Bellator 259: “Cyborg vs Smith 2” comes to Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., tomorrow evening (Fri., May 21, 2021) — airing on Showtime — featuring a women’s Featherweight title fight between division queen, Cris Cyborg, taking on Leslie Smith. Also on the card, a battle of top Bantamweights will co-headline the card when Darrion Caldwell takes on Leandro Higo.
145 lbs.: Cris Cyborg (25-2) vs. Leslie Smith (12-8, 1 NC)
Cyborg knocked out Smith in their first fight at UFC 198 five years ago in the very first round paving the way for Cyborg to claim the vacant UFC title two fights later. Since that night, Cyborg has gone 7-1 with her lone loss coming at the hands of UFC “champ-champ,” Amanda Nunes, leading to her eventual departure from the promotion one fight later and new home with Bellator MMA. In her first fight with the Viacom-owned promotion, the fearsome striker claimed the 145-pound title and has gone on to defend it once, silencing anyone who dared say she was no longer the feared and dominate fighter of yesteryear. Which is silly because the fact remains that she has only lost once in the last 15 years, and that was to the best female MMA fighter of all time. As for Smith, while she has gone 4-1 since losing to Cyborg, at the end of the day I don’t think she’s improved enough in the standup department to hang with the 145-pound champion, or even to hang on enough to try to take her down. Don’t get it twisted, Smith is highly-talented, but despite her setback to Nunes, Cyborg is still, well, Cyborg and she has the speed and power in her hands to sleep the best of them, which is what I envision happening here.
Final prediction: Cris Cyborg via first round knockout
135 lbs.: Darrion Caldwell (15-4) vs. Leandro Higo (20-5)
Bellator’s Bantamweight division has a new king after Sergio Pettis dethroned Juan Archuleta at Bellator 258 a few weeks ago (more on that here). Now, the rest of the top contenders are chomping at the bit to be the first to get a crack at “The Phenom.” Among them is Leandro Higo, the No. 6-ranked fighter at 135 pounds. Winner of two straight, Higo bounced back nicely after back-to-back defeats at the hands of Caldwell and Aaron Pico. Higo and Caldwell initially threw down at Bellator 195 in March 2018, which saw Caldwell defend the 135-pound title via first round submission. Now, Higo is out for revenge after claiming the loss was nothing more than a “fluke.” Since defeating Higo, Caldwell has been up and down, eventually losing his title to Kyoji Horiguchi and came up short in the Featherweight Grand Prix against A.J. McKee. Now, he hopes to get back on track and right back into the championship picture with a second win over Higo. I just don’t see it happening. Higo might be a bit more-well-rounded than his counterpart and you know the black belt in jiu-jitsu desperately wants this win back after being submitted by a blue belt. It won’t be a walk in the park but Higo gets it done here and continues his own path to another shot at the strap.
Final prediction: Higo via unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Austin Vanderford (10-0) vs. Fabian Edwards (9-1)
Vanderford has quickly established himself as one of the best Middleweight’s on the roster, shooting all the way up to No. 3 after racking up four straight wins for the promotion. It’s still a head scratcher why UFC decided to pass on him after he made a splash on the “Contender Series,” but “The Gentleman” found a home with Scott Coker and Co. and could be just a couple of wins away to his first-ever shot at gold. Standing in his way is Edwards, who recently suffered the first and only loss of his career at the hands of Costello van Steenis in Sept. 2020. Of their combined 19 wins, 12 of them have come by way of stoppage so getting the job done isn’t an issue for either man. Something has got to give, though. Neither man is a specialist in any given area, which means they are both pretty well-rounded so I can’t give the edge to either one in any particular department. When it comes down to it, the man who capitalizes on a mistake will come way with the win. It sounds simple enough, but since they are both evenly matched this one is a tossup and hard to gauge. I see Vanderford doing just enough to sway the judges here, inching closer to a shot at the title currently held by Gegard Mousasi.
Final prediction: Vanderford via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Jaleel Willis (14-2) vs. Maycon Mendonca (11-4)
Willis made a good impression in his Bellator MMA debut at Bellator 253, defeating Mark Lemminger in Nov. 2020. While Willis isn’t a household name at the moment, he is striving to get there, racking up five straight wins in various promotions. Willis (29), hasn’t exactly proven to be a specialist in one particular area, but with just two losses on his record he has displayed good technique overall, though he has yet to earn a submission win. Mendonca, meanwhile, is on a five fight win streak and will be making his debut for the promotion. After going through a three fight skid in 2017-2018, Maycon bounced back nicely to do undefeated since then and went on to win the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFEO) strap before jumping over to Bellator. The experience level is fairly even here, though Mendonca does boast championship-level experience. That said, Willis recently lost his ranking in the Top 10, so while he was “humbled” by the move, he is hungry to prove he’s worthy of a spot. This is another tough matchup to pick but I think Willis does enough to get the nod.
Final prediction: Willis via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Valerie Loureda (3-0) vs Hannah Guy (2-1)
Scott Coker once said he wasn’t interested in signing too many of “UFC’s O.G.’s” in order to focus on building up his own homegrown talent. And Loureda is just that. In just three fights, Loureda has already caught the eye of the promotion, who has used her in several promotions throughout. Fair play to Loureda, she does her own promotion on social media and she has backed it all up with three impressive performances so far inside the cage. proving that she is much more than an “IG model.” Guy will be making her debut for the promotion and has a chance to steal Loureda’s thunder with an upset. While that can very well happen, she hasn’t shown enough in her young career to convince people to think she will and pick her to win this fight outright. MMA is a crazy sport and anything can happen, but let’s not bet on an upset here.
Final prediction: Loureda via third round submission
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