Bellator 199: “Bader vs. King Mo” takes place tomorrow night (Sat., May 12, 2018) at SAP Center in San Jose, California. Tonight is one of the lighter brackets for the Heavyweight Grand Prix but NOT in terms of talent. This one features the current Light Heavyweight champion of Bellator facing off with the self-proclaimed ‘moneyweight’ of the promotion.
Let’s break it down:
265 lbs.: Ryan Bader (24-5) vs. Muhammed Lawal (21-6, 1 NC)
The oddness of this bracket of the Heavyweight tournament is readily apparent as two fighters best known at 205 face off in SAP’s vaunted “Shark Tank.” Of the two Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal is more familiar with the format, having won the Rizin Heavyweight Grand Prix and defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in a rematch contested at Heavyweight. It is for these reasons among others that Lawal has declared himself a “moneyweight,” willing to take any fight at a weight he can make for the right price. At 5’11” he may not strike observers as a “natural” Heavyweight, but his 79” reach puts heavy hands on many a chin, and his Oklahoma State wrestling pedigree takes the rest of ‘em down.
Light Heavyweight champion Ryan Bader is no slouch as a wrestler either. In high school he was ranked as high as No. 4 in the country, at Arizona State he was a two time All-American, and in mixed martial arts he may be the only man who can neutralize “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis repeatedly — a four time Penn State All-American wrestler in his own right. Bader isn’t as long as some of his opponents with a 74” reach, but he packs a lot of power into his 6’2” frame. Nine opponents have fallen to his fists whether standing or being pounded out on the ground, which makes his takedown that much more fearsome. Some wrestlers will pitter pat and win rounds on points but Bader PUNISHES his foes.
Who holds the advantage in this bracket? It’s not as obvious as it might seem. “Fear” is not a word that Lawal seems to know, as he has manhandled larger opponents in the past and a unique ability to make people second guess their every move. If you drop down to block a double leg your chin is open to become the 14th man to get knocked out by “King Mo,” and if you stand straight up with your hands in front of your face blocking his power he’s gonna get that takedown. It’s a lose-lose scenario for anybody other than another wrestler who takes his moves from the same playbook.
Much like Lawal, Bader is more than happy to face opponents who are taller or who have a longer reach, and the only person to knock him out in almost five years is Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. As much as I respect Lawal I don’t believe he has “Rumble” power, nor do I think he can straight up out-wrestle Bader. Lawal’s road to victory would be to keep Bader at the end of his long range and punish him with the jab until he can’t see a takedown coming, but if Bader stands there and lets him do it he’s foolish. He’ll rush Lawal for the clinch, battle for underhooks and head position, then take Mo down for some of his ground and pound. It’s not going to be a short fight but for Lawal it will be a long night.
Final prediction: Ryan Bader advances by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Jon Fitch (30-7-1, 1 NC) vs. Paul Daley (40-15-2)
He may have as many fans as detractors but there’s little doubt that recent Bellator signee Jon Fitch is one of MMA’s most outstanding Welterweights for well over a decade. He ran an undefeated streak in MMA all the way from 2003 to 2008, and even though GSP battered him for five rounds “Rush” learned what so many opponents already knew — Jon Fitch is tough as HELL. He bounced back from that loss with another win streak that lasted until 2011, and when his UFC career finally started to sputter he jumped to another organization and won their Welterweight title. Not liking his prospects in that promotion going forward, Fitch voluntarily relinquished his status there and gave Bellator a call.
Bellator may have been more than happy to welcome him with open arms, but “Semtex” Paul Daley will meet him dynamite in both fists — a heavy left and an explosive right — and a kickboxing pedigree that ensures you have to watch every limb in any bout with him. He’s finished 30 of 40 MMA wins by knockout (75%) and 14 of 24 kickboxing fights (almost 60%) the same way. Despite a tough loss to “The Red King” in his Bellator debut, Daley immediately bounced back and leveled Lorenz Larkin at Bellator 183. Underestimating Daley’s blink and you missed it finishing shots is a mistake no man should make.
