Bellator 219: “Awad vs. Girtz” airs tomorrow night (Fri., March 29, 2019) from Pechanga Casino & Resort in Temecula, California. In a year already laden with Bellator MMA cards, this one hopes to stand out by letting two Lightweights known for their knockout power come to blows in a main event where anything less than a war would disappoint.
Let’s break it down:
155 lbs.: Saad Awad vs. Brandon Girtz
Saad Awad (23-10) was handed his first lost in four fights by Benson Henderson at Bellator 208. There’s no shame in losing to a former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) world champion, so hats off to Awad for taking “Bendo” the distance. Previous to that half of his win streak had come via form of knockout, which is slightly above his overall win percentage (10 of 23, 43 percent) by same. He’s famous for his bionic left hand, which hits people so hard that he repeatedly breaks the bones in it. Even when they put a steel plate in it to reinforce the bones he bent that, too.
Brandon Girtz (15-8) may not have the knockout percentage of Awad (3 of 15, 20 percent), but he’s no less afraid to get into a phone booth and let knuckles fly. Even though he lost a bloody trilogy fight with Derek Campos, the performance solidified him as a fan favorite and earned him many more future dates with Bellator MMA. When Lorenz Larkin withdrew from this card’s original main event with an injury, Girtz is exactly the kind of man Scott Coker would call on short notice to save the main event.
Being a fan favorite and a promoter’s dream doesn’t necessarily equate to collecting a win bonus, though. Girtz has dropped four of his last five bouts and is in serious danger of making that five of six. He stands 5’7” with a 67-inch reach, while Awad dwarfs him at 5’11” with a 73.5-inch reach. Awad has competed at a Catchweight of 165 and won, while Girtz has done so at 174 and lost, so the daunting numbers just keep piling up against him. He’s an easy guy to like, but that’s just not enough reason to give him the nod.
Final prediction: Saad Awad wins via third round knockout
155 lbs.: Daniel Straus vs. Shane Kruchten
Can former Featherweight champion Daniel Straus (25-8) snap a two-fight losing streak by moving up to Lightweight? Will Shane Kruchten (12-4) be able to rebound after a loss more than one year ago to a devastating body blow? Those are the questions and here are your answers. First, it’s hard to watch Straus fight now and not think something is missing — something he had beaten out of him by “Pitbull” in their fourth fight. He has struggled to regain the poise and flash the skill fans who considered him the “uncrowned champion” saw in his first two fights with Freire. Maybe that long struggle zapped his motivation once he lost his hard-won title.
It’s much harder to get a read on Kruchten, though, as a guy who currently averages one fight every two years. “The War Rhino” is well rounded with three knockouts, six submissions and three decisions in his 12 wins, but he’s also highly inconsistent in losing 50 percent of his last four fights. He started his career winless (0-2) before going on an 11-fight win streak, which makes Kruchten even more of a puzzle and not less. Why did he ascend up the ladder only to lose his World Series Of Fighting (WSOF) debut? Picking a winner of this fight is like picking the lesser of two evils. Even though Straus has had a long road back from a debilitating accident that nearly ended his combat sports career, Kruchten always seems to take the “L” when he’s under the brightest spotlight, and the co-main event is pretty bright.
Final prediction: Daniel Straus wins a unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Andrey Koreshkov vs. Michael Jasper
The withdrawal of Lorenz Larkin from this card left “Spartan” Andrey Koreshkov (21-3) without an opponent until Michael Jasper (13-4) stepped up to make his promotional debut. The Elite MMA-trained fighter from Camarillo, Calif., is on a bit of a roll with three straight wins, including two technical knockout finishes — remarkably both with three seconds left to go in the round. That fact alone tells me that Jasper is a dangerous fighter, particularly when he has his opponent hurt, and that he’s not afraid to barrel full steam ahead and empty his reserves going for a finish. Nine of 13 wins (69 percent) come by knockout so his track record seems to back that up.
When it comes to knockouts, though, they don’t get much more dangerous in this weight class than Koreshkov save for his personal Kryptonite of “Phenom” Douglas Lima. Although his win percentage by knockout is slightly lower (12 of 21, 57 percent) he’s done it against higher levels of competition. Case in point — ask Chidi Njokuani how it felt when Koreshkov was doing the “banging” instead of vice-versa. As a student of “Storm” Alexander Shlemenko his striking is fluid, dynamic and versatile. He attacks from all angles and surprises opponents with unexpected kicks and elbows. You may think you’re safe 10 feet away until he charges with a flying knee and you’re left looking up at the lights.
Speaking of Lima, this fight is a chance for Koreshkov to avenge his latest loss and get back into title contention. Although Koreshkov holds a small height advantage of one inch, he actually gives up the reach in this fight at 74 inches as Jasper comes in at 76.5 inches. As the old saying goes, though, “it’s not the length, but how you use it.” Okay, that’s not really the old saying, but let’s not be as crude as Colby Covington here. The point is that Koreshkov can eat up the distance by cutting angles, pressure Jasper backward, then catch him at an opportunistic moment. He’s also got youth on his side at 28, while Jasper is a late bloomer in the sport at 35. Jasper is as they say “a live underdog” in that he has the tool set and pedigree to score an upset, but after a full training camp preparing for a more dangerous fighter in Larkin I’m not worried about Koreshkov’s chances here.
Final prediction: Andrey Koreshkov wins via first round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Joe Schilling vs. Keith Berry
“Stitch ‘Em Up” Joe Schilling (3-5) is the prototypical “live by the sword, die by the sword” kickboxer-turned mixed martial artist, and his middling record reflects it. Thankfully for him he’s facing similarly struggling competition in Keith Berry (15-14-1, 1 NC) — a man who has not recorded a single win since June 2013 in six straight bouts. It’s up to Schilling to take advantage of that situation and display the kind of striking accuracy and ferocity he did on the Bellator 210’s “Prelims” undercard. The fact he’s being moved up to the broadcast portion against such a beatable opponent largely telegraphs what you can expect from this fight.
Final prediction: Joe Schilling wins via knockout
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 219 tomorrow with a main card on Paramount Network at 9 p.m. ET and DAZN fights 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.