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Now more than ever, Bellator must seize the opportunity to become Strikeforce 2.0

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In the space of five short days, Bellator has secured the signatures of two top five fighters from the UFC’s roster.

With Lorenz Larkin the first to make the move on Thursday night, Larkin ended a near seven-month stint in free agency after putting on a masterclass performance against Neil Magny in his last UFC outing. Following hot on the heels of ‘Da Monsoon’, Ryan Bader put pen to paper on his own Bellator contract with two stoppage victories over UFC top ten fighters in his rear-view mirror. Both fighters are unquestionably top tier talent and in subsequent interviews, both men cited great respect and admiration for their talents as the cause for a change in scenery. It’s a testament to Bellator president Scott Coker’s determination and while he may not always get the recognition he deserves for his recruitment, Coker has quietly gone about assembling a roster of hungry and underappreciated talent.

With pre-existing Bellator veterans like Michael Chandler, the Pitbull brothers and Douglas Lima buoyed by the likes of previous UFC standouts Rory MacDonald, Benson Henderson and Phil Davis, parallels can be drawn between the roster of Coker’s previous promotion Strikeforce and those comparisons are more than favorable.

As the proving ground for some of today’s biggest stars, Strikeforce was a much-needed alternative to the UFC prior to their Zuffa buyout. Strikeforce possessed all of the ingredients needed to be viable competition to the UFC and to their credit, they regularly perfected the recipe. In the present day, however, Coker’s second chance to take on the promotional giant known as the UFC have been stunted by promotional missteps.

Take the case of Bellator 173 for example.

Making the decision to head into Northern Ireland, Bellator entered the Ulster Isle with a trusty ace up their sleeve.

While the top card billing for Englishman Liam McGeary had been chopped and changed three times on the week of the event, hot prospect James Gallagher was sitting pretty in a co-main event spot and, as expected, put on a commanding performance to extend his record to 6-0.

What followed in the aftermath of Gallagher’s fourth rear-naked choke victory was a braggadocious post-fight interview with the Conor McGregor stablemate and his entertaining call-out of AJ McKee ensured his position as one of the promotion’s future stars. Yet the most glaring fall-out of James Gallagher’s performance took place outside of the cage.

Fans in their droves left the arena before the main event had even begun. And it wasn’t all that surprising.

Just two months earlier, the same exact situation had played out at Bellator 169. Gallagher entered the cage as the co-main event, but the Irish fans had already decided that Gallagher was the one fighter they had paid to see and left ‘King Mo’ Lawal and Satoshi Ishii to duke it out in an emptying arena. Bellator had failed to identify their trump card and history was left to embarrassingly repeating itself.

It’s a motif that has continually reared its head and plagued Bellator ever since Scott Coker stepped into the presidential role and yet the Santa Monica-based promotion has failed at teething out the good from the bad. Those err’s in judgement are made all the more surprising considering Coker’s handling of Strikeforce just four years removed from the promotions untimely end.

A roster which was based around fighters that had slipped through the cracks was supplemented by the UFC’s tried and tested method of ‘numbered events’ and ‘fight night’ cards and the results were unadulterated excitement. The likes of Luke Rockhold, Nick Diaz, Fedor Emelianenko and Ronda Rousey were the promotions big event draws while a younger Lorenz Larkin, Tyron Woodley, and Tarec Saffiedine developed on ‘Strikeforce: Challengers’ cards. That distinction paid dividends in raising the notoriety of ‘tentpole’ events yet Bellator relies on labeling they’re own through the mouthpiece of the media.

It’s a strange divergence of the established promotional schedule and while the goal is to provide the sense that every event is ‘can not miss television’, it takes away the shine and anticipation of the marquee events. If the recent Jimi Manuwa vs Corey Anderson event was titled UFC 210, would the next event headlined by Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson have the same sense of buzz? Most likely it wouldn’t in the same way that Bellator’s 179 – headlined by Rory MacDonald and Paul Daley – is indistinguishable to the casual fan from Bellator 171 which was headlined by Chidi Njokuani versus a massively undersized Melvin Guillard.

Bellator also has to take heed of the mistakes that extinct promotions like Elite XC and Affliction faced in their short tenures. With cards headlined by either the vastly overpaid or nostalgic acts of the past, once those fighters’ worth had been eradicated by the unpredictable nature of mixed martial arts, those promotions were left with little to show without the fine balancing act needed to attract both the casual viewer and the hardcore MMA aficionado. Now with Bellator set for their second PPV event at Bellator 180, the Santa Monica-based promotion will need their Madison Square Garden undercard to be balanced to perfection for a sustainable model.

