Three big events mean three sets of staff picks from Cageside Press, starting with Friday night’s Bellator 215 card.

Staff Writers
Vanderford vs. Jones
Kimbel vs. Douma
Dantas vs. Misech
Storley vs. Pascu
Mitrione vs. Kharitonov
Drake Riggs (19-2)
Jason Payne (19-2)
Jay Anderson (18-3)
Mike McClory (5-1)
Paarth Pande (17-4)
Heath Harshman (16-5)
Alex Scaffidi (16-5)
Josh Evanoff (16-5)
Joe McDonagh (16-5)
Ben Smith (3-1)
Gabriel Gonzalez (15-6)
Mike Straus (15-6)
Steve King (14-7)
Jesse Gillette (14-7)
Shawn Bitter (14-7)
Eddie Law (13-8)
Dan Doherty (12-9)
Rodney James Edgar (1-3)

Bellator 215, the first of two back-to-back cards from Bellator this weekend, is headlined by heavyweights Matt Mitrione and Sergei Kharitonov. Mitrione is looking to bounce back from his first loss in Bellator, which came against two-division champion Ryan Bader in the semi-finals of the Heavyweight Grand Prix. Kharitonov is one of the greatest heavyweight strikers in history, with a 28-6 record and 15 knockouts. The Russian is coming off a blistering knockout over Roy Nelson. Mitrione was given a slight 10-8 edge by the staff.

The co-main event is a welterweight battle between undefeated prospect Logan Storley and Ion Pascu. Storley was a four-time All-American wrestler at the University of Minnesota and has transitioned those skills into MMA with a 9-0 record, five of which were in the Bellator cage. Pascu is an SBG Ireland trained fighter with an 18-9 record, but is 0-2 with his current promotion after facing top welterweights Lorenz Larkin and Ed Ruth. All but one writer picked Storley.

Former bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas will face Toby Misech. Dantas is a two-time champion who defended his belt a total of three times (fourth defense was made when opponent missed weight). However, he is currently on a two-fight losing streak, falling to Darrion Caldwell and Michael McDonald. Misech opened eyes with a flying knee KO on the prelims of his promotional debut, earning him a fight with the former champion. Overall, he is 11-6 in his MMA career. Dantas was unanimously picked.

Mike Kimbel looks to strike lightning three times in his third pro fight. His first two fights were with Bellator and they’ve ended with a 63-second knockout and a record-tying six-second knockout. John Douma is his opponent and after starting his career at 3-0, he suffered his first pro loss in his last fight. Only three writers picked against Kimbel.

Austin Vanderford, the husband of Paige VanZant, will be making his promotional debut to open the Bellator 215 main card. He has a submission victory on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series under his belt, but it was not enough to earn him a UFC contract. He’s 6-0 in his MMA career, and will look to stay undefeated against Cody Jones. Jones is 6-2 in his career, stopping five of those victories, and will be riding a four-fight win streak into this contest. Vanderford was unanimously picked.

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