It’s no secret that Bellator MMA has made “big top” events with alleged “dream matchups” its bread and butter over the last couple of years. Whether fights like Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar, Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice or Tito Ortiz vs. Chael Sonnen are really considered “dream matchups” is still open to debate, I suppose. But the main event of Bellator 165 on Saturday, Nov. 19, is a bout that can definitely be included in that discussion.
When Benson Henderson signed with Bellator earlier this month after leaving the UFC, he immediately received a title shot against then-welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov and frankly, Henderson was dominated. So “Smooth” dropped to lightweight – a weight class where he won a championship in the UFC and had incredible battles with the likes of Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez. After defeating Patricio “Pitbull” Freire in August, Henderson gets another crack at Bellator gold; this time against Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler.
Sheila Padilla (2-0) vs. Keri Taylor-Melendez (0-0) (Women’s Flyweight – 125 lbs.)
This is Melendez’s professional MMA debut, as she previously competed as a kickboxer with a total amateur and professional record of 6-2. Padilla is making her Bellator debut herself after picking up two victories via decision on the regional MMA circuit. Melendez boasts a pinpoint striking that served her well in her kickboxing career. It’s also worth noting that her husband is Gilbert Melendez, who probably shared some tips and guidance with his better half. Melendez likes to stick and move as a kickboxer, and I think that approach serves her well here and gets her MMA career off to a positive start.
Winner: Melendez by unanimous decision
Francis Carmont (25-11) vs. Linton Vassell (16-5) (Light Heavyweight – 205 lbs.)
These guys are jockeying for a position in a light heavyweight division that is currently lorded over by new champion Phil Davis. It’s basically a guarantee that this fight will not go the distance, as both fighters have a combined 30 finishes on their resumes. Carmont has already shared the ring with Davis and was on the wrong of a knockout loss, but recovered nicely with two straight wins. Vassell is coming off a victory of his own against Emanuel Newton, but I like Carmont to use his reach and his ground work to pick up another victory and inch closer to a title shot.
Winner: Carmont by submission
Brandon Girtz (14-4) vs. Adam Piccolotti (8-0) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
Girtz is quickly becoming one of my favorites to watch in Bellator, as he just loves to get in there and bang and swing away, to the tune of two knockout wins in his last three fights, with a fun brawl with Melvin Guillard sandwiched in there for good measure. Piccolotti is one of Bellator’s bright young prospects with four submissions in his last five wins, so this fight presents an excellent contrast in styles.
Girtz actually has eight submission wins of his own, so this may not be as much of a striker-versus-grappler matchup as I anticipated. But since Girtz has seemingly discovered knockout power to complement his submission game, I think he derails Piccolotti’s rise up the lightweight ranks for the time being.
Winner: Girtz by TKO
Michael Page (11-0) vs. Fernando Gonzalez (25-13) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
These two have been circling each other for what seems like forever. They were supposed to meet at both Bellator 151 and Bellator 158, but each fighter took a turn withdrawing. But it looks like both guys are signed, sealed and delivered and will finally settle things on this card. On paper, Gonzalez just looks like another no-name fighter brought in for the explicit purpose to pad Page’s undefeated record.
But Gonzalez is no slouch. “The Menefee Maniac” has won five in a row in Bellator and won’t just roll over and play dead for “MVP.” All that said, Page’s last opponent, Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, was supposed to be a challenge too. Page proceeded to literally bust Santos’ head, and even if he doesn’t do the exact same thing to Gonzalez, I think Page establishes that he is finally a bonafide contender in the welterweight division.
Winner: Page by TKO
Michael Chandler (15-3) vs. Benson Henderson (24-6) (Lightweight Title – 155 lbs.)
As I stated at the beginning, this is Henderson’s second crack at Bellator gold after coming up short against a former champion in Koreshkov earlier this year. Chandler has never looked better since reclaiming the lightweight title with a devastating first-round knockout of Patricky “Pitbull” Freire in June. Conversely, Henderson’s first two fights in Bellator have left a lot to be desired.
After he was soundly beaten by Koreshkov, Henderson did defeat the younger “Pitbull” to earn a title shot against Chandler, but that was only after the younger Freire suffered an injury in their fight and couldn’t continue. Prior to that, it looked like Henderson was on his way to another loss. If Henderson wants to dethrone to Chandler, he better have changed up his training. Because what he was doing before clearly wasn’t working.
Chandler is as likely to finish you standing as he is to finish you on the ground, while Henderson only has two wins via finish in the last two years (out of seven total fights). However, Henderson also hasn’t been finished in the last two years, so there’s a good chance Chandler will have to go the distance to retain his title. Which I think he will, as it seems like one of Bellator’s original fighters is undergoing a career renaissance and it seems he will overcome the heralded free-agent signee.
Winner: Chandler by unanimous decision
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