During a month that’s been a bit on the slow side in mixed martial arts in terms of memorable moments or fights, Bellator MMA has a real opportunity to stand out this Saturday, Sept. 23, as its gives us another version of its “big top” events that have become synonymous with President Scott Coker and company. This latest card features a main event to determine the possible next contender for the Bellator lightweight title, a co-main event that could become “Fight of the Year” and the Bellator debut of another free agent who came over from the UFC.
Aaron Pico (0-1) vs. Justin Linn (7-3) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
Pico’s professional MMA debut at Bellator’s first card at Madison Square Garden in June received quite a bit of hype, and his debut could not have ended more disastrously. Pico was submitted in 24 seconds by Zach Freeman and noise you probably heard after that was Pico’s hype train derailing at breathtaking speed.
Linn is making his Bellator debut, although he’s also coming off two straight losses. But Linn is a veteran of the regional MMA scene and went 2-1 in the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance. All but one of Linn’s seven overall wins via finish, and while I’m sure Pico learned a great deal from his debut loss on such a big stage, but I still haven’t seen or heard anything to show that deserved that hype to start with. Linn is battle tested and will have something to prove on his big stage.
Winner: Linn by unanimous decision
Goiti Yamauchi (21-3) vs. Adam Piccolotti (9-0) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
This fight could steal the show on an already-stacked card. Piccolotti had one of the gnarliest submission wins in recent memory when in 2015, he squeezed Mario Soto’s head in a rear-naked choke so hard that a literal stream of blood squirted from Soto’s head, on camera. Yamauchi has 17 of his 21 overall wins by submission, including in his last four wins. Piccolotti has four submission wins of his own to go with his undefeated record, so this could possibly become a grappling clinic to balance some of the stand-up fireworks we might see on the card’s last three fights.
Unlike their fellow prospect Pico, Piccolotti and Yamauchi both appear to be worthy of being hyped as part of Bellator’s next group of stars. But three of Yamauchi’s last four submission wins have come in the first round, and I think that makes the difference here. Both guys will look for an early sub, but I think Yamauchi’s reaches the finish line first.
Winner: Yamauchi by submission
Lorenz Larkin (18-6) vs. Paul Daley (39-15-2) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
The fact a fight like this is third on the main card speaks to how stacked Bellator 183 is. This fight could easily be a main event on most other cards, and has Fight of the Year written all over it. Larkin and Daley are two of the most exciting knockout artists in all of MMA, and the fists should be flying early and often. Both guys have shared the cage with some of the most dangerous punchers around and, well, there’s just no need for hyperbole or an in-depth preview for a fight like this. You just sit back and enjoy the fireworks. All that said, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Larkin yet, but I think we will in this fight.
Winner: Larkin by TKO
Roy Nelson (22-14) vs. Javy Ayala (10-5) (Heavyweight – 225 lbs.)
Nelson is the latest free agent to defect from the UFC to Bellator, joining fighters like Larkin, Rory MacDonald, Phil Davis and Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, among others. Nelson seemed to settle nicely into a gatekeeper role as a UFC heavyweight, but has an opportunity to make a move in a heavyweight division in Bellator that’s still coming together.
Ayala has won two straight by first-round knockout, including finishing another veteran in Sergei Kharitonov in just 16 seconds. Ayala looks like another fighter on the rise in Bellator with his recent winning streak, but will still face a tough challenge in Nelson. I think this will be a back-and-forth slugfest that goes the distance, and I think Ayala is feeling supremely confident and improving with every fight. I think Ayala will add another veteran notch to his belt.
Winner: Ayala by unanimous decision
Patricky Freire (17-8) vs. Benson Henderson (24-7) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
This fight could go a long way toward determining who might be next in line for a shot at the Bellator lightweight title. While former champion Michael Chandler will likely get a rematch with current champion Brent Primus, you have to think the winner of this fight would be right there in the conversation as well. Henderson went the distance with Chandler for the title last year in a great fight that I think was a lot closer than some people thought.
Henderson already defeated Freire’s brother Patricio last year, when the younger Freire brother suffered a knee injury in the second round. Standing and throwing strikes is Freire’s bread and butter, as he knocked out Josh Thomson in his last fight and has 11 knockout wins in his career. Henderson is tough and talented enough to go the distance with “Pitbull,” but I think Freire avenges his brother in a highly entertaining bout and stakes his claim to another title shot.
Winner: Freire by unanimous decision
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