Bellator 226: “Bader vs. Kongo” comes to SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., this weekend (Sat., Sept. 7, 2019), featuring a long-awaited Heavyweight title defense for the “champ-champ,” Ryan Bader, against a man who has been waiting years for a second chance at the world title, Cheick Kongo. In addition, the promotion’s $1 million, 16-man Featherweight Grand Prix kicks off with four big first round bouts.
Let’s break it down!
(Please note that * = Featherweight World Grand Prix opening round match)
265 lbs.: Ryan Bader (27-5) vs. Cheick Kongo (30-10-2)
Over the last four years, few Heavyweights have had a run as impressive as “The Darkness” Cheick Kongo. He’s perfect (8-0) in that span with six decisions and two knockouts, which is made even more remarkable by the fact that he’s now 44 and edging ever closer to 45 years old. If you want to be a believer, Randy “The Natural” Couture also achieved success at Heavyweight in his 40’s in his world title quest, and Kongo has the kind of size Couture only saw from Tim Sylvia. Indeed, standing 6’4” with an 82-inch reach he’s a monster for any opponent he faces.
“Darth” Bader, meanwhile, is the kind of fighter who slays beasts. Fedor Emelianenko? No problem. Matt Mitrione? The bigger they are, the harder they fall. The “champ-champ” has to be relishing this opportunity having seen what fellow wrestler Muhammed Lawal did to Kongo. Although he’s got the kind of punching power to stand and deliver with Kongo, why take that chance if you don’t have to? The recipe for success is written all over this fight before it even takes place given Bader’s Arizona State University (ASU) wrestling pedigree — he just needs to use the right ingredients in the right combination of takedowns and ground-and-pound to win.
Final prediction: Ryan Bader via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Daniel Straus (26-8) vs. Derek Campos (19-9)*
After Bellator 184 many people (including me) said former 145-pound champion Daniel Straus’ best days were behind him. To make matters worse Straus, was in a motorcycle accident that nearly ended his life let alone his mixed martial arts (MMA) career. His comeback at Bellator 219 was nothing short of miraculous and he has an ideal opponent to re-establish himself with in the opening round of this tournament. Campos was violently finished by Patricky Freire, dropped to Featherweight, and has lost two more fights since. Despite his crowd pleasing balls-to-the-wall brawling style, Campos is no longer finding success at the elite level, and a reborn Daniel Straus — who is even a fraction of what he used to be as champion — can strike, wrestle and grapple with the best of the best, including the current division champion.
Final prediction: Daniel Straus via first round rear-naked choke
145 lbs.: Pat Curran (23-8) vs. Adam Borics (13-0)*
Speaking of former champions, our next bout features two-time Featherweight kingpin Pat Curran against the streaking Adam Borics. In a bout widely expected to be a set up for Aaron Pico’s return to form, Borics demolished Pico via flying knee and arguably stole his spot in this tournament in the process. The most dangerous thing for Curran is that Borics is only 26 years old and just getting better since he started training under Henri Hooft in Florida, and the striking (three finishes) pairs ideally with his submissions (six to date). A boring fight with A.J. McKee did neither man any favors, but arguably hurt Curran more as it snapped a multiple-fight win streak and left the impression the 31 year old can’t hang with the younger and hungrier fighters in the division.
Final prediction: Adam Borics via second round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Emmanuel Sanchez (18-4) vs. Tywan Claxton (5-0)*
A solid if unspectacular win over Georgi Karakhanyan was the right way for Emmanuel Sanchez to bounce back from his world title match with Patricio Freire. Running the gauntlet of this tournament will earn him a second shot at that strap, regardless of who might be the champion at the end. Depending on the bracketology, he might even get that fight before the tournament finals. To do so, though, he’ll have to take down another of those “young and hungry” fighters in “Air” Claxton, a 26-year-old who has finished 80 percent of his opponents to date. Fortunately, “El Matador” is not that much older at 28 and, with all due respect to Claxton, has been fighting a much higher caliber of competition by comparison.
Final prediction: Emmanuel Sanchez via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Sam Sicilia (17-9) vs. Pedro Carvalho (10-3)*
If one bracket in this grand prix is a complete unknown it’s this one. Sicilia was soundly defeated by the aforementioned Sanchez but has managed to eke out wins against two tough opponents in Marcos Galvao and Derek Campos in his three-fight Bellator tenure. I would have said that bodes well for him against a lesser opponent, but Carvalho is on a five-fight win streak and his fight with Campos was the more impressive of the two. As much as I respect Sicilia going back to his UFC days, he’s giving up 10 years in age at 33 to Carvalho and my gut instinct says that’s too much of a speed advantage to overcome in the smaller weight classes where quickness is everything.
Final prediction: Pedro Carvalho via first round flying knee knockout
145 lbs.: Gaston Bolanos (5-1) vs. Daniel Carey (5-3)
Bellator desperately wants to make a star out of “The Dream Killer” Gaston Bolanos. All five of his wins to date have been by knockout, all inside the promotion, with the lone blemish on his record being a technical submission against Brandon Laroco. Bellator is giving him the spotlight on the main card against Daniel Carey, a fighter who got knocked out by Adil Benjilany in his last appearance at Bellator 210. He’s not really a bad fighter, though — before that loss he had won three in a row and four out of five overall. While Bolanos seems to have improved since his loss at Bellator 183, don’t count out Carey since both men are evenly matched in wins and height (5’7”). The lone downside for Carey is that he doesn’t have the natural power in his hands that “The Dream Killer” does.
Final prediction: Gaston Bolanos via technical knockout
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 226 this weekend with a main card at 9 p.m. ET on DAZN, with “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.