Fitch has been around as long as Daley and has faced more than his fair share of power hitters and accurate strikers. In his entire career he’s only been knocked out twice, and his ground game is such that he’s only been submitted three times. Fitch is a fairly good sized Welterweight at 6’0” with a 74” reach, but this is one case where that hardly matters. Daley can actually pack more power into a smaller frame standing 5’9” (which he does) and his 76” reach means that all things being equal his kill shot would land first. Fitch certainly gives up the power advantage to Daley, having only finished five wins via knockout, and an astonishing 19 of 30 via decision. That’s the exact reason some people just can’t stand Fitch, and it’s also the reason he’ll win this fight. He can afford to play the long game and let the muscular Daley tire out, and once he’s unable to throw the dynamite he’s effectively done in a fight.
Final prediction: Jon Fitch wins via split decision
265 lbs.: Cheick Kongo (27-10-2) vs. Javy Ayala (10-6)
Both of these men were slated as Heavyweight Grand Prix alternates but with so many brackets already concluded and another one on this card it seems safe enough to let them square off with each other. The winner can always return as an alternate if he’s healthy, and since the tournament will take most of 2018 even the loser might heal up in time to sub in if needed. Javy Ayala’s biggest claim to fame is having knocked out Sergei Kharitonov, but otherwise he has a fairly middling career of trading a win for a loss or two wins for two losses. “Eye Candy” never seems to gain the momentum to vault to stardom.
Cheick Kongo on the other hand has been around longer than just about any fighter on this card other than Jon Fitch. Not only is he currently on a five fight win streak in Bellator, he holds wins over current Bellator star Matt Mitrione and future Bellator fighter Mirko Cro Cop. He’s a mountain of manhood at 6’4”, 244 pounds and an 81” reach. Even at 42 years of age he never fails to look like he’s been chiseled from a block of granite, and no matter how much you think being an elder statesman would cause his cardio to falter he just keeps on winning. Even if it’s not always exciting he uses his imposing frame to punish foes standing, take them down, and HOLD THEM DOWN. Ayala’s “Candy” is around his waist at 6’1” and 263 pounds. He has knockout power but if anything less cardio than his conditioned foe.
Final prediction: Cheick Kongo wins via technical knockout
155 lbs.: Carrington Banks (7-0) vs. Adam Piccolotti (9-2)
At one time Adam Piccolotti was the fastest rising star of the Bellator Lightweight division, having racked up a perfect 9-0 record while defeating Brandon Girtz on the way up. Back to back losses derailed that momentum though including a catchweight bout with David Rickels last December. Meanwhile “Jetsetter” Carrington Banks keeps on rolling, with only injuries slowing him down last April. The Blackzilian fighter stands 5’9” or 5’10” (depends on who’s asking) with a 71.5” reach while Piccolotti is about 2” taller and 2” shorter in wingspan. Both men had outstanding wrestling records before their MMA career and developed the rest of their game in the trenches, but right now Banks seems like the one able to dig deeper while Piccolotti is having problems just getting down to the 156 non-title limit.
Final prediction: Carrington Banks takes a unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Aaron Pico (2-1) vs. Lee Morrison (19-8)
Rounding out the card is “MMA’s greatest prospect” Aaron Pico taking his fourth professional fight. He’s recovered nicely from a bad start in New York City and not only gotten better in each bout but more dangerous as a striker since dropping to Featherweight. “American Bulldog” Lee Morrison has something in common with every one of Pico’s opponents — the experience edge. 27 pro fights is not a small number by any stretch, and his current four fight win streak includes a common opponent to Pico’s fellow “Fab Five” member Ed Ruth. In other words both men have blasted former UFC fighter Chris Dempsey. Pico has been so happy to show off his improving striking you’d almost be tempted to forget his Olympic caliber wrestling. If Morrison did it may be a quick night for him and I honestly see no reason for Pico to stand and trade with someone who has had VASTLY more in-ring time. Pico should shoot shoot shoot and then catch Morrison if/when he tries to get back up in a submission.
Final prediction: Aaron Pico wins via rear naked choke
That’s a wrap!
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