Coming off a somewhat underwhelming debut card for its overseas expansion, Bellator MMA seeks redemption with its latest card on Friday, April 22. The organization should present a much better product this time around, as the card is chock full of stars familiar to Bellator fans, as well as a new star looking to make a huge splash right off the bat.
Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson makes his Bellator debut in the main event when he faces Andrey Koreshkov for the welterweight title. Henderson ended his UFC career as a welterweight and seeks to begin his Bellator career as the welterweight champion. Will he succeed?
Toninho Furia (27-5) vs. Brent Primus (6-0) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
Furia is coming off a split-decision loss in his Bellator debut last year after racking up nine straight wins in various organizations, including Titan Fighting Championship. Furia has basically split his 27 victories evenly among submissions, knockouts and decisions, so he’s a seasoned, well-rounded fighter. Primus doesn’t have Furia’s experience, but he does have an undefeated record, with four of his six victories coming by submission.
Primus only lost once as an amateur – in his debut fight, all the way back in 2006. He appears to be a fighter on the rise in a crowded Bellator lightweight division. Knocking off a savvy veteran in Furia might get him noticed by the Michael Chandler, Josh Thomsons and Will Brooks of the world. Primus will look to take the fight to the ground, which might be a mistake against someone with the experience of Furia. I think that will be the deciding factor here.
Winner: Furia by submission
Michael Page (9-0) vs. Jeremie Holloway (7-1) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
The man they call “Venom” continues his slow and steady (some would just say entirely too slow) climb up the Bellator ladder with taking on another no-name opponent who isn’t very well-known among mixed martial arts fans. Holloway does have an impressive record, however, suffering his first loss in his Bellator debut last year.
Page has knocked out his last two opponents in the first round, and it’s obvious Bellator hopes he does so again here. I think he will do just that against a game, but ultimately coming up short, opponent in Holloway. After this fight, one can only hope Bellator finally gives Page a marquee opponent.
Winner: Page by knockout
Brennan Ward (14-3) vs. Evangelista Santos (20-16) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
Speaking of baby steps, “Irish” Brennan Ward is also being brought along slowly in Bellator despite being promoted as a star on the rise. However, he perhaps faces his toughest to date in Santos, who’s faced some of the toughest fighters around, including Nick Diaz and Melvin Manhoef.
Santos has alternated wins and losses in his last four fights and is making his Bellator debut. Ward has won four in a row after suffering a 21-second knockout loss to Tamdan McCrory in 2014. He appears to have redefined his game and found new life at welterweight after previously competing at middleweight. Santos is as tough as they come and will present a challenge to Ward, but eventually the younger, faster and quick-striking Ward will outduel the savvy veteran.
Winner: Ward by unanimous decision
Patricio Freire (24-3) vs. Henry Corrales (12-2) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
Freire steps back into the cage for the first time since losing the Bellator featherweight title to Daniel Straus last year. Knowing the “Pitbull” brothers like I do, there’s no doubt that Patricio is looking for redemption and to join his brother Patricky in the win column, after he was victorious at Bellator 152 on April 16.
Corrales has lost back-to-back fights against two of Bellator’s best in Straus and Emmanuel Sanchez, and will likely fall to the better fighter in Freire. I’m willing to bet that after this fight, Straus and Freire will likely meet for a fourth time, were I a betting man.
Winner: Freire by TKO
Andrey Koreshkov (18-1) vs. Benson Henderson (23-5) (Welterweight Title – 170 lbs.)
Free agency came to MMA this year, and Henderson was one of the fighters who decided to see if the grass was greener on the other side when he decided to jump to Bellator. It ended up being the right choice, as he was rewarded with a title shot right off the bat. However, it comes against a fighter in Koreshkov who’s only lost once in his entire career – to Ben Askren, considered one of the very best fighters to never compete in the UFC.
However, Askren is the toughest opponent Koreshkov has ever faced. Whereas Henderson has already faced a who’s who in MMA during his time in World Extreme Cagefighting and the UFC, including Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone. Henderson is as battle-tested as they come and should have no fear stepping into the Bellator cage for the first time.
Honing his elite striking and movement against the fighters I listed above should give Henderson the edge in this fight. Koreshkov still won’t be a pushover, as 10 of his 18 victories have come via knockout or TKO. But up to now, Koreshkov’s mainly faced guppies, maybe a toothless shark or two. But Henderson is as big a shark as they come in Bellator, and I think his reign as a Bellator champion starts early.
Winner: Henderson by unanimous decision