This weekend, Bellator will host a pair of events on back-to-back nights. On Friday, Bellator 207 takes place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The following night, Bellator 208 goes down at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. The pair of events feature bouts in the Bellator heavyweight tournament as well as names like Benson Henderson, Chael Sonnen, Lorenz Larkin, Roy Nelson, Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko. The following is a preview of the main card bouts on both shows.
Bellator 207 – Friday, October 12
Carrington Banks (-130) vs. Mandel Nallo (+110)
Banks turned to MMA after a successful collegiate wrestling career. He won his first four professional fights as an exhibition on the 21st season of "The Ultimate Fighter" before signing with Bellator in 2016. Banks won his first three bouts under the Bellator banner due almost entirely to his wrestling, and he went to decision in each. In his last fight, he took a step up in competition and faced off against veteran Adam Piccolotti at Bellator 199. In was a back-and-forth fight, but Piccolotti managed to finish in the fight in the third round via submission. Banks, who is still only 29 years olds, needs to get back on track to earn another shot against a big-name fighter in Bellator.
Nallo is a mostly unheralded out of the noted Tristar Gym. He made his professional debut back in 2012, but he has only built a 6-0 record. In his last fight, he made his Bellator debut and shocked Alec Williams with an 18-second head-kick knockout at Bellator 189.
The Canadian has picked up finishes in all six of his professional fights. However, he likely does not have the wrestling skill to stay off the ground with Banks. The former collegiate wrestler would love a finish to improve his stock in the promotion, but he will likely avoid Nallo's dynamic offense and take a decision victory.
Kevin "Baby Slice" Ferguson Jr. (-800) vs. Corey Browning (+550)
Unlike like his father, "Baby Slice" seems more apt to use his wrestling and work from the top position. However, in his last fight, he was able to show off some power. He dropped Devon Brock with a hard right hand at Bellator 197 before finishing via submission. Ferguson's record now stands with 3-1, and he is making noticeable improvements fight-to-fight under Antonio McKee.
Browning is coming into this fight off back-to-back losses for the Valor Fights and Battle of New Orleans promotions. He began his professional career in 2015 and won his first three fights prior to his recent skid.
Even before he was the leader of Bellator, Scott Coker was not afraid to book mismatches. Ferguson has some name value, but he is still very green in the sport. Browning is being brought in as an opponent, and Ferguson should have another opportunity to improve and pad his record.
Lorenz Larkin (-750) vs. Ion Pascu (+525)
In 2015, while still under UFC employ, Larkin dropped down to welterweight. At the lower weight, he won four of five bouts including signature victories over Santiago Ponzinibbio, Jorge Masvidal and Neil Magny. Following his win over Magny at UFC 202, he signed with Bellator.
In the new promotion, he found that welterweight has been one of Bellator's strongest divisions. In his debut, he challenged then-champion Douglas Lima for the title and dropped a decision. He then fell via second-round knockout against Paul Daley at Bellator 183. In his last fight, Larkin finally picked up his first win for the promotion against Fernando Gonzalez. Despite the win, he was left out of the welterweight tournament and relegated to this reserve fight. He was originally slated to face fellow UFC veteran Erick Silva. However, due to injury, he will now face Pascu.
In his lone Bellator appearance prior to this contest, Pascu dropped a one-sided decision against Ed ruth at Bellator 196. The loss was his only defeat in his last four fights. Those three other fights all came for the British Association of MMA. In his last fight, he took home a decision victory of Bellator veteran Alex Lohore at BAMMA 35.
Larkin has found the Bellator cage somewhat unhospital up until this point. However, at this level, he should be able to look good. Pascu is a veteran of 26 fights, but he has not really been able to distinguish himself on the European circuit. Look for Larkin to show off his flashy striking at distance and finish this fight.
Roy Nelson (-300) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (+250)
Nelson missed out on his opportunity to rematch Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic at Bellator 200. However, he gets his shot against another Pride FC legend here. Nelson signed with Bellator last year and has split a pair of bouts for the promotion. In his debut, he took care of business against the always scrappy Javy Ayala. Nelson then fell against Matt Mitrione in the first round of the heavyweight tournament at Bellator 194.
From 2009 to 2017, Nelson competed exclusively for the UFC. During his run there, he defeated the likes of Mitrione, "Cro Cop" and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and he also won the 10th season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
Since the fall of Pride FC, Kharitonov has bounced around to a variety of promotions including Strikeforce, Dream, M-1 and Bellator. He made his Bellator debut in 2016 and shockingly lost to Ayala via knockout in only 16 seconds. The Russian fighter then got back on track with a first-round knockout over UFC veteran Chase Gormley. After that fight at Bellator 175, he returned to Russia and defeated three-straight big show veterans: Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Geronimo Dos Santos and Joey Beltran.
During his 35-fight MMA career, Kharitonov has also defeated the likes of Semmy Schilt, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski.
