Bellator MMA has a big show coming up, no pun intended. At Bellator 183 this coming weekend (Saturday, September 23 to be exact), Roy “Big Country” Nelson, he of the granite chin and crushing right hand, will make his promotional debut. The event, headlined by former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson facing Patricky Pitbull, takes place at the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
If you’ve yet to get aboard the Bellator bandwagon, this might just be the card to do it. While the promotion has had its struggles, and went a little too far down the freakshow fight road in recent years, Bellator has had a strong 2017 so far, and it only appears to be getting stronger. Lorenz Larkin, Rory MacDonald, and Ryan Bader all made their promotional debuts this year, and Nelson is up next, followed by Gegard Mousasi and likely Valerie LeTourneau. These key acquisitions aren’t just fading legends of yesteryear good for a nostalgia trip or two, but key additions to their respective divisions. Ones that make Bellator MMA all the more respectable.
The company has also shown a knack from snapping up top prospects of late, especially from the collegiate wrestling world. So with all that in mind, will you be watching Saturday night? Here’s five reasons why you should be.
5. Brooke Mayo Gets a Second Chance to Make a First Impression
It’s not often that an 0-1 fighter gets noticed on an MMA card. At Bellator 183, there are two of them worthy of mention. Brooke Mayo’s Bellator MMA debut was also her professional debut, and it didn’t go exactly as planned. In the third round, a hematoma over her eye led to a stoppage despite Mayo protesting that she could see. While it’s important for all involved to protect fighter safety, ultimately, there was no underlying injury, just a nasty bump. Sure, it looked bad, but so did Matt Mitrone’s own alien-like growth, not to mention Mark Hominick’s. Mayo would later question if the stoppage was related to the fact that she’s a girl, and that’s something to consider.
In the meantime, she finally gets her second chance here. It’s not really a first impression, but fans are likely a lot more aware of her this time out thanks to the media coverage of the aftermath of her first fight. For many, this will be their first introduction to Brooke Mayo, and she’s no doubt hoping to make things right. 5-1 as an amateur, she wants to get back in the win column. You can catch her on the prelims at bellator.spike.com on Saturday.
4. Lorenz Larkin vs. Paul Daley Looks Nasty
Lorenz Larkin really, really doesn’t like Paul Daley, to the point that he doesn’t even want to talk about the man. Speaking to MMA Junkie in the build up to Bellator 183, Bellator PR noted that Larkin wouldn’t be discussing his upcoming opponent. What Larkin did let slip was telling. “I don’t. I’ve never not liked somebody like this guy. I’ve never had a problem in my whole career with a fighter. This is a fighter that I genuinely don’t like.”
Ouch. Not that Larkin is the first fighter Daley has rubbed the long way — lets not forget the Josh Koscheck feud. Beyond that, Larkin feels Daley is a one dimensional fighter, albeit with name value. A name he can use to get back to the title.
For Daley, who has called Larkin “below the level of fighter that I’m used to fighting,” this fight is about getting back in the win column. Daley was submitted by top welterweight Rory MacDonald earlier this year. Yet curiously, he seems more interested in a possible grudge match with Michael “Venom” Page than his upcoming fight. That said, the British fighter always brings the potential for fireworks, so this is one fight that should not be missed.
3. Aaron Pico Looks to Redeem Himself
MMA fans love redemption stories nearly as much as they love underdog stories. With that in consideration, Aaron Pico vs. Justin Linn should be must-see TV on Saturday. Pico was rocked prior to being choked out in his MMA debut at Bellator NYC in June. Zach Freeman became the man of the hour, the spoiler who ruined the highly touted rookie’s coming out party.
Many questioned whether Pico should have taken an easier opponent, but the wrestling standout looks to be staying the course. New opponent Justin Linn is 7-3 as a professional, and told Cageside Press that he’s eager to showcase his skills on a grand stage at Bellator 183.
For Pico, who is dropping to featherweight (while Linn moves up from bantamweight), a win here is a must. For Linn, he has a chance to make a name for himself with fans despite having already battled with some tough competition on the regional circuit.
2. Benson Henderson’s (maybe) Last Stand
Don’t get us wrong — we’re not expecting Bellator 183 to be the last time Benson Henderson fights. However, “Smoth” has undeniably struggled since leaving the UFC for Bellator. Exiting the Ultimate Fighting Championship on a two-fight win streak at welterweight, he dropped an immediate title shot against Andre Koreshkov at welterweight in his Bellator debut. Following that, he went 1-1 back at lightweight, defeating Patricio Freire thanks to a leg injury in a fight that was looking iffy for Bendo, then losing a split decision in a lightweight title fight against Michael Chandler.
Henderson returns at Bellator 183 against the “other” Pitbull brother, Patricky. The WEC and UFC standout no doubt still has dreams of adding a third major title to his collection, but time is growing short. Speaking to Sherdog.com, Henderson said recently that “I don’t have too many more fights left in my body.” The man who once said he’d retire at 33 has decided to keep going a little longer, but with potentially just a few fights left, he needs to start his march back to the title now.
1. Big Country’s Big Ol’ Bellator Debut
A fan favorite for years in the UFC and winner of The Ultimate Fighter 10, you always know what you’re getting with a Roy Nelson fight. He’s going to walk forward, have his right hand ready to fire, and throw some bombs. The high level ground game he’s fabled to have? Maybe, just maybe, this fight will be the one he uses it in (and inevitably, that never happens). He either knocks a guy out, or gets pummeled, but rarely finished. Only Mark Hunt was able to put him down in the UFC, and that was a flash knockout.
The problem is that Nelson has become so one-dimensional, guys in the UFC had him figured out. He changed up his game a little against Derek Lewis, but that backfired (despite a number of fellow fighters and media members seeing the fight for Nelson, Lewis took home a split decision win).
In Bellator’s relatively shallow heavyweight waters, however? Big Country just became the biggest fish in the pond. He holds knockouts over fellow big men Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo, and with names like Fedor Emelianenko and Sergei Kharitonov also in the division, there are a number of chances to watch Roy Nelson put fighters to sleep.
That’s not a bad thing. At Bellator 183, Nelson will take on Javy Ayala. While not quite a household name, Ayala is the man who knocked out Kharitonov his the Russian slugger’s Bellator debut, so this is a more dangerous fight than it seems. Not that you should bet against Big Country here.