If Bellator is to become a true competitor to the market leader, it needs to capitalize as the UFC’s new owners begin to stray from their past successes themselves. With the aggression already shown to pick up the cash that the UFC have increasingly left on the table, Bellator needs to fire on all cylinders in 2017 and follow the blueprints that Strikeforce left behind.

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Bellator 194, Nelson vs. Mitrione Pre-Fight Notes

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Bellator takes over the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut later tonight. The promotion hosts, Bellator 194: Nelson vs. Mitrione from the venue, beginning at 6:30 pm (ET). Bellator 194 marks the 17th trip to the Mohegan Sun Casino. Their last trip, took place a little more than a few months ago in October of 2017, Bellator 185. The first trip to the Connecticut casino, occurred all the way back in April of 2009, and the second ever event held by the promotion, Bellator 2.

Twenty four fighters will make the walk later tonight, giving fans 12 bouts to watch from prelims to main event. Of the 24 athletes set to compete, five make their professional debuts. Peter Nascimento, Mike Kimbel, Pat Casey, Ross Richardson, and Ronnie Leon all fight for the first time, professionally. As amateurs, the group holds a combined record of 18-12. Only Ross Richardson maintained an undefeated amateur record (3-0).

In recent cards past, only some full broadcasts brought forward newly professional fighters. Events such as Bellator 191, 190, and 187, only broadcast short main card. While events like 193, 192, 189, 188, and 186 broadcast full fight cards. Since November of 2017, 15 fighters made their pro debuts with the Bellator promotion. Including Khonry Gracie in his unanimous decision loss to Devon Brock (Bellator 192), and Ty-wan Claxton, in his amazing KO finish of Johnny Bonilla-Bowman in the first round of Bellator 186. Claxton makes his second pro appearance tonight at Bellator 194 against Jose Antonio Perez, whom also fights for the second time professionally.

Upon completion of Bellator 194’s broadcast, 50% of the promotions first round matches in their Heavyweight Grand Prix will be decided. It is nearly impossible to choose, one match-up more interesting than the others. Yet, the Mitrione vs. Nelson match up is not only puzzling to fans and media alike. One half of the main event, at least, was once annoyed by the prospect of fighting his former TUF cast mate. Mitrione spoke to MMAJunkie about his reaction to the match-up, “Well, I asked them, how does that make sense? Roy is arguably the #2 guy in the division… Explain that to me, is there any seeding?…” He continued, “But the more I thought about, the less I really cared. Either I beat Roy when I have the strap, or I beat Roy to get the strap. What the hell difference does it make?”

In one bit of event news, fan favorite flyweight, Heather Hardy missed weight, in what turned out to be an odd set of circumstances. According to Hardy, she believed she made weight, without stripping down and using the towel. It was her understanding that the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation gave her a weight allowance for the bikini top and bottom she wore while on the scale. Hardy weighed in at 126.25 lbs. with the aforementioned bikini top and bottom.

This understanding was not shared by president of Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation, Mike Mazzulli. The president made the decision to record Hardy’s weight without allowing her to disrobe, or take use the extra two hours allotted to make weight. It was his understanding upon examining and attempting to communicate with Hardy whilst she stood on the scale that brought him to the decision. After renegotiation of the bout agreement, Hardy was fined 20% of her purse which goes to her opponent Ana Julaton.

 

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Bellator 194 Weigh Ins Live Video

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Bellator 194 takes place Friday, February 16th at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The stacked main card features the second bout in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix matching Roy Nelson against Matt Mitrione. Both former members of the UFC roster, Mitrione and Nelson look to make a further impact in the Bellator Heavyweight division with a potential step towards the divisions championship crown. In the co-main event, MMA veteran Patricky Pitbull takes Derek Campos. The two will most likely battle for the next shot at the promotions Lightweight title, following the Brent Primus (c) vs. Michael Chandler rematch. Other notable bouts on the card include Liam McGeary vs. Vadim Nemkov, Heather Hardy vs. Ana Julaton, and Tywon Claxton against Jose Antonio Perez. Bellator 194 airs live on the Paramount network, main card beginning at 9 pm.

The official weigh-ins took place earlier today, the results are listed below.

Main Card (9 PM ET, Paramount Network)

Roy Nelson (23-14) vs. Matt Mitrione (12-5) Heavyweight bout.

RN: 265 lb.

MM: 255 lb.

Patricky Freire (18-8) vs. Derek Campos (19-6) Lightweight bout.

PF: 155 lb.

DC: 154 lb.

Heather Hardy (1-1) vs. Ana Julaton (2-3) Women’s Flyweight bout.

HH: 126.25 lb*

AJ: 125 lb.

Liam McGeary (12-2) vs. Vadim Nemkov (8-2) Light Heavyweight bout.

