Bellator 223 and Bellator London “Mousasi vs. Lovato Jr.” airs this weekend (Sat., June 22, 2019) from SSE Arena in London, England. One of the greatest mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters of this generation, Gegard Mousasi, is set to face one of the best American practitioners of Brazilian jiu-jitsu ever, Rafael Lovato Jr. In this test of wills only one man can prevail and walk away with the Middleweight title.
Let’s break it down:
185 lbs.: Gegard Mousasi (45-6-2) vs. Rafael Lovato Jr. (9-0)
Gegard Mousasi — who has been competing in MMA for more than 15 years — has been the DREAM Middleweight champion, DREAM Light Heavyweight champion, Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion and is currently Bellator MMA’s Middleweight champion. Combine that with 45 career wins against just six losses and two draws, and you have a Hall of Fame career with enough laurels to retire on; however, at only 33 years old “Dreamcatcher” Mousasi hasn’t caught nearly enough. He’s already teased going up to Light Heavyweight sooner than later, which means Ryan Bader needs to watch his back if he’s still got the 205-pound title in 2020.
It may come as a surprise to some that Mousasi’s opponent, Lovato Jr., is actually two years older coming into this fight, but that’s because Lovato was too busy winning world titles in Brazilian jiu-jitsu to make the jump to MMA. In fact, Lovato was only the second American black belt (after B.J. Penn) to win the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, and much like Mousasi, he’s got a display case filled with titles and trophies he’s racked up over the years from Abu Dhabi to Sao Paulo. It’s probably not surprising to learn that 66 percent of his wins have come via submission as a result (six of nine), including his last fight with John Salter.
That’s the good news for Lovato Jr. ... now here’s the bad news. In 53 combined fights Gegard Mousasi has only been submitted three times (less than 6 percent). That gives Lovato Jr. a roughly 1-16 chance of pulling off the upset. Mousasi is also riding a win streak that’s almost as long as Lovato’s undefeated record — eight straight bouts dating back to 2016. Let’s make this even uglier for Lovato. The last man to submit Mousasi was Ronaldo Souza back in 2014. No one has been able to pull the rabbit out of that hat in five years. Lovato Jr. has formidable size at 6’3” with a 77.5” reach, but Mousasi is only a hair smaller at 6’2” with a 76” reach. And if he’s not the best pure striker at Middleweight I defy you to name five men who are better.
Final prediction: Gegard Mousasi wins via second round TKO
185 lbs.: Melvin Manhoef (30-14-1, 2 NC) vs. Kent Kauppinen (11-4)
Legends always want to go out on their own terms. And Dutch kickboxer Melvin Manhoef is no exception. After a career filled with highlight-reel knockouts against fighters like Mark Hunt, Hisaki Kato, Kazushi Sakuraba and Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, among many others, he’d surely like to add one more to the list by finishing Kent Kauppinen. After losing four of his last five fights (although one was overturned to a “No Contest”) a win closer to home in London could be a fitting way for him to hang up the four-ounce gloves.
However, don’t expect the local favorite from Chippenham to do him any favors. He was brought to Italy to be fed to local favorite Alessio Sakara and dropped him in just 70 seconds. Given that both of his recent losses came against rising prospects like Walter Gahadza and Fabian Edwards, it may have been too easy to dismiss Kauppinen. His finishing power (nine of 11 wins by knockout) deserves closer inspection, and as a 6’0 Middleweight he undoubtedly cuts weight to pack that kind of power. Manhoef always has been (and still is) built like a brick outhouse, but at 5’8” and 42 years old packing on that kind of muscle is enormously taxing. Both Manhoef and Daley have struggled with cardio at times because of their physiques, and at 27 years old, Kauppinen is less likely to fade in a war of attrition.
Final prediction: Kent Kauppinen wins via third round knockout
160 lbs.: Aaron Chalmers (4-1) vs. Fred Freeman (2-2)
Even though the Georgie Shore reality show star Chalmers got exposed in his last Bellator MMA fight, this bout was officially added to the card at the last minute despite “Chalmers versus To Be Determined” having been rumored for months. In other words they brought in a tomato can in Fred Freeman they are SURE he can beat to not have a repeat of last time.
