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Bellator 253 predictions, preview for ‘Caldwell vs McKee’

Darrion Caldwell
Darrion Caldwell
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Bellator 253: “Caldwell vs. McKee” comes to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., tomorrow evening (Thurs., Nov. 19, 2020), airing on CBS Sports Network. The promotion’s Featherweight Grand Prix, which has been going on for more than one year, rolls on with one man putting his undefeated record on the line.

Let’s break it down:

145 lbs.: Darrion Caldwell (15-3) vs. A.J. McKee (16-0)

After back-to-back losses to Kyoji Horiguchi in Rizin and Bellator respectively — the latter of which cost him the Bantamweight title — “The Wolf” Darrion Caldwell found his form again with a return to 145 pounds in the Grand Prix. It started slowly with a decision win over Henry Corrales in the opening bracket, then turned up the heat by handing “The Kid” Adam Borics his first-ever loss back in January. He obviously didn’t plan to wait this long for his third round bout, but nothing anyone had planned in 2020 went the way it was supposed to.

For “The Mercenary” A.J. McKee, though, everything has been according to plan since virtually Day One. Unlike Borics before him, McKee has yet to be bested by anyone, and he owns a slew of highlight reel finishes that have made him one of the brightest stars in Bellator MMA. Six knockouts, five submissions, five decisions in total show that McKee can take any opportunity that comes his way and find the method of victory. Early in his career the knock on the young McKee was that he hadn’t fought “real guys” yet. Now that he’s beaten John Teixeira, Pat Curran, Georgi Karakhanyan and Derek Campos, that argument no longer holds water.

Caldwell was in a similar position once before suffering a surprising loss to Joe Taimanglo. He’s had to reinvent himself not once, but twice, since that time. If it’s true that you learn more from a loss than a win and it’s not just a MMA cliche, Caldwell is well positioned to advance in this tournament. He’s been a stud athlete since his high school days, one of the best wrestlers ever in college at his weight, and you don’t become a world champion for any promotion by accident. At 5’10” with a 74-inch reach he’s the ideal size for a Featherweight. That provides him no advantage against McKee, though, who is 5’10” with a 73.5-inch reach. When you break down the stat line they both have an incredible pedigree and great wins. McKee has the youth advantage (25 to 32), but I don’t expect cardio to be an issue for Caldwell now that he’s not making the drastic weight cuts. It’s a true coin flip fight.

Final prediction: A.J. McKee via split decision

170 lbs.: Benson Henderson (28-9) vs. Jason Jackson (12-4)

It seems slightly rude and almost dismissive to say Benson Henderson should be put out to pasture. What good are predictions if you’re not completely honest about them, though? Saying he didn’t look good against Michael Chandler is an understatement, and that’s facing a guy in his own weight class. We saw him experiment with going up to Welterweight before, an experiment that started out well in UFC, then backfired spectacularly in his Bellator MMA debut. I’m not comfortable with him going back up in weight against a fighter who is younger (30 vs. 36), bigger (6’1” vs. 5’9”) and more powerful (33 percent of wins by knockout vs. only 18 percent). This is a bad match up for him and it’s going to go about as well as the Chandler fight did.

Final prediction: Jason Jackson by first round knockout

170 lbs.: Joey Davis (7-0) vs. Bobby Lee (12-4)

“Black Ice” Joey Davis — a Team BodyShop-trained fighter — and like so many guys from their stable his strikes are both hard and accurate. Indeed, 71 percent of his wins (five of seven) come via form of knockout. “No Nickname” Bobby Lee is virtually the opposite as 50 percent of his wins (six of 12) come via form of submission. He’s currently on a two-fight win streak. That’s good! That’s the longest streak of his career since a six-fight streak was snapped in 2017, and he traded wins for losses for a long stretch after that. He’s now something of a gatekeeper fighter who other people because the guys who beat him (Killys Mota, Maycon Mendonca) have an upward trajectory, and those who don’t stay on the regional circuit. After this fight I suspect it’s Lee who will be going back to the regional circuit.

Final prediction: Joey Davis by first round technical knockout

That’s a wrap! will deliver coverage of Bellator 253 tomorrow evening on CBS Sports Network. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.

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