LM: 203.75 lb.

VN: 205 lb.

Tywan Claxton (1-0) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (0-1) Featherweight bout.

TW: 145 lb.

JS: 142.25 lb.

Preliminary Card (7 PM ET)

Ross Richardson (3-0, Amateur) vs. Ronie Arana Leon (2-5, Amateur) Lightweight bout.

RS: 155.5 lb.

RL: 156 lb.

Mike Kimbel (4-4, Amateur) vs. Geoffrey Then (0-1) Bantamweight bout. 

MK: 135.75 lb.

GT: 135 lb.

Regivaldo Carlvalho (4-2) vs. Thomas English (6-8) Featherweight bout.

RC: 145 lb.

TE: 146 lb.

Jarod Trice (2-0) vs. Walter Howard (3-4) Light Heavyweight bout.

JT: 205.5 lb.

WH: 203 lb.

Marcus Surin (4-1) vs. Dean Hancock (3-1) Lightweight bout.

MS: 156 lb.

DH: 155.25 lb.

Peter Nascimento (2-1, Amateur) vs. Kastriot Xhema (1-1) Catchweight (165 lb.) bout.

PN: 163.5 lb.

KX 164.5 lb.

Tyler Hamilton (1-0) vs. Pat Casey (7-2, Amateur) Lightweight bout.

TH: 154 lb.

PC: 155.5 lb.

*Heather Hardy missed weight by ¼ of a pound and subsequently fined 20% of her purse. The fine will go to her opponent Ana Julaton.

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Exclusive: Saad Awad looking for the quick knockout at Bellator 193

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Saad Awad makes his return to the Bellator cage Friday as he takes on JJ Ambrose.

The veteran Awad has been with Bellator since 2013, amassing a 9-5 record in the process, with five of those wins coming via knockout. Impressive wins against Will Brooks and Evangelista Santos feature on his 21-9 record.

The heavy-handed striker gets to fight in his backyard of California for the first time in over a year. A native of San Bernardino, Awad is fighting only forty-five minutes from his home, in the co-main event no less.

It’s great,” Awad told MMA Latest about co-main eventing in California. “I’m about forty-five minutes from my house, the arena sold out the week they released the tickets. So I know a lot of people are going to be here and the energy’s going to be really good, it’s going to be great, and it’s going to help me mentally.”

Meeting Awad in the co-main is a fellow California native himself, JJ Ambrose. Ambrose has been fighting since 2005 and has amassed 26 wins in his 13-year career.

He’s a veteran, he kind of flew under the radar,” Awad said. “He’s fought all over the place. I think he brings a lot of experience, a good solid stand-up, and ground game, and wrestling.”

Although Awad highlighted Ambrose’s quality, make no mistake, the “Assassin” believes he holds all the advantages.

I match-up with him great, to be honest, I think my striking is a little bit better, I think I hit a lot harder and my jiu-jitsu’s going to be a bit better, and I’m going to be able to outwrestle him,” Awad explained. “So I think stylistically it’s a bad matchup for him.”

Awad is coming off of a quick KO, one minute, seven seconds, over Zach Freeman. The quick win didn’t come as a surprise to Awad as he always expects to finish his opponents quickly.

I mean, not be cocky, but I expect to get a quick KO against everybody,” Awad said. “When I don’t get a quick KO then I’m like ‘okay something’s wrong’ so then I have to change my gameplan up. So nothing against Zach Freeman, I mean, every fight I go in there looking for the quick knockout.”

Currently, on a solid two-fight winning streak, Awad highlights what exactly the key’s been for him to get this far.

Honestly, I’ve just been training a lot,” Awad said. “I’ve just been training and focusing a lot on little details that I knew were my flaws, and every fight I’ll keep something new. If I see something go wrong in one of my fights, I’ll tweak that out and train it and get a little bit better and then just try and keep improving.”

With a win taking Awad to three victories in a row, it would make sense to offer the veteran a big fight. But Awad doesn’t have a name in mind next, although he doesn’t believe it would matter anyway.

Whoever they give me,” Awad said. “I can ask for fights but they won’t give them to me. “My only thing is trying to get a title fight, I’m not even going to ask for that anymore. I’m going to ask them to keep me busy. I just want to stay busy. I get paid the same no matter who I fight so as long as they keep me busy, that’s what I’m happy for.”

As for 2018, Awad’s goals remain simple.

Keep winning,” Awad said. “Stay busy and keep winning.”

If things go the way Awad expects, fans are in for a treat. As for Ambrose? Not so much.

I’m going to go in there and leave with a knockout, a violent knockout,” Awad said. “Get my hand raised, talk some shit, and leave.”

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