Bellator 237 “Fedor vs. Rampage” comes to Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on December 29, 2019. With two brawling behemoths in the titular fight the words of a famous country singer come to mind: “I ain’t here for a long time. I’m here for a good time.”
Let’s break it down:
265 lbs.: Fedor Emelianenko (38-6, 1 NC) vs. Quinton Jackson (38-13)
“The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko is formerly the Heavyweight title holder of Pride Fighting Championships. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is also a former champion, having rocked UFC’s Light Heavyweight belt, but he was famous for his run in Pride well before that occurred. It’s rather remarkable that given Pride’s propensity for putting “show” above “sport” that there was never an openweight fight between the two during their heyday. At this point it’s almost too late to finally have them meet, but if you were to pick two Bellator fighters who could fill the Saitama Super Arena, these are exactly the men you would want.
Putting the historical value of their names aside, both men are clearly diminished fighters at this point. Jackson was lucky to face an equally diminished Wanderlei Silva at Bellator 206 and finally even up the series between them at two wins apiece. He’s equally lucky at 41 years old to be facing Emelianenko at 43, coming almost a year after Ryan Bader floored him to become “champ-champ.” That’s enough time for Emelianenko to have recovered from the short term concussive effects, but after seeing both Matt Mitrione and Frank Mir test his chin in fights he ultimately won, I question his long term viability at this point.
It’s not as though Jackson can escape from this preview without being questioned too. His well publicized thyroid problems are the reason we will probably never see him at Light Heavyweight again, and why in fact even making the Heavyweight limit may be a struggle if he continues to compete. Jackson doesn’t get paid by the hour, so he tends to dump what little gas tank he has quickly in fights, and getting bigger doesn’t solve this equation. Here’s the good news about all of this — neither man has any incentive for this fight to go long. Emelianenko doesn’t want to get crushed, Jackson doesn’t want to get gassed, so instead of a long technical fight we’re going to get exactly what the fans in Japan want - a Pride Fighting style slobberknocker where two legends wing haymakers at each other. In such a battle I favor Jackson’s beard over Emelianenko’s Russian stubble.
Final prediction: Quinton Jackson wins via first round knockout
160 lbs.: Michael Chandler (19-5) vs. Sidney Outlaw (14-3)
“Iron” Michael Chandler has had many career ups-and-downs of late — losing the Lightweight title via injury at MSG, regaining his title with a rematch in Hawaii, then losing the title AGAIN in a quick match in May. This catchweight affair may be his way to earn yet another rematch with “champ-champ” Patricio Freire, or it may simply be a cool excuse for a free trip to Japan.
The stakes are much higher for Sidney Outlaw. He’s currently on a nine five winning streak with five submissions and is stepping in for Benson Henderson on short notice. Not only is this Outlaw’s most high profile fight to date, it could instantly launch him into world title contention with a win over a multiple time world champion. “Da Gun” has finished seven of 14 wins by submission (50%) so while a highly regarded wrestler like Chandler could take Outlaw to the ground repeatedly, he might want to rethink that strategy.
The key to this fight is that Chandler often prefers to use his takedowns defensively rather than offensively, preferring the explosive knockout power in his stand up game as a way to win fights. As such he’ll opt to dump out the gas tank and try to blast through Outlaw — especially given it’s a three round affair with a smaller weight cut than he’s usually forced to make. The strategic advantage seems obvious given Chandler has finished almost a third of his wins by knockout (seven of 24) while Outlaw only has one KO to his name.
Final prediction: Michael Chandler via second round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Lorenz Larkin (21-7) vs. Keita Nakamura (35-10-2)
There’s less on the line for Larkin in his fight compared to Henderson, although Lorenz is currently on a three fight win streak with his last victory coming over former champion Andrey Koreshkov. The reason for that is simple — Nakamura has not won two fights in a row since 2015. That doesn’t make him a cakewalk for Larkin, but it does mean that he’s not in the title picture unless he left Rizin for Bellator and put together multiple wins in a row. Therefore even a loss won’t drop Larkin down the mythical non-existent rankings, but given Nakamura’s spotty record I think this fight was booked to play to Larkin’s strengths. They are virtually identical in height and reach (5’11”, 73”) but Larkin finishes nearly 50% of wins by knockout (11 of 21) and Nakamura wins nearly a third of his by decision (11 of 34). Larkin will eschew wrestling and put on a fan-friendly striking performance for the Japanese crowd.
Final prediction: Lorenz Larkin via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Ilara Joanne (9-4) vs. Kana Watanabe (8-0-1)
The self-proclaimed “Arya Stark” of Bellator Flyweights had a hit list after her last win and champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane was on it. Unfortunately for Ilara Joanne, Macfarlane has a date at home in Hawaii and isn’t available for Japan, leading to this cross-promotional bout with Kana Watanabe. Joanne is fearless enough to take the fight against a fighter with the home country advantage, but it was and is a mistake. Watanabe has finished 63% of her wins, she’s a world class judo practitioner (Ronda Rousey level) and is undefeated both in Rizin and in her career. Joanne is good on the ground but I don’t see anything in Watanabe’s record to suggest she’ll be afraid to go there with her. It’s more than likely she’ll do the exact opposite — she’ll throw Joanne to the mat and quickly go for her own submission.
Final prediction: Kana Watanabe via first round rear-naked choke
155 lbs.: Goiti Yamauchi (24-4) vs. Daron Cruickshank (22-12)
“Detroit Superstar” Daron Cruickshank found new life in Japan after his stint in UFC. He’s popular in RIZIN thanks to his fearless fighting style, but he’s also a streaky fighter thanks to that style, notching three straight wins followed by two straight losses in his last five bouts. I’ve got bad news for Cruickshank — he’s about to go .500 over his last six. Yamauchi may in fact be the best BJJ fighter at Lightweight in ANY promotion right now. Watching him is like watching Demian Maia at Welterweight. “Position before submission” is the mantra, and Yamauchi almost never forgets that lesson. It’s easy to say, harder to do, and harder still to be great at it. Yamauchi has finished almost 80% of his wins (19 of 24) by submission. In short, he’s great at it.
Final prediction: Goiti Yamauchi via first round armbar
173 lbs.: Michael Page (16-1) vs. Shinsho Anzai (11-3)
This feels like a fight that Rizin and Bellator added to the card just to combat losing the Chandler vs. Henderson rematch. The evidence to support this is that MVP just fought in November and the fight is taking place at a catch weight of 173 lbs. Anzai is a former UFC fighter with a decent record on paper, scoring knockouts in 50% of his fights (seven of 14), but he barely edged out a decision in his 2019 return to Japan and hasn’t had a TKO since his 2015 UFC fight in the same venue. Do you smell what Scott Coker and Nobuyuki Sakakibara are cooking? Unlike U.S. promotions, Japanese MMA isn’t fixated on whether or not their fighter gets the win since “the show” is more important. They want a crowd pleasing highlight reel victory and making it an easier weight cut for Page is engineered to give him that opportunity on a quick turnaround.
Final prediction: Michael Page via flying knee knockout
That’s a wrap!
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