Bellator 214: “Fedor vs. Bader” airs tomorrow night (Sat., Jan. 26, 2019) from The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., featuring a Paramount Network-televised (also on DAZN) main event that will see the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion crown its first new Heavyweight champion since Vitaly Minakov was stripped in 2016 (details) with the conclusion of a year-long Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Let’s break it down:
265 lbs.: Fedor Emelianenko (38-5, 1 NC) vs. Ryan Bader (26-5)
Sports fans and MMA pundits alike branded Fedor the “G.O.A.T.” many years ago when he had nearly a decade of dominance, sporting a Heavyweight win streak from 2001-09 that saw him beat Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Mark Coleman (twice), Mirko Cro Cop and Mark Hunt just to name a few. Then, a surprising trilogy of losses in Strikeforce shattered the myth of “The Last Emperor” and not long after he went into a self-imposed retirement.
We all know the lure of the spotlight and the thrill of one-on-one competition leads to fighters making ill-advised choices about coming out of retirement, but Emelianenko has been largely successful since his 2015 return. The only blemish on his record in that time was arguably the best night of Matt Mitrione’s career. He rebounded from that loss by entering himself into Bellator’s tournament to crown a new champion, and finished both Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen via first round technical knockout to advance to the finals.
If you argued that Bader had the harder road to the main event I would 100 percent agree with that assessment. Timing and accuracy were on his side in a quick finish at Bellator 199 against Muhammed Lawal, but given “King Mo’s” wrestling pedigree and knockout power it could easily have gone the other way. It would be very difficult to pull off the same trick against the much larger Mitrione in round two, so Bader made the sensible choice to out-wrestle him instead.
In short, Bader fought two dangerous athletes who more than likely have their best years ahead of them, while Emelianenko fought two past their prime athletes whose best years are clearly behind them. If you have any doubt about that look at Frank Mir’s performance against Javy Ayala, because just like “The Iceman” he needs to be talked out of ever taking another fight. In theory that makes Bader is the clear favorite. He’s younger (35 vs. 42), he’s bigger (6’2” vs. 6’0”), and he’s on a six-fight win streak. Is it game over for the G.O.A.T.?
One of the oldest cliches in fighting is that “power is the last thing to go.” Emelianenko’s submission skills (17 of 38 wins, 44 percent) should probably be given as much or more credit than his knockouts (12 of 38 wins, 31.5 percent), but fans and fighters alike talk with reverent awe about the power of Fedor’s punch. Even the fight he had with Matt Mitrione resulted in an amazing double knockdown when each landed a hard strike at the same time. Bader on the other hand should get more credit for his power (11 of 26 wins, 42 percent) so it’s not out of the question the exact same thing could happen here.
As someone who still remembers buying Pride FC on pay-per-view (PPV) before it folded up its tent and sold its assets to Zuffa, I have to put nostalgia aside and stick to what we know of present day Emelianenko. This is a man who very nearly got folded by a middling fighter in Fabio Maldonado. This is a man who had his chin tested by both Mitrione and Mir, and he failed the test on one of two occasions. And whether you like it or not, Bader knows that history is at stake here if he can become a dual-weight champion.
If Bader wasn’t going to stand and trade with Mitrione, there’s very little chance he wants to do it with Emelianenko. Expect a takedown each round — maybe several — and potentially lots of booing. Bader won’t care how you feel once they read the scores, wrap that new Heavyweight title around his waist, and hand him a nice large check for his performance. If it’s crowd pleasing that will be an unexpected and surprising bonus.
Final prediction: Ryan Bader wins the Heavyweight title via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Aaron Pico (4-1) vs. Henry Corrales (16-3)
Pico has become a force to be reckoned with at the very young age of 22. He is consistently knocking off more experienced foes in fight after fight and has shown off scary power in the process. It’s actually stunning to think he was planning to go to the Olympics as a wrestler in 2016 when boxing could have easily been his calling. Everyone (including me) talks more about his grappling than his junior Golden Gloves championship in 2009, and he’s had almost a decade to work on those hand skills and get better over time.
Pico keeps getting tested over and over again and to pass this time he’ll have to surpass Corrales. He’s a forgotten figure in this division despite racking up four straight wins, including his recent finish of Andy Main, who had both height and reach on him in the fight. Like better known Featherweight compatriot Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, he’s not intimidated by larger men, although his stature compares well to Pico. Corrales stands 5’8” with a 69” reach, while Pico stands 5’8” with a 70.5” reach, so if Mike Goldberg is on commentary for this bout you’ll no doubt hear that, “everything else is virtually EYE-dentical.”
The one thing that’s not identical is that Corrales had a three-fight skid before his current win streak, dropping bouts to Daniel Straus, Emmanuel Sanchez and the aforementioned Freire, losing two of three by guillotine choke. Pico is so good with his hands that we’ve never seen him tap somebody out, but to be fair we’ve also never seen him in a fight that lasted longer than 3:45. Some fighters soften you up to take you down and submit you, but Pico simply bypasses softening and goes straight to stiffening. As much as anybody he’s fought, Corrales will be a “stiff test” for Pico but it’s one I expect him to ace.
Final prediction: Aaron Pico wins via first round knockout
265 lbs.: Jake Hager (0-0) vs. J.W. Kiser (1-1)
If you don’t know Jack Swagger by now you will after he makes his professional MMA debut on Saturday. All puns aside, Hager was a legitimate wrestling badass at the University of Oklahoma and it was that pedigree that led him to be recruited for pro wrestling by WWE. He now has the chance to go back to those roots and see if they can land him success in MMA, and since it worked out reasonably well for Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley, he’s got plenty of reason to think it will for him, too, as a fellow Heavyweight. Let’s be honest, though — Kiser is no kind of competition for anybody. He lost the only fight he had to date in 24 seconds, and unless Hager shits the bed worse than C.M. Punk, he should be just fine here.
Final prediction: Jake Hager f/k/a Jack Swagger takes a unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Juan Archuleta (21-1) vs. Ricky Bandejas (11-1)
“The Spaniard” Juan Archuleta hasn’t lost in 16 straight fights and has knocked out 10 of his opponents. Bandejas, meanwhile, shocked the world at Bellator 204 by finishing James Gallagher, and has finished almost 60 percent of his fights (four knockouts and three submissions) thus far. Archuleta owns both the height and weight advantage going into this fight, but Bandejas was a Cage Fury prospect who was overlooked until he cleaned Gallagher’s clock with a kick. It would be easy to count out Bandejas again given his more experienced opponent, but Bandejas has a six-fight win streak of his own and has shown no fear of aggressive fighters who try to swarm early. It could very well be another quick finish for Bandejas unless Archuleta keeps his cool.
Final prediction: Juan Archuleta finishes via third round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Brandon McMahan (5-6) vs. Adel Altamimi (7-5)
Let’s make this short and sweet: McMahan is a sub-.500 fighter by any record you can find for him anywhere online. Altamimi’s only loss in his last six fights was to the aforementioned Archuleta and 86 percent of his wins end by submission. What more can I say?
Final prediction: Adel Altamimi wins via kimura
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 214 on Saturday night with a main card on Paramount Network at 9 p.m. ET (also on DAZN) and DAZN “Prelims” undercard bouts starting at 7 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.