Bellator 278: “Velasquez vs. Carmouche” is set to go down tomorrow night (Fri., April 22, 2022) from inside Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii, headlined by a women’s Flyweight title fight between division champion, Juliana Velasquez, taking on Liz Carmouche. In the co-main event, Nikita Mikhailov takes on Enrique Barzola in a Bantamweight Grand Prix wild card fight.
Juliana Velasquez vs. Liz Carmouche
Undefeated (12-0, 7-0) inside the Bellator cage, Juliana Velasquez, has proven to be a dominant force in the women’s Flyweight division, taking out former champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane to win the strap and then defending her belt against kickboxing champion Denise Kielholtz. That said, she hasn’t competed in more than nine months, so people may have forgotten just how dominant she is in the cage. Out of sight, out of mind. But, Velasquez is out to remind everyone why she is champion against one of her stiffest tests to date in Liz Carmouche.
Speaking of which, like a lot of her former UFC stablemates, Carmouche has really found a new lease on her combat life since making the jump over to Bellator, winning three straight since her loss to Valentina Shevchenko in Aug. 2019. Once the bell rings, Carmouche will look to impose her will with her wrestling, which has helped her gain most of her wins throughout her career. Once it hits the ground, Carmouche is no slouch when it comes to jiu-jitsu, holding a black belt in the discipline. She has a decent striking game, too, which has improved leaps and bounds throughout her career, able to pop off offense from any stance when needed. But the grappling is where she makes her dominance felt. As for Velasquez, she isn’t opposed to getting up close and personal with grappling exchanges because she holds a black belt in judo. So once she gets a hold of you, you can expect to go for a ride...and not the good kind, either. I give Velasquez a slight advantage in the striking department, she has great combinations and mixes in her kicks very well. When we take everything into consideration, the champ has the advantages in most areas, but not by much. Carmouche likes to pressure, so Velasquez is going to have to be on her toes all night and avoid being stationary.
Final prediction: Velasquez via unanimous decision
Nikita Mikhailov vs. Enrique Barzola
Enrique Barzola was initially set to face off against Josh Hill at this event, but after Hill contracted COVID-19 and was ruled out, Nikita Mikhailov agreed to step in to take the fight. Subsequently, the bout was ruled a “Wild Card” fight for the Bantamweight Grand Prix, which means the winner will get a spot in the tournament.
Making his Bellator debut on Oct. 2021, Mikhailov — a Fedor Emelianenko disciple — has won his first two fights to bring his pro record to 8-1. He only has nine pro fights on his resume since he made his pro debut in 2016. That said, that isn’t a whole lot of action in six years. Mikhailov is a dynamic striker with a strong kicking game. His technique is solid and tight with no wasted motion. To top it all off, he's a legit grappler with great takedowns, which means he is as well-rounded as they come. Once he gets on top of you, the punches come in bunches as Brian Moore found out at Bellator 269, eating several elbows from the bottom position, getting busted wide open in the process. Against Blaine Shutt, Mikhailov once again put his ground and pound to good use to score a dominant technical knockout win that was set up by a nasty left hook.
Barzola, meanwhile, has an experience edge over the Russian contender with 10 years as a pro under his belt. Prior to jumping ship to Bellator, Barzola spent five years fighting for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), earning a respectable 6-3-1 record inside the Octagon. In his Bellator debut, he scored an impressive technical knockout (TKO) win over Darrion Caldwell, making an immediate mark in the 135-pound division. That was also his first stoppage win in seven years. So that tells us that as talented as he is, he has had trouble getting finishes, usually grinding out wins over 15 minutes of action. Against Mikhailov, he will meet his match because not only does he have a great gas tank, he is a bit quicker to the punch and has an advantage in the wrestling department.
Final Prediction: Mikhailov via second round technical knockout
Jornel Lugo vs. Danny Sabatello
In another “Wild Card” fight, Jornel Lugo and Danny Sabatello will collide for a spot in the Bantamweight Grand Prix and the chance to win $1 million. Lugo is undefeated (8-0), winning five of these fights under the Bellator banner, which includes a wacky submission win over Keith Lee (see it again here). Lugo has a speed advantage over most of his foes, and he puts it to good use to get in and out, pick his shots and evade. Dana White and Co. passed on Sabatello after he won his fight on the Contender Series, but he has done well for himself since by winning two straight including his Bellator debut against Brett Johns, defeating him via unanimous decision at Bellator 259. “The Italian Gangster” is on a five-fight win streak and has won 11 of 12 overall. All six of his finishes (three submissions, three KO/TKO’s) have all come in the very first round, so when he gets after it, he gets after it. Lugo might be a bit more polished in his striking attack, but that doesn’t mean that Sabatello is a slouch, he honed his skills with the killers at American Top Team (ATT), so he’s being tested day in and day out. This one will be close, but I expect Lugo to remain undefeated once the dust settles in what will be a super-close contest.
Final predicition: Lugo via split decision
Christian Edwards vs. Grant Neal
Christian Edwards was on the rise as one of the hottest Light Heavyweight prospects Bellator had after racking up five straight wins in under two years, but his momentum came to a screeching halt after Ben Parrish stunned him and knocked him out at Bellator 266 (see it again here). Now, “Pain” will look to bounce back and get back on track against Grant Neal, a man who also had his six-fight win streak snapped, though his was via razor-thin split-decision. When you get two men coming off a loss and hungry for a win, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Is it going to be two men tentative, gun-shy hoping to avoid a second straight loss? Or will it be two men coming out guns blazing hoping to end it early? With Edwards, it’s usually the latter. That’s not to say Neal doesn’t get after it, but Edwards has shown he’s a bit more aggressive than his counterparts. He will have a five-inch height and reach advantage over Neal, which means if he plays it smart, he can use his reach to jab away all night long and pick his shots. But, Edwards is a finisher and I expect him and his team at Jackson-Wink MMA to put together a solid gameplan to put them back on the winning track.
Final prediction: Edwards via first-round knockout
Manny Muro vs. Nate Andrews
Manny Muro was on a great three-fight win streak before running into Usman Nurmagomedov at Bellator 263, losing a unanimous decision to Khabib’s cousin, who has yet to taste defeat. With Muro, you know what you're getting: A scrappy fighter who wastes no time in getting into it. He likes to come out aggressive and he will throw punches in bunches in order to set the tone early. His opponent, Nate Andrews, has seen better days. He is currently on a two-fight losing streak and has dropped three of his last four fights, including his Bellator debut to Saad Awad via first-round technical knockout. His other two defeats came at the hands of Chris Wade under the PFL banner. Andrews and Muro have met once before with Andrews scoring a third-round submission in 2016. What that does is give Andrews the added confidence, while Muro has extra motivation to get some revenge and pick up a much-needed “W.”
Final prediction: Muro via unanimous decision
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