If Bellator MMA’s first card of the year last weekend wasn’t enough for you, despite a great welterweight title fight between Douglas Lima and Rory MacDonald and the beginning of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, then you’re in luck. Because the promotion goes right back to work this Friday, and offers another card featuring an important welterweight bout as its main event.
Steve Kozola (8-1) vs. Jake Smith (6-2) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
Kozola suffered his first career loss in his last fight after winning his first eight fights by knockout or submission. Smith is making his Bellator debut and boasts an eight-year-total amateur career on his resume. Since Kozola’s first loss came against another undefeated fighter in Carrington Banks and he previously finished all of his career fights, I don’t see much reason why Kozola won’t get back on track in his trademark fashion against the newcomer.
Winner: Kozola by TKO
Kendall Grove (23-17) vs. A.J. Matthews (8-7) (Middleweight – 185 lbs.)
If you want to pick a fight on this card with the best chance of ending up in a highlight reel finish, this one might be your best bet. Grove and Matthews are two of the most exciting fighters in Bellator and both have been involved in memorable finishes, for both better and worse. Grove’s last fight that went the distance came in 2013, while Matthews has only experienced two decisions in his last six fights.
Unfortunately, Matthews is on a 4-fight losing streak and is half-a-foot shorter than Grove. I think Grove will use what should be a noticeable reach advantage to keep Matthews from being able to land much in the way of punches. Grove can also use his superior grappling to score a submission win and notch another finish on his belt – the 18th of his career.
Winner: Grove by submission
Saad Awad (21-9) vs. J.J. Ambrose (28-7) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
The longtime regional mixed martial arts veteran Ambrose gets to make his Bellator debut in a co-main event against Awad, who’s been a mainstay of Bellator’s lightweight division for some time. Ambrose is a submission expert, by virtue of 17 of his 28 overall wins coming in that fashion. Ambrose is also on a 5-fight win streak while Awad has won back-to-back fights and is coming off a first-round knockout win last year.
This might be the most evenly-matched fight on the card. I expect it to go all three rounds, and I think Ambrose will give Awad all he can handle. But Awad is a tough out for anyone, especially someone who is making his Bellator debut. I like Awad to edge out a close, hard-fight scrap.
Winner: Awad by split decision
Lorenz Larkin (17-5) vs. Fernando Gonzalez (27-14) (Catchweight)
Larkin was one of Bellator’s much-ballyhooed free agent signings last year, but has so far struggled to find his footing. In his defense, he has lost his first two Bellator fights to two of the toughest fighters around in Douglas Lima and Paul Daley. Larkin’s road doesn’t get much easier in facing Gonzalez, who has only lost once in his eight Bellator fights.
Gonzalez will not go down easy and could easily pull the upset of someone has highly-regarded as Larkin. But Larkin will also be Gonzalez’s toughest challenge to date, and I think Larkin knows this is his last chance to put himself in the conversation for a title opportunity. I expect Larkin to put on a performance that will remind everyone why it was considered such a big deal when Bellator signed him away from the UFC.
Winner: Larkin by unanimous decision
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