ship from UFC and signed with Bellator MMA last May. I immediately predicted that the promotion would try to pair him with Matt Mitrione in a rematch of the fight they had at The Ultimate Fighter 16 (TUF) Finale, a fight “Big Country” won by putting heavy hands on Mitrione’s chin, being awarded the technical knockout victory as a result. For some that came as a surprise given Mitrione is the more physically intimidating fighter, 6’3” and around 250 pounds, while Roy Nelson is a ROUND 265 pounds at just over six feet tall. That never stopped him from winning the IFL Heavyweight Title or season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter though.
Indeed — Roy Nelson’s popularity as a fighter stems from the fact that even though he may look like the “Average Joe” to some viewers he does the things that Joe Schmoe simply can’t do. 14 of Nelson’s 23 career wins come by knockout, and for “Big Country” it seems that the bigger they come the harder they fall. The list of behemoths that Nelson has laid out with his prodigious punching power include “Skyscraper” Stefan Struve, “Bigfoot” Antonio Silva and “The Darkness” Cheick Kongo. Those who ignore the right hand at the end of his 72” reach make a HUGE mistake.
Meanwhile Mitrione had a memorable but middling career in UFC before he made his own jump to Bellator, at which point he promptly ran off a three fight win streak peaking with an amazing Fedor Emelianenko fight at MSG which featured a highlight reel simultaneous knockdown. The younger and presumably less rattled Mitrione recovered first and secured the knockout win, but it was yet another reminder that “Meathead” often has a suspect chin. His promotional debut against Carl Seumanutafa was nearly a disaster when he got dropped by a right hand, but again it was his quick recovery from having the lights switched off that stopped the bout from being waved off.
It wouldn’t be inconceivable for Mitrione and Nelson to unintentionally repeat the famous double knockdown from Bellator NYC given 11 of Mitrione’s 12 wins come by KO, and his 79” reach should (in theory) touch Nelson’s chin. What Nelson has now though is exactly what he had the first time they met the first time — veteran experience. Nelson knows how to cut angles and make larger opponents overextend their reach, at which point he steps smoothly to the side and pops off his hands. He’s also not afraid to clinch for a takedown if he’s getting rocked, and as the late Kimbo Slice said once you’ve got “the moon” sitting on you it’s hard to get back to your feet.
Despite this I feel Mitrione has the one advantage you can’t measure on paper — confidence. He just knocked out one of the all-time legends of MMA, while Nelson had to settle for a decision with Javy Ayala in his promotional debut last year. Even though a lot of prognosticators will pick Nelson and say that history will repeat itself, I feel that Mitrione has learned his lesson with Nelson the hard way and won’t let “Big Country” reach out and touch him quite so easily.
Final prediction: Matt Mitrione wins a unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Patricky Freire (18-8) vs. Derek Campos (19-6)
Bellator previously tried to put this rematch together at Bellator 167 only to have Freire withdraw due to injury. They targeted Bellator 181 for the same fight but ultimately changed their minds and had Campos face Brandon Girtz a third time. That victory put Campos at four straight in the highly competitive Lightweight division, while Freire comes in with impressive back to back wins of his own facing two former champions: Josh Thomson and “Smooth” Benson Henderson.
The first time these two met at Bellator 117 it was Freire who won the day via TKO. Knockouts are a staple of the way the elder “Pitbull” fights as 11 of 18 wins (61%) have seen a man crash to the canvas. He packs a lot of muscle and power into a 5’7” frame with a 71” reach. Campos is the taller man at 5’9” but actually gives up three inches on his punch, sporting a 68” wingspan by comparison. Campos is a more balanced fighter on paper though with six knockouts and five submissions in his 19 wins, and given Freire’s propensity to stand and bang there’s an ample opportunity for Campos to score takedowns and even fish for submissions on the ground.
Final prediction: Derek Campos wins via split decision
205 lbs.: Liam McGeary (12-2) vs. Vadim Nemkov (8-2)
It’s been a rough fall from grace since Liam McGeary submitted Tito Ortiz at Bellator 142. In two of his last three fights, McGeary has been exposed as a fighter with virtually no takedown defense, seeing both “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis exploit that weakness to take his title and then being humbled by “The Swarm” Linton Vassell to earn a world title shot. While McGeary is a tall drink of water at 6’6” with an 81” span, none of that matters when he’s on his back, and those same jiu-jitsu skills that saw him tap Ortiz to an inverted triangle choke seem to vanish.
Thankfully for him Vadim Nemkov is not likely to play the takedown game. The Russian brawler has finished 87.5% of his wins by knockout including his promotional debut against Phillipe Lins at Bellator 182. This fight is tailor made for McGeary to get back on track given he has six knockouts to go along with his five submissions, and Nemkov gives up plenty of size at only 6’0”, although he may be fresher and less drawn out than McGeary in what is probably an exhausting weight cut for a monstrous Light Heavyweight. Still I expect this is Bellator’s way to get McGeary back into the contender’s picture and hopefully give him time to shore up his takedown defense.
Final prediction: Liam McGeary wins by TKO in the second round
125 lbs.: Heather Hardy (1-1) vs. Ana Julaton (2-3)
It’s hard to be overwhelmingly impressed with either woman’s MMA career at this point despite their extensive professional boxing experience. Hardy is a stellar 20-0 with one draw inside the squared circle but looked really bad at Bellator 185 against an unknown Kristina Williams, getting her nose destroyed in the process. Julaton boasts a 14-4-1 boxing record and multiple world titles but went 2-2 in ONE Fighting and lost a split decision to Lisa Blaine in her Bellator debut. Can either of these women find their form in mixed martial arts? Matching them with each other may be the only way to find out. I favor Hardy because of her age (25 vs. 37) and because she was at least impressive in HER Bellator debut. She’s got more time left to get better at a second sport provided she remembers how to check kicks and not get creamed right in the schnozz. I doubt Julaton has developed enough kickboxing skills over five fights to do what Williams did.
Final prediction: Heather Hardy wins a unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Tywan Claxton (1-0) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (0-1)
There’s literally only one reason this fight exists and is on the main card of a Paramount Network show and that’s Tywan Claxton’s flying knee of doom last year. Can he make that magic happen again? They’re giving him every chance in the world by pairing him with a 0-1 fighter, but it’s not as though Claxton is more experienced as a pro. I’ll pick Claxton regardless but a sensational finish is far from guaranteed.
Final prediction: Tywan Claxton wins via third round TKO
That’s a wrap!
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