With both fighters nearly the end of their career, clear weaknesses have emerged. Nelson has never been in the best shape, but his ability to close the distance, as well as his stamina, have let him down in his recent fights. On the other hand, Kharitonov has shown that he can be hurt by power strikes. Kharitonov should be the favorite since he can score from the outside. However, Nelson still has his trademark power and could end the fight if he ever finds his range.
Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament Fight
Matt Mitrione (+250) vs. Ryan Bader (-300)
Bellator and Paramount have clearly gotten behind Mitrione since he came over from the UFC in 2016. There have been some close calls, but he has built an undefeated 4-0 record in the promotion including a win over Pride FC champion Fedor Emelianenko. In his last fight, he bested Nelson via majority decision to move on to this semifinal bout.
Mitrione went on TUF without any MMA fights. After falling on the reality show, he won his first five fights in the Octagon including a victory over "Kimbo Slice." He then went 4-5 over his next nine bouts before leaving the promotion. During that run, he scored a 41-second knockout over Derrick Lewis, who will soon fight for the UFC title.
Bader won seven of his last eights fights in the UFC before leaving the promotion. Despite the gaudy run, the lone defeat against Anthony Johnson and the corybantic UFC light heavyweight division kept him from ever getting a title shot.
After signing with Bellator, Bader won the promotion's light heavyweight title in his first fight for the promotion. It took five rounds and a split decision, but he ultimately wrestled the belt away from former champion Phil Davis. Since that fight, Bader has picked up a pair of stoppage victories. First, he successfully defended his title with a second-round finish on the ground over Linton Vassell. Then, he needed only 15 seconds to stop Muhammed Lawal in the first round of this tournament.
While the heavyweight division always get a lot of attention, it is almost always one of the shallowest weights in MMA. While Bader will be at a size disadvantage, he should be able to pick up the victory here. While Mitrione has been successful in his career, he has never really taken to the grappling. At the very least, Bader should be able to score enough takedowns to win a decision and reach the finals.
Bellator 208 – Saturday, October 13th
Robson Gracie Jr. vs. Jamal Pottinger
For the most part, Bellator undercards are normally intended for the crowd in the building and not general MMA fans. However, there are exceptions. On this card, Gracie, the youngest brother of Renzo Gracie, will make his MMA debut. Despite having never fought before, his grappling should be more than enough to carry him to a victory here. Pottinger has never had a professional fight, but over the last three years, he has compiled a 3-7 amateur record.
Henry Corrales (-525) vs. Andy Main (+415)
Corrales has been on quite the seesaw since signing with Bellator in 2015. He came to the promotion with an undefeated 12-0 record composed mostly of wins under the King of the Cage banner. Corrales proceeded to lose his first three fights in the promotion. Of course, the promotion did him no favors, as two of his first three fights came against former Bellator featherweight champions Daniel Straus and Patricio Freire. However, since losing to Freire at Bellator 153, Corrales has bounced back with a three-fight winning streak. In his last fight, he scored a decision victory over former WSOF champion Georgi Karakhanyan.
Main defeated UFC veteran Nam Phan to become the featherweight King on Pancrase in 2015. However, he then spent more than a year out of action due to injuries and fight cancellations. Since his return last year, he has split a pair of bouts. Main dropped a decision against Chang Hyun Kim for Road FC and defeated Saul Almeida at LFA 49. Main also competed on the 12th season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and holds victories over WEC veteran Akitoshi Tamura and current UFC fighter Brian Kelleher.
This is a bout that could easily turn out to be fight of the night. Both fighters like to come forward and throw strikes. With that being said, Corrales should be the favorite since he will likely have the advantage in terms of hand speed, and he has the better wins on his resume.
Cheick Kongo (+105) vs. Timothy Johnson (-125)
The fights may not have been the most exciting bouts, but Kongo is currently riding a six-fight winning streak in Bellator. Despite coming to the UFC in 2006 with the reputation of a striker, he eventually became a pretty successful grinding wrestler. Before his last fight, a first-round knockout of Ayala, Kongo had gone to decision in six-straight fights. The plodding fights likely contributed to him being left out of the heavyweight tournament, but it is hard to say that he is far from a title shot in the promotion given his extensive winning streak.
In his last fight, Johnson used his wrestling to upset Marcelo Golm at UFC Fight Night 125. The bout turned out to be the last fight on his UFC contract. He left the promotion despite positing a 4-3 record that also included wins over Daniel Omielańczuk and Shamil Abdurakhimov. The former Division II All-American wrestler turned professional in 2010 and holds a 12-4 record as a professional.
The fighting styles at play here could result in a close fight. Both fighters like to get to the clinch and work for takedowns. Whoever is able to score those takedowns is likely to take the fight. Even though Johnson comes from the more traditional wrestling background, he might struggle in the clinch due to Kongo's size. With that being said, he should be able to outlast the older fighter and take the judges' nod.
Alexander Shlemenko (-105) vs. Anatoly Tokov (-115)
Shlemenko returned to Bellator last October and nearly picked up the biggest win of his career. He appeared to hurt Gegard Mousasi early in the fight. However, the current middleweight champion was able to dig deep and pull out a decision victory despite a badly swollen eye. Shlemenko, who always likes to remain active, took a fight for M-1 this past June and fell in the first round action Bruno Silva.
