Bellator 242: “Bandejas vs. Pettis” comes to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., tomorrow night (Fri., July 24, 2020), streaming on DAZN (watch it) and airing on Paramount Network. After a three-month hiatus because of the global pandemic, Bellator MMA returns to the site of the show they were forced to postpone looking to make a fresh start.
Let’s break it down:
135 lbs.: Ricky Bandejas (13-3) vs. Sergio Pettis (19-5)
The Bantamweight division has been in a state of flux since Kyoji Horiguchi vacated the title last November. Numerous fighters are vying for the opportunity to fill his shoes, but the absence of live Bellator MMA events has made it hard for any of them to have enough momentum to be considered next in line.
Bellator’s own publicity for this card has changed the math by referring to both men as “top contenders” in the division, and with a third straight win the victor can claim he has earned a title shot as a result. Bandejas takes his sixth fight for the promotion on Friday night, and finished both Ahmet Kayretli and Frans Mlambo by knockout at Bellator 225 and Bellator 240, respectively. Any form of victory over Sergio Pettis would be impressive, but a finish would make the same kind of statement he did by knocking off James Gallagher.
However, Pettis didn’t leave UFC behind just to be someone else’s stepping stone. A victory over Tyson Nam at Flyweight seemed to open new doors for the experienced fighter, but he chose to jump ship and return to Bantamweight. He validated that choice with a first round submission at Bellator 238 in January and now seems poised to leapfrog divisional mainstays with a win in Uncasville. With former champ Darrion Caldwell in the Featherweight Grand Prix, there’s no one to stop him from doing that — except Bandejas.
Depending on who you believe Bandejas is either 5’7” or 5’10” (that’s a pretty sizable discrepancy), but most sources peg him as having a 70-inch reach. Thanks to his long UFC tenure, Pettis’ particulars are more established — he’s 5’6” at his tallest and has a 69-inch reach. Given his veteran experience and the top caliber of people he works with at Roufusport, not the least of which is his brother, one inch in either department is meaningless. The biggest drawback for the younger Pettis is his inability to get the finish, going to a decision 63 percent of the time (12 of 19 wins).
For Bandejas it’s entirely the opposite story. Just under 50 percent of his wins (six of 13) come by form of knockout, while nearly a quarter (23 percent) come by submission. He also looks incredibly comfortable in his stand up, which is a credit to the training he did under Nick Catone. His movement in and out of range is fluid, his footwork is precise, and he’s never been knocked out in a loss. Two submissions, one decision, that’s it. He’s often the younger man in fights but at 26 years old Pettis has him by two in that department. Given both men are in their 20’s and it’s a three-round fight stamina won’t be a significant factor, so despite an experience edge for Pettis it still feels like this is Ricky’s time to shine.
Final prediction: Ricky Bandejas via third round technical knockout
170 lbs.: Jason Jackson (11-4) vs. Jordan Mein (31-12)
Where hasn’t Jordan Mein been at this point in his career? KOTC, Rumble in the Cage, Strikeforce, UFC, he’s done it all ... except Bellator MMA. After 43 professional fights and a two-year absence from the sport, it might have seemed unrealistic for Mein to start over again in a new league, but he does enter the fray on a two fight win streak having bested both Erick Silva and Alex Morono. I wouldn’t have picked “The Ass-Kicking Machine” Jason Jackson as the guy to shake off the ring rust with, but fighters are a different breed from us mere mortals. With half of his wins (16 of 31) coming by knockout, he certainly won’t be afraid to stand and bang, which surprisingly is worse for Jackson in most cases. He gets in firefights and hurts his opponents, but they land counter shots or takedowns and he loses the advantage. As much as he likes to entertain he does that with Mein at his own peril.
Final prediction: Jordan Mein via first round knockout
145 lbs.: Tywan Claxton (6-1) vs. Jay-Jay Wilson (5-0)
Unlike our previous two fights, “veteran experience” doesn’t enter into the equation here. That’s not a bad thing since what they lack in number of fights they make up for in excitement. Jay-Jay Wilson has finished all five of his Bellator MMA fights and is known for getting the job done in round one. Tywan Claxton famously made his pro debut with a flying knee knockout in 89 seconds. The difference here may be that Wilson doesn’t know the sting of defeat, while Claxton reinvented himself after a loss to take a unanimous decision at Bellator 235. It’s hard to bet against a fighter who sees the deficiencies in his own game plan and decides he doesn’t always have to go for a flashy knockout or submission.
Final prediction: Tywan Claxton via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Aaron Pico (5-3) vs. Chris Hatley Jr. (8-2)
Speaking of deficiencies, here’s Aaron Pico! I’m kidding. Pico is a very capable fighter who worked hard to overcome the sting of back-to-back losses to Henry Corrales and Adam Borics. And his second round knockout of “Scary” Daniel Carey suggests he’s back on track. The athletic credentials he has as a Golden Gloves boxer and Olympic-level wrestler are almost impeccable, so the only thing that hurts Pico is making mental mistakes at the wrong time. One would think that Greg Jackson has now successfully drilled that out of him week by week and month by month in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A split decision win at Bellator 239 over the highly touted Gaston Bolanos earned Hatley this fight, but none of his prior wins on the minor circuit suggest he’s faced anyone else at Pico’s level, so it’s Pico’s fight to lose.
Final prediction: Aaron Pico via second round technical knockout
That’s a wrap!
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