Final prediction: Aaron Chalmers wins via first round KO
170 lbs.: Paul Daley (40-17-2) vs. Erick Silva (20-10, 1 NC)
Before you’re ready to sign the pink slip on Paul Daley’s career after back-to-back losses to Jon Fitch and Michael “Venom” Page, remember this one thing — he hit “MVP” with multiple takedowns in their fight. That’s a wrinkle few people who know Daley’s reputation as a crowd-pleasing knockout artist could or even would have expected. Although he could try that strategy again with Erick Silva and probably find success, I’d say the odds of a stand up war are far higher. Indeed, 75 percent of Daley’s wins come via form of knockout, and only four of Silva’s 20 wins (20 percent) come the same way. Silva’s power is underrated, though, as fighters like Matt Brown can attest to. Even if you land the kill shot, you’re going to have to take a few heavy blows in the process, which makes Silva a very live dog in this fight.
Final prediction: Paul Daley wins via third round knockout
145 lbs.: James Gallagher (8-1) vs. Jeremiah Labiano (12-6)
Bellator MMA has designs on making James Gallagher an international star like his training partner Conor McGregor, and based on his last fight in Dublin, those plans are back on track after having briefly been derailed in Sioux Falls. All signs point in his direction for this fight — it’s close to home, Labiano has a 50/50 record in his last six fights, and Labiano is the guy Bellator feeds to bigger stars in main events. While Labiano’s last technical knockout win was impressive, who did he beat to get it? I’ll tell you who — a 10-8-1 fighter — someone with a more mediocre record than his. In other words, a win by Labiano would be a bigger upset than Sioux Falls.
Final prediction: James Gallagher submits Jeremiah Labiano via armbar
185 lbs.: Fabian Edwards (7-0) vs. Jonathan Bosuku (7-4)
This fight is SO lopsided. Edwards is undefeated and Bosuku started out his career 2-3 before going on a bit of a run. He’s been a minor circuit guy the entire time, while Edwards has been fighting competition in Bellator and BAMMA and mostly running through them (three submissions, three finishes). I expect this match was booked so he can win fast and talk trash in front of his hometown London fans.
Final prediction: Fabian Edwards via first round submission
185 lbs.: Mike Shipman (13-1) vs. Costello van Steenis (11-1)
“Seabass” Mike Shipman was scheduled for a Bellator 218 fight that fell through. At this point he’s either got a bunch of pent up aggression he’s dying to get out, or he’s potentially overtrained to the point he might now be easy pickings. “The Spaniard” Costello van Steenis is not a Middleweight you can afford to make mistakes against. He hasn’t lost a fight in four years and he is perfect (3-0) in Bellator thus far with two wins via technical knockout. That all sounds good on paper until you point out Shipman is also undefeated in Bellator (4-0), his win streak goes back to 2014, and he’s finished 10 of 13 opponents in round one (77 percent). Van Steenis slightly favors submissions in his wins (five to three) and Shipman slightly favors knockouts (eight to five) but as Goldberg says “everything else is virtually identical” which means save for a draw one prospect is on the short end of this stick.
Final prediction: Mike Shipman wins via late third round TKO
185 lbs.: Charlie Ward (6-3) vs. Justin Moore (7-2)
In a card brimming with 185-pound fighters there was room for one more bout. One “Moore” bout? I kid. Charlie Ward brings a three fight Bellator winning streak to this bout and is one of Conor McGregor’s personal favorites at SBG Ireland, so he will be expected to bring the heat in this bout. It might seem like the time is right to catch Moore since he’s rebounding from a loss via rear-naked choke, but he was on a four-fight win streak before that and has finished five of his seven wins by knockout (71 percent). Ward is as “live by the sword, die by the sword” as they come as four of his wins and all three of his losses come by knockout. If anybody is laying odds on this fight it’s probably a coin flip at best.
Final prediction: Charlie Ward via second round knockout
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 223 this weekend with a card simulcast at 9 p.m. ET on Paramount/DAZN, with prelim fights starting at 11:30 a.m. ET followed by Bellator London at 5 p.m. ET via Bellator App. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.