After what seems like an eternity, but has only been a few months, the opening round of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix will conclude at Bellator MMA’s next live card on Saturday, May 12. After the main event between Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader and Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal, we will know who joins Matt Mitrione, Chael Sonnen and Fedor Emelianenko in the Grand Prix’s Final Four to crown a new Bellator Heavyweight Champion.
Adam Piccolotti (9-2) vs. Carrington Banks (7-0) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
Piccolotti is looking to bounce back after two straight losses to tough competition in Goiti Yamauchi and David Rickels. Banks has yet to taste defeat in his MMA career, but hasn’t finished an opponent since his second pro bout in 2012. Banks’ M.O. is to take down his opponent early and often and execute some effective ground-and-pound.
Piccolotti is game on the ground though, and has four submission wins to his credit. I expect this to be a primarily mat-based affair, and I think Banks’ wrestling will effectively shut down Piccolotti’s attempts to grapple and put in a submission.
Winner: Banks by unanimous decision
Cheick Kongo (27-10-2) vs. Javy Ayala (10-6) (Heavyweight – 225 lbs.)
It’s a little surprising that Kongo wasn’t at least named as an alternate in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, since he has won five straight and six of seven. However, Kongo has fundamentally changed his style and primarily relies on dirty boxing and ground-and-pound. Which, while effective, isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing style.
Ayala is coming off a hard-fought loss to Roy Nelson last year. But he gave “Big Country” all he can handle, including on the ground, surprisingly. I think he can handle his own with Kongo on the mat for a while, but eventually, Kongo’s newfound prowess on the ground and against the cage will take over.
Winner: Kongo by unanimous decision
Aaron Pico (2-1) vs. Lee Morrison (19-8) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
Pico’s trial by fire as Bellator’s latest “it” fighter doesn’t get any easier, as he once again is matched with an opponent with a distinct experience advantage. Morrison has won four straight fights, all by knockout or submission. He has spent ample time fighting for M-1 Global in Russia while also fighting on the U.S. regional MMA circuit.
Pico has won his first two pro fights by first-round knockout, including finishing an opponent with 15 pro fights in Pico’s last fight in January. I think this will be a close fight, but I think Pico’s wrestling will be the difference and he will do just enough to eke out a tough victory against a very tough opponent.
Winner: Pico by split decision
Paul Daley (40-15-2) vs. Jon Fitch (30-7) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
Fitch is making his Bellator debut after most recently being the welterweight champion in the now-rebranded World Series of Fighting, while Daley appears to be fighting out his Bellator contract with the intent to leave the promotion as soon as possible. This is a really intriguing matchup, as Daley is known almost exclusively for his knockout power while Fitch uses his wrestling to completely neutralize his opponent.
Daley has shown weakness when he is taken down, so his best bet is to use his reach to keep Fitch from getting too close. Fitch has a lot of miles on his veteran body, so one well-placed shot by Daley should be enough to put Fitch’s lights out and ensure Daley another win as he gets ready to depart from Bellator. This is an overlooked bout on this weekend’s stacked lineup of MMA cards, but I think Daley delivers another memorable finish.
Winner: Daley by knockout
Ryan Bader (24-5) vs. Muhammad Lawal (21-6) (Heavyweight – 225 lbs.)
As previously stated, this is the last fight in the opening round of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. Bader and Lawal were supposed to face each other in Bader’s Bellator debut last year at Madison Square Garden. However, Lawal had to withdraw because of injury.
Bader has looked reborn since signing with Bellator, and became the light heavyweight champion in his second fight for the promotion. This is Lawal’s first fight in over a year after battling various injuries, and he has alternated wins and losses in his last four fights. Lawal owns a victory over Bader from their days as college wrestlers, but I think Bader gets his revenge in this fight.
Bader just looks supremely driven and like a dark horse to become a double champion in Bellator. Lawal will be tough enough to go the distance with Bader, but it won’t be enough.
Winner: Bader by unanimous decision
Photo Credit: MMA News