Bellator MMA returns from its much-deserved holiday break with its first fight card of 2018. As per usual for President Scott Coker and company, Bellator is wasting no time starting a new year with a bang, as its latest offering is headlined by both a title fight and the start of a journey toward a title fight with the launch of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Georgi Karakhanyan (27-7-1) vs. Henry Corrales (14-3) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
Karakhanyan is still seeking consistency in Bellator since rejoining the promotion in 2015. He has a 4-3 record in that time and is coming off a TKO win of Daniel Pineda last year, and has won three out of four overall. Bellator’s featherweight is still among the deepest in all of MMA. Karakhanyan has no cakewalk here in facing Corrales, who has won two straight, including a win over noted prospect Noad Lahat.
Both guys have a nose for the finish, particularly as it relates to submissions with Karakhanyan’s 14 to Corrales’ 6. But Karakhanyan seems to developed a taste for knockouts and TKOs as well, as his last three wins have come in that fashion. I think his experience advantage and well-rounded game will be too much for Corrales, and Karakhanyan continues to be a dark horse among Bellator’s featherweights.
Winner: Karakhanyan by TKO
Aaron Pico (1-1) vs. Shane Krutchen (12-3) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
Bellator continues to be very high on Pico, who finally flashed some of his potential in his last fight at Bellator 183 last year with a devastating knockout victory. Pico is facing another “grizzled” veteran who Bellator seemingly brought in just to showcase Pico’s skills, but Krutchen has only lost once since his second-ever professional MMA bout in 2007.
Krutchen has also won half of his 12 victories via submission, which will be a good test for someone with the potential on the ground as Pico has. Pico showed what he was capable of doing in his last fight, but Krutchen seems like just the right kind of fighter to truly derail a hype train as notable as Pico’s. Bellator may want to consider matching Pico with someone with a more similar experience level.
Winner: Krutchen by submission
Michael Chandler (16-4) vs. Goiti Yamauchi (22-3) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
This fight could steal the show on a card with a title fight and the beginning of Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix. Chandler is seeking redemption after losing the lightweight title in controversial fashion last year, and Yamauchi is one of Bellator’s fastest-rising competitors. The winner of this fight will be next in line for a title shot, and Yamauchi’s 18 submissions out of his 22 total victories might make him Chandler’s most dangerous opponent yet.
But Chandler looked to go on the most dominant run of his career before his unexpected title loss last year, and he is a smart enough fighter to know not to try and indulge what Yamauchi does best. I expect Chandler to use his stand-up to keep Yamauchi at a distance and to use his power to punish Yamauchi if he persists to try and take Chandler down. Yamauchi will be a tough puzzle for Chandler to solve, but I think Chandler will solve it and get another shot at the lightweight title.
Winner: Chandler by TKO
Chael Sonnen (29-15-1) vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (37-12) (Heavyweight – 225 lbs.)
This is the first fight in Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix to crown a new heavyweight champion. It features other notable names such as Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Mitrione, Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal, Roy Nelson, Frank Mir and current Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader. It’s no secret what each competitor in this fight wants to do – Jackson wants to keep it standing, and Sonnen wants to take Jackson down early and often.
Jackson is pretty much useless if he gets taken down, as he has gotten far away from the ground-and-pound that served him well early in his career. Say what you want about Sonnen, but he is a very smart fighter. Much like his last fight against Wanderlei Silva, I expect Sonnen to keep Jackson grounded and smother him for 15 minutes. It may not be sexy, but it will be effective and help Sonnen advance to the next round.
Winner: Sonnen by unanimous decision
Douglas Lima (29-6) vs. Rory MacDonald (19-4) (Welterweight Title – 170 lbs.)
MacDonald looked dominant in his Bellator debut last year when he choked out Paul Daley. MacDonald shared the Octagon in the UFC with some of the toughest fighters around, including Robbie Lawler, Carlos Condit, Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia. He follows that over into Bellator, because Lima is definitely no slouch.
Lima already dispatched of one free-agent signing when he defeated Lorenz Larkin last year in Larkin’s Bellator debut. Lima is one of the best strikers around, as evidenced by his last three wins against Daley, Larkin and Andrey Koreshkov. Lima will not fear MacDonald and even if he is still pegged by many as the future of MMA, I think Lima will remind everyone of why he is the champion at the present.
Winner: Lima by unanimous decision
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