The march toward crowning a new Bellator heavyweight champion continues on Friday, Feb. 16. The next matchup in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix headlines a solid lineup of fights that features both names familiar to fans, as well as newcomers who are looking to make their mark in the promotion.
Tywan Claxton (1-0) vs. Jose Antonio Perez (0-1) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
If Claxton’s name looks familiar, then you probably saw his highlight-reel-flying-knee knockout in his pro debut at Bellator 186 in November of last year. Claxton’s knockout of Jonny Bonilla-Bowman has been replayed on an endless loop since then, and the fact he is in the opening fight on the Bellator 194 card likely speaks to the potential Bellator sees in him in a still-crowded featherweight division.
Perez lost his pro debut at Bellator 185 via unanimous decision and only went 1-3 as an amateur, while Claxton was undefeated in seven amateur fights. Even if it isn’t another SportsCenter-worthy highlight, I think Claxton goes 2-for-2 in his pro career in impressive fashion.
Winner: Claxton by TKO
Heather Hardy (1-1) vs. Ana Julaton (2-3) (Flyweight – 125 lbs.)
Both Hardy and Julaton are also looked at as hot prospect by the Bellator brass, but both have stumbled out of the game in their pro mixed martial arts career. Hardy won her debut in her hometown of New York City last year by knockout, but then had her faced smashed in by the leg of Kristina Williams in her second pro fight. Julaton also debuted in Bellator last year to much fanfare, but dropped a split decision.
These two are actually slated to return to their roots and meet in a boxing match later this year. For the purposes of this MMA bout, however, I think Hardy learned her lesson in rather emphatic fashion in her last fight. I think she presses forward and opens up early and often on Julaton and lets her know there is more plenty more where that comes from when they step into the boxing ring later in 2018.
Winner: Hardy by unanimous decision
Liam McGeary (12-2) vs. Vadim Nemkov (8-2) (Light Heavyweight – 205 lbs.)
McGeary wants to get back on track and back in the light heavyweight title picture after losing by submission in his last fight and having four scheduled fights fall through at the last minute since last year. But Nemkov will not be an easy task, as all eight of his pro victories have come by knockout or submission.
McGeary should have a significant height and reach advantage on Nemkov, which I think he will use to keep Nemkov at bay and to avoid the power in his fists. McGeary should also his high-level grappling and jiu-jitsu to keep Nemkov grounded and unable to land that one big shot. I think McGeary gets his career back on track here and begins a new march toward a title shot.
Winner: McGeary by submission
Patricky Freire (18-8) vs. Derek Campos (19-6) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
The winner of this fight is likely next in line to receive a Bellator lightweight title shot. These two previously faced each other in 2014, and Freire was the winner by a second-round knockout. Freire is coming off a close split-decision win over Benson Henderson and has won two straight, while Campos has won his last four.
I see these two fighters swinging at each other early and often, and it’s entirely possible this fight can steal the show and be one to remember. Freire and Campos are two of the toughest fighters in all of Bellator. But I believe Freire’s striking will be the difference and he outlands Campos in what will be a very tough contest.
Winner: Freire by split decision
Matt Mitrione (12-5) vs. Roy Nelson (23-14) (Heavyweight – 225 lbs.)
This is the second fight in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, and it follows the initial bout between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Chael Sonnen last month. This is also a rematch between Mitrione and Nelson of a fight that was the finale of the 16th season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2012, which saw Nelson knock out Mitrione in the second round.
Mitrione seems to be a different fighter since joining Bellator in 2016, as he has won all three of his fights by knockout, including a first-round knockout of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. Nelson’s Bellator debut last year was a success as well, as he used his jiu-jitsu to win a surprisingly entertaining bout against Javy Ayala.
I expect Nelson to stay on his feet against Mitrione, and I also expect Mitrione to use his seemingly newfound striking prowess to keep Nelson on the defensive and advance in the Heavyweight Grand Prix by winning an entertaining slugfest.
Winner: Mitrione by unanimous decision
Image Credit: Bellator MMA