You would be forgiven if all of your attention was focused on the big fight on Saturday, Aug. 26, between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. But Bellator MMA is here to remind you that there’s still a mixed martial arts card to be watched, and it has the potential to be an unexpected surprise. Bellator 182 on Friday, Aug. 25, is headlined by two fights featuring a group of welterweight contenders vying to be next in line for a shot at 170-pound champion Douglas Lima.
A.J. McKee (8-0) vs. Blair Tugman (9-6) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
McKee is looking to continue his ascent up the ladder in a crowded Bellator featherweight division, and is coming off a first-round knockout victory earlier this year. McKee will likely square off with his “frenemy” James Gallagher at some point (though the two never miss a chance to talk shit to each other, they’ve also been photographed hanging out together at Bellator events), but he first has to deal with Tugman, a primarily ground-based fighter who’s coming off a submission victory in his last Bellator bout.
Tugman hasn’t lost in two years, so McKee would be wise not to take him lightly. On paper this looks like another example of a highly-touted Bellator prospect being fed a steady stream of nobodies to pad his record (Michael Page, anyone?). However, Tugman is plenty capable of giving McKee a challenge and could even pull off the upset. That said, McKee seems to be improving with each fight and I think he’ll become a factor in the featherweight division sooner rather than later.
Winner: McKee by TKO
Veta Arteaga (3-1) vs. Bruna Ellen (3-1) (Flyweight – 125 lbs.)
Bellator’s flyweight division is still sorting itself out, though fighters like Ilima Lei-Macfarlane and Emily Ducote seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. But don’t sleep on Arteaga. She had a memorable brawl with the supposed darling of the flyweights, Anastasia Yankova, last year. Arteaga lost a close split decision that many people (even Yankova herself) thought she should have won.
Ellen rebounded from losing her Bellator debut by picking up a unanimous decision win over Carmela James earlier this year. Both Arteaga and Ellen only have one finish each in eight total career fights between them. So I don’t expect this one to end early. But Arteaga showed her toughness and resiliency against Yankova, and forced a doctor’s stoppage in her last victory over Brooke Mayo. I believe Arteaga will get the redemption she likely sorely desires and shows that she’s still a dark horse at 125 pounds.
Winner: Arteaga by unanimous decision
Fernando Gonzalez (26-14) vs. Brennan Ward (15-5) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
If you want to see a fight between two very good strikers that is highly likely to result in a finish, then you don’t need to waste 100 bucks on Mayweather-McGregor on Saturday. You can watch this fight for free and likely see someone get knocked silly.
Ward wants to get back on track after being knocked out by Paul Daley in January. Ward loves to swing for the fences, but he may have been a bit out of his league against “Semtex.” Gonzalez’s last knockout win was in 2014, but Ward has the ability to draw just about anyone into a slugfest. Just ask Saad Awad. Gonzlaez got by the always-tough Brandon Girtz in his last fight, so he’s always willing to take on a challenge. Gonzalez will be a tough test for Ward, but I believe “Irish” has luck on his side and resumes his climb up the welterweight ladder.
Winner: Ward by unanimous decision
Andrey Koreshkov (19-2) vs. Chidi Njokuani (17-4) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
Even though he was knocked out by Douglas Lima in his last fight and lost the welterweight title, not too many people talk about Koreshkov as one of the best welterweights in the world. Which is too bad, because he has a good argument. Before his loss to Lima, Koreshkov hadn’t lost in over three years and previously defended his belt against Lima in 2015. Koreshkov also dominated ballyhooed free agent signee Benson Henderson in “Smooth’s” first fight in Bellator in 2016.
Koreshkov isn’t flashy. He’s just tough as nails, technically sound and looks to break you in every fight. He has a tough challenge against Njokuani though, who hasn’t lost in Bellator since debuting in 2015 and boasts two knockouts and a win over Melvin Guillard in that timeframe. Koreshkov’s last knockout win was in 2014, so it might be fair to wonder if his grinding style is starting to take its toll. Njokuani looks to be a fighter on the rise in Bellator, and I think he pulls off an upset and puts himself on the short list for a title shot.
Winner: Njokuani by unanimous decision
Photo Credit: MMA Junkie