In his third attempt to capture the Bellator middleweight title, Shlemenko defeated Maiquel Falcao to capture the belt at Bellator 88 in 2013. He defended the belt three times over Brett Cooper, Doug Marshall and Brennan Ward. Shlemenko then moved up to light heavyweight to challenge former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz and fell via submission. He then lost his title to Brandon Halsey at Bellator 126 and had an absence from Bellator due to a positive substance test. He continued to fight in Russia during his suspension.
After an extensive career in Russia, Tokov made his mark on the international MMA scene in 2015. Under the Rizin banner, he knocked out Bellator regular AJ Matthews in only 55 seconds. After that fight, he fought three more times in Russia before making his Bellator debut last year. In his debut, he scored a second-round knockout over Fracisco France at Bellator 172. In his last fight, he needed only 56 seconds to halt Vladimir Filipovic with a guillotine-choke submission at Bellator 200.
Shlemenko is 34 years old and a veteran of 68 fights. One of these days, he is going to show up for a fight and look old. It has not happened yet. Even at this stage of his career, he is still knocking off quality fighters. Tokov certainly is a legitimate middleweight with the ability to finish fights, but he will likely fall here to the crafty veteran. However, the promotion probably would not mind Tokov taking this fight and becoming a true challenger to Mousasi's middleweight title.
Benson Henderson (-420) vs. Saad Awad (+335)
In his fifth Bellator fight, Henderson finally broke through with a dominant performance. At Bellator 196, he stopped Roger Huerta with a second round guillotine choke. Henderson joined Bellator in 2016 and two of his first three fights were title fights. In his debut, he challenged then-champion Andrey Koreshkov for the Bellator welterweight title dropped a decision. After an injury stoppage victory over Patricio Freire, Henderson earned a shot at the lightweight title. He faced off against then-champion Michael Chandler in what turned out to be a very exciting fight, but he ultimately fell via split decision.
In 2010, Henderson defeated Jamie Varner for the WEC lightweight title. He defended the title once over Donald Cerrone before dropping the belt to Anthony Pettis on the last WEC show. Two years later, he defeated Frankie Edgar for the UFC lightweight title at UFC 150. He defended the belt over Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez before falling once against to Pettis. After dropping the title to Pettis, he went 4-2 over his last six fights in the UFC before leaving the promotion.
Awad is currently riding a four-fight winning streak that dates back to 2016. During the streak, he has picked up a first-round knockouts over Zach Freeman and Ryan Couture. The Millennia MMA representative has been competing exclusively with Bellator since 2003. He has shown himself to be a reliable veteran in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. He holds signature victories over Evangelista Santos and former lightweight champion Will Brooks.
Henderson should come into this fight as the favorite. He has faced the better competition throughout his career, and he has scored the more impressive wins. Henderson is at his best when he is controlling his distance. He can land kicks from the outside and work in the clinch where his opponents can't land. That style has brought him a lot of success, and that should particularly help him against Awad. When he is able to get the proper range, Awad comes forward and lands power shots. If Henderson can avoid those shots, he should be able to take home the decision.
Heavyweight Grand PrixTournament Fight
Fedor Emelianenko (-250) vs. Chael Sonnen (+210)
After one of the most storied careers in MMA, Emelianenko is clearly reaching the end of his run. However, he was able to turn back the clock in his last fight against Frank Mir. It was a back-and-forth brawl early, but Emelianenko landed a power shot and put out the former champion. The come-from-behind victory allowed him to move on in this tournament. In his previous Bellator fight, Emelianenko and Mitrione came extremely close to a double knockout, but Mitrione got up first and finished the fight. The loss was Emelianenko's first since his three-fight skid in Bellator in 2010.
"The Last Emperor" rose to prominence under the Pride FC banner. In his third fight for the promotion, he defeated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the promotion's heavyweight title, and he held the title until the promotion closed up shop in 2007. During his run in the promotion, Emelianenko scored signature wins over Mark Coleman, Mark Hunt and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.
After an over three-year absence from MMA, Sonnen made his Bellator debut in 2017. In his debut, he fell against Tito Ortiz via submission in the first round. However, since then, he has gotten on track with a pair of decision victories. He relied on his wrestling to hold down both Wanderlei Silva and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and earn the favor of the judges.
In 2010, Sonnen earned a title shot against then-champion Anderson Silva following a three-fight winning streak over Dan Miller, Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt. Against Silva, he seemed well on the way to an upset victory before falling via submission in the final round. After that defeat, Sonnen finished his UFC run with a 3-3 record including victories over Brian Stann, Michael Bisping and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
At this point in his career, Sonnen seems to be only interested in wrestling with his opponents. This plays into Emelianenko's game. While the former Pride FC champion has looked vulnerable recently, that has been mostly due to his chin. Against Sonnen, he has the opportunity to stop the fight on the feet, and he can certainly finish the fight with his submission game on the ground. Sonnen has come a long way as a fighter, but he is still very susceptible to submissions. That is likely how this fight ends.