Looking Ahead — Bellator 180: Davis vs. Bader Preview

Phil Davis and Ryan Bader face off prior to Bellator 180
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Prior to the Bellator NYC Pay-per-View kicking off Saturday, fans tuning in on Spike TV will be treated to Bellator 180: Davis vs. Bader. In what other promotions would be a preliminary card, Bellator MMA decided to treat it as an event of its own. It’s hard to argue against that, given the four-fight main card will feature a headliner of light heavyweight champion Phil Davis taking on newly signed Ryan Bader.

Beyond that are names like Machida, Gallagher, and Gracie, all familiar to MMA fans and Bellator/Spike TV loyalists. There may even be a couple of hidden gems on the the Bellator 180 portion of the card, so it’s not one to miss — especially given that you’re getting it for free. Will it sway people to order up the Bellator NYC Pay-per-View? That remains to be seen, but there are certainly some fun fights booked on paper.

A light heavyweight title fight is always a special event, so lets take a look at that and the rest of the Bellator 180 card!

4. Heather Hardy vs. Alice Yauger

One thing that Bellator NYC and Bellator 180 have in abundance is storylines, which are crucial to selling a card like this. Heather Hardy vs. Alice Yauger is no exception. Hardy, a successful boxer, is making her pro MMA debut at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. In the build up to the event, she has been front and center in the media, talking about making the transition from the sweet science to cage fighting, and how she’ll be making more money in her Bellator MMA debut than she ever did in boxing, despite having a perfect 20-0 record and holding two titles.

Speaking to Bleacher Report, Hardy broke down the situation in boxing astutely, saying “the same men who were in charge back when Christy Martin was fighting are still in charge. They’re stuck in their ways and boxing is just not evolving.”

MMA, however, has evolved, and Hardy will get the TV time she deserves at Bellator 180. She also gets to make her MMA debut on the biggest of states. Opposite her in the Bellator MMA cage will be Alice Yauger, the “Soccer Mom” who came to the attention of MMA fans at Bellator 171 earlier this year. Yauger (4-5) showed a great deal of heart in a tough battle with Jessica Middleton, but ultimately dropped a unanimous decision. She’d no doubt love to play spoiler Saturday, and at age 38, this may be her last chance to really shine, on the biggest of stages.

Even should she lose to Hardy — as is pretty much the betting line — Yauger getting to fight at Madison Square Garden may be a reward in itself, so there’s no loser here in a sense. Hardy, meanwhile, has the personality needed to be a marketable star with a couple of wins.

3. Neiman Gracie vs. Dave Marfone

It would seem wrong to host what is considered Bellator MMA’s biggest card and not have the Gracie name somehow attached to it. Bellator was happy to oblige, given they have the undefeated Neiman Gracie among their ranks.

The promotion has taken the slow build route with Gracie, and with good cause. The recent struggles of the legendary fighting family have been well documented, and Neiman seems to be the exception to the norm. A perfect 5-0, four of his wins have (not surprisingly) come via submission. In his most recent outing, he secured an arm-bar to take out Rudy Bears at Bellator 163.

His opponent in New York, Dave Marfone (5-2), is making his Bellator debut at the event, and coming off a loss in February. He’s going to have to watch his limbs and stay out of Neiman’s grasp — which will not be easy.

2. James Gallagher vs. Chinzo Machida

Another fantastic storyline, and a fight full of potential, goes down in the co-main event of the Bellator 180 card on Spike TV. Old lion vs. young lion, but two fighters with almost the same number of fights in professional MMA. Twenty years between them. The brother of UFC star and former light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida vs. the teammate of Conor McGregor, who could some day be Bellator’s own version of the Irish sensation.

Machida (5-2) has been on a roll since finally focusing his attention on MMA last year. This will mark his third fight in roughly a year, and he told Cageside Press that he’s looking to continue that pace — and that he’s “ready to WAR!

That’s good, because “The Strabanimal” (6-0) is looking to make it a war, claiming he intends to finish the fight and choke Machida out on the ground. This has the potential to steal the show, as Gallagher has won four of six fights by rear-naked choke, and fans know how skilled the Machidas are at striking, with their Karate base.

1. Phil Davis (c) vs. Ryan Bader

Arguably the biggest title fight Bellator has to offer right now, Davis vs. Bader happened essentially by chance. Newly signed UFC veteran and top-five light heavyweight Ryan Bader was expected to face King Mo Lawal at Bellator 180.

That bout alone would be enough to headline many a Bellator MMA card, but an injury to Mo put the kibosh on that fight. Instead of finding any warm body to fill in, however, Bellator was lucky enough to have its reigning 205lb champion, Phil Davis, step up, making a good light heavyweight title eliminator a great rematch (the pair first fought in the UFC), with gold on the line.

Davis (17–3 (1)) has been perfect so far in Bellator, winning the promotion’s single-night light heavyweight tournament in 2015 at Bellator 142: Dyanamite, then following that up with wins over King Mo and subsequent to that, champ Liam McGeary.

Now, Davis owns the gold, something that eluded both him and Ryan Bader in the UFC, despite their high standing in the 205lb division. Bader (22-5) will look to be the next crossover success story come Saturday, and the question is, will this simply be a rehash of their close battle in 2015? Bader won a split decision that night, but this bout could easily go either way.

For his part, Davis told Cageside Press that he does not plan on letting it go to the judges this time. Can he finish Bader? Will Bader jump right to the top of the Bellator light heavyweight heap? We’ll find out Saturday.

Bellator 180 takes place Jun 24 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, and airs on Spike TV prior to the Bellator NYC Pay-per-View.