Bellator 277 is set to go down tomorrow (Fri., April 15, 2022) from inside SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Headlining the event will be a Featherweight title fight between division champion A.J. McKee and Patricio Pitbull. In the co-main event of the evening, Vadim Nemkov defends his title against Corey Anderson in the finale of the Light Heavyweight Grand Prix.
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A.J. Mckee vs Patricio Pitbull
It’s been eight months since A.J. McKee shocked Patricio Freire with a first-round submission win, dethroning him from the top of the Featherweight mountain in less than 120 seconds to become the new division king (see it again here). As expected, “Pitbull,” who hadn’t tasted defeat in the five years prior and collected five title defenses along the way, was given the immediate rematch to attempt to make things right for himself. So what can he do differently in the rematch? Well, it’s tough to tell since he never really got the chance to get started in the first title fight. And that’s a credit to McKee, whose insane talent level allowed him to score the quick win and improve to 18-0. The 27-year old is making great strides to become the promotion’s poster boy for the foreseeable future, and another win over “Pitbull” will solidify his spot.
Freire is out for blood and revenge, but given how the first fight went, I expect him to come out a bit tentative. And that’s not a bad thing, really, he will need to get a feel for McKee, because while you can watch all of the tape you want on an opponent, there simply isn’t anything like actually being in there. We all know what “Pitbull” can do, he’s well rounded as any fighter in all of MMA with excellent Brazilian jiu-jitsu that is complimented by tremendous knockout power in his hands. But McKee has a packed toolbox, as well. He has seven submissions and six wins via knockout/technical knockout, so he can take the fight anywhere and come out on top. And the fact that he was the first man to ever force “Pitbull” to tap will only amplify his confidence should the fight hit the ground. When you add the fact that “Mercenary” has a reach advantage over his shorter foe, all advantages seem to point in his favor. But that’s why fighters fight, to prove that regardless of what it looks like on paper, tides can turn quickly once things actually get going. To be honest, this one is a tough one to call. Both men are two of the best 145-pound fighters on the planet, regardless of promotion and their skills are levels above many. I just don’t see this fight ending early again, as we will likely be treated to a full five-round war. Once he gets going, “Pitbull” will find his rhythm and give McKee all he can handle...it just won’t be enough. McKee is firing on all cylinders and will make the proper adjustments in-fight to convince the judges to give him the nod in what will be a grueling war.
Final prediction: McKee via unanimous decision
Vadim Nemkov vs Corey Anderson
The Light Heavyweight Grand Prix will finally come to an end, and it couldn’t have worked out better for the promotion. Current division king, Nemkov, punched his ticket to the finals, and Anderson — the No. 1 ranked fighter — did the same to set up an epic title fight/finale. Nemkov is 7-0 with the promotion, and Anderson is 3-0 since making the move from UFC. Speaking of which, Anderson has made it clear to his critics that should he win the Bellator title without never having tasted UFC gold, he is still validated as a legit world champion, which he will be. As for the matchup itself, it’s easy to assume that it will be a grapple-fest given their credentials: Nemkov is a sambo specialist under the tutelage of Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson is an accomplished NCAA Division III wrestler. But, don’t get it twisted, they both can handle themselves on the feet, as Anderson’s last four wins have come by way of strikes, and Nemkov has five wins the same way of his last eight wins. So what it boils down to is who can pop off first. But don’t expect a barn-burner. I expect a lot of hesitation and a drawn-out feeling out process. And it’s expected since it's such a big fight with a $1 million prize on the line. If I’m being honest, I will give Nemkov a slight advantage with the grappling, while Anderson gets the nod in the power/striking department. Anderson is also a tad bit more agile and quicker so he can get his strikes in faster and can evade. He also brings the type of pressure that very few can hang with. Plus, he is very calculated in his approach and mixed it up all too well. Nemkov may have a strong advantage in the grappling, so if he gets a hold of Anderson, taking him down may be the best course of action. Keeping him there, well that’s another story.
Final prediction: Anderson via fourth-round TKO
Timothy Johnson vs Linton Vassell
Johnson was at one point the No. 1 ranked Heavyweight in Bellator, but back-to-back losses to Valentin Moldavsky (interim title fight) and Fedor Emelianenko have sent the big man tumbling down to No. 5. In his last outing, Johnson was knocked out by the aforementioned Fedor Emelianenko, in the very first round (see it here). Five months removed from the crushing loss, Johnson will attempt to right his ship against Vassell, who is ranked just one spot ahead of him at No. 4. Winner of three straight, Vassell has fought against top competition throughout his Bellator career, so despite not having perhaps the most name recognition, he does have the work on his resume. And the man can do it all, scoring several submissions and knockouts along the way. But where he really shines is on the feet. He has great reach, range, and power, a deadly trio that can cause problems for even the most grizzled of veterans such as Johnson. But Johnson is just a tad bit better, a bit more powerful. And not to mention he is hungry for a win after losing his previous two fights. Furthermore, Johnson has better wrestling, which I think will be the deciding factor in this bout.
Final prediction: Johnson via unanimous decision
Aaron Pico vs Adli Edwards
Pico was initially set to face off against Jeremy Kennedy, but the fight was ultimately scrapped after Kennedy bowed out with an injury. Thankfully, Adli Edwards agreed to step in on short notice to fill the void. Since dropping back-to-back fights to Henry Corrales and Adam Borics, Pico has turned it around to win five straight. An accomplished wrestler, Pico has added a well-rounded arsenal to his attack that includes crisp striking honed at Jackson-Wink in Albuquerque, NM. He also showed off his submission skills against Aiden Lee, forcing him to tap to an anaconda choke. But his bread and butter is still wrestling and once he gets his rhythm going, it’s really hard to stop. Pico is a tough out for anyone, more so for someone making his Bellator debut, which is what Edwards is doing here. Props have to be given to him after he agreed to step in on one week’s notice. He has won seven in a row on the regional circuit, but facing someone like Pico in your first fight in a major organization is a tough draw. Still, without risk there is no reward and Edwards is out to shock the world. It just won’t be happening this time around. Pico is too well put together, too technical, and simply too good. Outside of a shocking knockout loss, I see Pico having his way with Edwards, ultimately submitting him later in the first round.
Final prediction: Pico via first-round submission (rear-naked choke)
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