Bellator 179 Main Card Preview

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Rory MacDonald Paul Daley Bellator 179
Credit: Bellator MMA

It’s a busy weekend for MMA fans. Despite the UFC being off, both Invicta FC 23 and Bellator 179 will take place, with the latter going down Friday in London, England. At the top of the card, Rory “The Red King” MacDonald makes his Bellator MMA debut, against ferocious striker Paul “Semtex” Daley. It promises to be one of Bellator’s best headlining fights to date: MacDonald is one of their biggest free agent signings, and is still considered a top welterweight in any promotion.

Daley, meanwhile, is coming off a destructive flying knee knockout of Brennan Ward, and is within arms length of a title shot.

This is far from a one fight card, however. While we’d be remiss not to mention the loss of flashy striker Michael “Venom” Page due to injury, Bellator 179 rivals any event you’ll find other promotions putting on across the pond. With the likes of former Bellator light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary and heavyweight Cheick Kongo on the card, there should be no shortage of action.

5. Kevin Ferguson Jr. vs. DJ Griffin

It’s not often you’ll find an 0-1 fighter taking on a fighter with no pro bouts on the main card of any major promotion. However, when one of those fighters is Kevin Ferguson Jr., a.k.a. Baby Slice, son of the late Kimbo Slice, you make an exception.

This is a full circle sort of fight for Slice. His late father, who had mounted something of a comeback as a main event fighter in Bellator in 2015-2016, had been scheduled to fight in London last year. However, before that bout (against James Thompson) could happen, the elder Slice passed away from  heart failure.

That makes Ferguson Jr.’s Bellator 179 bout against Griffin a very personal affair. Bellator seems to be taking a slow build approach with the younger Slice, and have wisely given him an opponent on his level. Griffin is 2-2 as an amateur, but the lack of big fight experience could phase him. Slice, meanwhile, won his lone amateur fight, but faltered in his Bellator debut.

If he can overcome any emotions surrounding this bout, however, there’s a good chance Baby Slice could come away from Bellator 179 with his first professional win. Which will also make one hell of a story.

4. Dan Edwards vs. Alex Lohore

Dan Edwards (14-14) vs. Alex Lohore (11-1) is the beneficiary of the loss of Michael Page, as the bout was originally scheduled for the Bellator 179 undercard. Instead, it gets bumped up to prime time, where we’ll discover if Alex Lohore can keep building a solid reputation as a finisher.

Lohore won his Bellator MMA debut back in February, over former UFC and BAMMA prospect Colin “Freakshow” Fletcher. Picking up a win over a fairly recognizable name definitely earned Lohore some attention, and against journeyman Edwards, he’s the clear favorite. Lohore has finished nine of eleven pro wins to date, and is adept at both striking and the submission game.

Edwards’ record, meanwhile, is a little deceiving. He started his career strong, but became mired in a six fight losing streak in 2014-2015. He has bounced back with wins in his past two fights, and will be making his Bellator debut Friday.

There’s just an inch difference between the two weltweights in height, and while the crowd will be on the side of England’s own Edwards, Frenchman Lohore is the clear favorite.

3. Cheick Kongo vs. Augusto Sakai

With a heavyweight showdown between Cheick Kongo and Augusto Sakai, we’ve reached the meat of the card. And that’s not a comment on the fact that about 500lbs of heavyweight fighters will be in the cage for this fight.

Kongo (26-10-2) is well known to MMA fans, and equally frustrating. A man who looks like he should be a wrecking machine in the cage, Kongo often relies on grappling and tying fighters up against the fence, grinding his way to decisions. That has been the case more often than not of late, with Kongo’s last five fights going to the scorecards. Four of those have sided in his favor (the four most recent; his bout against King Mo in 2015 resulted in a split decision going Lawal’s way).

Yet despite the repetitiveness of it, it almost feels like the correct approach for Kongo this time out. Against Sakai, he’ll be giving up a fair amount of weight. Nor is Augusto Sakai (9-0-1) a fighter to sleep on. While he doesn’t come with the notoriety of Kongo, he is undefeated in his pro career, with just a draw against Dan Charles obstructing an otherwise perfect record.

Sakai has the power and size to finish heavyweights, though he tends to fade in the later rounds. Kongo’s best bet will to be to grapple the big man early, wear him down, and look for an opportunity to finish. Ideally, the finish will be there. Kongo has openly talked about going on one last run at gold, and at age 42, it’s now or never.

2. Liam McGeary vs. Linton Vassell

The loss of MVP saw former Bellator MMA light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary and Linton Vassell bumped up to co-main event status, and it honestly does feel like a fight that belongs. Until he ran into Phil Davis, McGeary (12–1) was undefeated in his pro career, and looked like one of the very best homegrown talents in Bellator MMA. That hasn’t changed.

Despite losing his title to Davis at Bellator 163, McGeary is arguably in the top three of the 205lb division in Bellator. He bounced back nicely after his first loss, picking up a win over Brett McDermott earlier this year. With Ryan Bader facing Davis next month, a win against Vassell (17–5 (1)), who fought for the title against Emanuel Newton at Bellator 130 but was defeated, would put McGeary right back in the mix.

Vassell, meanwhile, is looking to shake that “runner up” label. He lost to Newton for the title, lost to King Mo in Bellator’s 2015 light heavyweight tournament, and would desperately like another crack at gold. 2016 was a very solid year for Vassell, as he got his revenge on Newton, then knocked off former UFC fighter and Georges St. Pierre teammate Francis Carmont. Both wins came by decision.

Both men are English, so there’s no real home court advantage here. McGeary has a slight height advantage, Vassell a slight reach advantage. Yet the real story is likely to be McGeary’s creative submission game. If he can employ that, using his long legs to tie up Vassell, it very well could be his night.

1. Rory MacDonald vs. Paul Daley

If you watch no other Bellator MMA fight this year, watch MacDonald vs. Daley. “The Red King” will be making his promotional debut, and told Cageside Press during the Bellator 179 conference call that his nose, which has been a problem over the last few years, is now all healed up.

“I didn’t spar all the way after training camp [started]. A couple months away from the fight, I started my regular training. Yeah it’s been tested for the last two months, it hasn’t given me any problems, I haven’t been worrying about it. I’m very confident in it.”

More on that here. In the meantime, expect MacDonald (18–4) to be ready for war, and expect Daley to bring it. “Semtex” will have the crowd on his side, and is coming off that knockout of the year contender flying knee finish of Brennan Ward.

Yet Daley (39–14–2) has not been fighting the level of competition that MacDonald has, and struggled against Douglas Lima last Summer. Lima once again wears Bellator gold, and MacDonald is a smart, savvy fighter when he brings his A-game.

One real question will be cage rust. MacDonald hasn’t fought in nearly a year, a decision loss to Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson back in the UFC in Ottawa last June. Daley, meanwhile, has kept active.

With identical reach, MacDonald will have a height advantage, but the story will come down to whether MacDonald can successfully navigate and negate Daley’s striking. If he can, Daley could be in for a long night. If he can’t, we might just see Daley’s most significant knockout victim to date. That would be something, as only Carlos Condit and Robbie Lawler have finished MacDonald thus far in his career.

Bellator 179 takes place Friday, May 19 at the Wembley Arena in London, England. Stateside, it will air via tape delay on Spike TV at 9PM, with the preliminary card available via bellator.spike.com

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