Bellator MMA and RIZIN are set to end the year with a bang as they will stage a cross-promotion event on Sat., Dec. 31, 2022 from inside Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The headlining act will see A.J. McKee challenge RIZIN Lightweight champion, Roberto de Souza. In the co-main event, current Bellator MMA Featherweight champion, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, will face off against RIZIN’s 145-pound kingpin, Kleber Koike. Both match ups will be non-title fights. In further action, Kyoji Horiguchi will face off against Hiromasa Ougikubo.
A.J. McKee vs. Champion Roberto de Souza
A.J. McKee made an impressive Lightweight debut at Bellator 286 by defeating Spike Carlyle at Bellator 286 a few months ago, winning a highly-entertaining unanimous decision. While Carlyle was game, McKee will get a huge step up in competition when he takes on de Souza. With a record of 14-1, de Souza has been killing it over in “The Land of the Rising Sun,” racking up a 7-1 record including winning the inaugural 155-pound title in June 2021. He has since racked up two title defenses, both via submission extending his finish streak to five straight. McKee, on the other hand, bounced back nicely following his first-ever loss after dropping his 145-pound title to Patricio Pitbull, and now looks to pick up some steam as he heads into 2023 and looks to make some noise in Bellator’s Lightweight Grand Prix. If he can take Souza out it would be a huge confidence booster going into the tournament. If he wants to come out victorious he will have to be on his “A” game when it comes to the submission game, so his best bet is to keep the fight standing as long as possible because de Souza has 10 submission wins under his belt.
Prediction: McKee via unanimous decision
Champion Patricio Pitbull vs. Champion Kleber Koike
When I asked Bellator head cheese, Scott Coker, what went into deciding who would headline this event, and whether or not there were ego trips (specifically on the part o Pitbull) since McKee — a non-champion — was as at the top of the card, he laughed and said “You must know these guys.” But after he got serious he applauded his team for putting ego to the side and realizing that this was a team vs. team effort, and Pitbull, for his part, understood that it wasn’t about him. Nevertheless, the current 145-pound king will attempt to keep his winning ways alive when he takes on fellow Brazilian champion, Koike, who is highly-experienced after fighting for 14 years as a pro and 37 fights under his belt. He is currently on a seven-fight win streak and has won 13 of 14. His lone loss during that span came against current UFC contender, Mateusz Gamrot four years ago for the KSW 145-pound strap. In all honesty, this is a super-tight contest that can go either way. Both men are evenly-matched but it’s not too farfetched to say that Pitbull’s level of competition is jsut a tad bit tougher. That’s not to say Koike had an easy road to the top, far from it. But he will have to reach deep into his bag of tricks if he wants to pull off the win here.
Prediction: Pitbull via split-decision
Juan Archuleta vs. Soo Chul Kim
Archuleta snapped his two-fight losing streak a few months ago by defeating Enrique Barzola at Bellator 286, his first win in two years. He will face Kim in a Bantamweight affair. Kim is fresh off a win over Hiromosa Ougikubo just a few months ago putting him at a respectable 7-1 over his last eight fights. To say Kim is well-round is an understatement, winning seven via decision, six via knockout and five by way of submission, so the man can do it all. Archuleta, meanwhile, is as gritty as they come and loves a good old dog fight. And, more often than not, he prevails when in the trenches. But Kim is sneaky smooth and one mistake can cost you. If Archuleta doesn’t keep his head on a swivel it could mean lights out. But Kim can also do dmaage on the ground and that’s where I envision this fight playing out, ultimately paying dividends for Kim.
Prediction: Kim via submission (rear-naked choke)
Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Hiromasa Ougikubo
When you have two wins over someone, it’s very easy to come into a third fight overconfident. Horiguchi has already defeated Ougikubo twice, first via submission in 2013 to win the Shooto 135-pound title, and then at RIZIN 11 five years later via unanimous decision. Their paths were destined to cross again, and now that Horiguchi is fighting for the other side, Ougikubo wants to not only get some much-desired revenge, but keep his team in the game with a big win. Ougikubo had his five-fight win streak snapped by the aforementioned Soo Chul Kim. Horiguchi hasn’t had the best run as of late, losing two of three including his last couple of outings inside the Bellator cage, his first two fights since inking a deal with the Viacom-owned promotion. He bounced back nicely after heading back to Japan by submitting Yuto Hokamura at RIZIN 38 just three months ago. There’s not much one doesn’t know about the other here, so it’s going to come down to who makes a mistake first. We can expect a great chess match as always when these two collide and whoever capitalizes when the rare openings present themselves will prove the victor.
Prediction: Horiguchi via unanimous decision
Gadzhi Rabadanov vs. Koji Takeda
According to Scott Coker, Rabadanov got the last slot on the this main card at the request of Khabib Nurmagomedov, who wanted to see one of his proteges compete at this historic event. Rabadanov is currently ranked No. 10 at Lightweight and has won four straight, along with his first three challenges for Bellator, including his most recent win over Bobby King at Bellator 283. Takeda is in search is his third straight win and is 3-2 over his last five fights. But in this outing he just won’t be able to keep with Rabadanov’s pace and wrestling, and it will be his down fall once the final bell rings. Rabadnov is a grinder and he can take a licking and keep on ticking. Takeda’s hopes are to catch him with something unexpected, but Rabadanov is too polished to get caught slacking. Expect a dominant win from Rabadanov here.
Prediction: Rabadanov via unanimous decision
See you then!