Bellator Matchmaker: Who’s Next for Bellator 222’s Main Card Fighters?

Rory MacDonald vs. Neiman Gracie in the cage at Bellator 222
Rory MacDonald vs. Neiman Gracie Credit: Bellator MMA

Following an event that had everything from flash knockouts to technical mastery, we look ahead to what makes sense going forward for Bellator 222’s main card fighters.

The world’s most famous arena received the Bellator MMA treatment on Friday night, gathering some of the promotion’s finest in efforts to put on a stacked card with some of the best talent the company had to offer. In the main event, a new title challenger, in the form of MMA royalty. Neiman Gracie had his moments throughout the fight. However, it was the champion Rory MacDonald that walked out of the garden with his title, ultimately securing a place in the welterweight grand prix final opposite former foe Douglas Lima.

There were several noteworthy performances on Friday night’s card, spanning far beyond the six-fight main course served up at the end of the night. However, my job is to forecast what’s next for the main card fighters, and as a result, here are the fights that make sense in the immediate future for each fighter from Bellator 222’s main card.

Rory MacDonald: Douglas Lima in Welterweight Grand Prix Final

There was a large shadow of doubt cast upon Rory MacDonald’s career just a couple of short months ago, as a lackluster performance led to a draw with former UFC title challenger Jon Fitch. Not only was MacDonald’s lack of offensive prowess a cause for concern, but his post-fight interview in which he explained his lack of motivation to ‘hurt people’ created even more red flags for fans of the Red King.

Those concerns were, at least for the time being, put to rest on Friday as Rory MacDonald largely controlled the majority of a five-round unanimous decision victory. MacDonald now sets up a highly-anticipated rematch with the man he took the title from last January in Douglas Lima.

Neiman Gracie: Paul Daley-Erick Silva loser

Neiman Gracie’s time as a world champion may still be on the horizon, however his long-awaited opportunity at the title fell through the cracks over the weekend when he lost a unanimous decision to Rory MacDonald.

Clearly the promotion is past the stage in which they would bring Gracie along in a conservative manner, as his inclusion in the grand prix, let alone his semi-final appearance proves that narrative to be true. It would make sense for Gracie’s next opponent to also be coming off a loss, and the lesser-fortunate party between Paul Daley and Erick Silva seems to check all the boxes. Daley and Silva will face off next Saturday in the co-main event across the pond.

Lyoto Machida: Gegard Mousasi-Raphael Lovato Jr. Winner

It was a miracle it took as long as it did, but nevertheless the ‘Dragon’ roared once again by stopping Chael Sonnen in the second round with a flying knee into ground and pound.

Chael Sonnen: Retirement

The ‘American Gangster’ himself called it a career on Friday night following a disappointing outing that resulted in a second round TKO  loss opposite former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.

Chael’s career is one that you would think most will remember fondly. Simply put:

Happy retirement to the Bad Guy.

Dillon Danis: Promotional Newcomer

Whether it was Mauro Ranallo or Danis himself that was less surprised at the inevitability that was a round one tap out, you could make the case that Danis took a little longer than most expected to get it. On the flip side however, Danis was able to score valuable cage time and even put some of his skills in the ground and pound department on display.

Danis will likely continue to be pampered by the promotion after only two professional fights, and should be lobbed another softball in his next fight.

Max Humphrey: Fight outside of the promotion

Max Humphrey came in to this fight as an 11-to-1 underdog, and the pre-fight betting fixtures proved to be accurate following the first round armbar at which Humphrey was forced to tap out to. Humphrey will likely be cast out of the party going forward.

Patrick Mix: James Gallagher-Jeremiah Labiano Winner

Patrick Mix may have made the biggest statement on the entire card Friday night, depending on who you ask. Mix hi-jacked the hype train formerly led by Ricky Bandejas, getting the former CFFC champion out of there early with a rear-naked choke that took just over a minute to score the tap from.

In a division that, while growing, is still somewhat shallow, Mix’s track record paired with his debut performance opposite Bandejas should thrust him into high-level competition right away. Mix called for James Gallagher after the fight, and unless the promotion plans on continuing to build Gallagher up, that fight makes sense granted he gets past Jeremiah Labiano next Saturday.

Ricky Bandejas: Shawn Bunch

It seems as though Ricky Bandejas’ highlight-reel knockout of James Gallagher is now a distant memory, as Bandejas dropped his second fight in as many outings since his scintillating debut on Friday night. Bandejas’ career trajectory likely will need to take some sort of a dip, without completely bailing from the division’s sample size of elite fighters. Shawn Bunch last defeated Dominic Mazzotta back in March, and is 9-3 as a pro and 2-0 for the promotion.

Juan Archuleta: Henry Corrales in Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix

The overhand right may start becoming a trademark shot for Juan Archuleta, as a devastating punch of that variety landed flush and put Eduardo Dantas down on Friday. Archuleta’s 18 fight win streak, paired with his perfect 5-0 start to his Bellator tenure certainly warrants a title shot at either 135 or 145. Archuleta likely will not get it right away however, as Bellator’s bantamweight division now sits in a mysterious state following Kyoji Horiguchi’s victory. If Archuleta puts his name in the hat for the featherweight tournament, Corrales would present a solid first round fixture.

Eduardo Dantas: Pat Curran

Unfortunately for the former two-time bantamweight champion, one second was all he needed to survive the second round against Juan Archuleta. He didn’t get it, and was floored by a huge right hand to put Dantas back in the loss column. If Dantas plans to stick around at 145, matching up with another former champion coming off a loss in Pat Curran would make a ton of sense.

Kyoji Horiguchi: RIZIN Bantamweight title defense

Lightning certainly struck twice, and this time it was at the Garden. Kyoji Horiguchi now reigns as the RIZIN Bantamweight champion, and is also the Bellator bantamweight champion. Where things could go from here, it’s a little bit of a puzzle to try to solve.

Horiguchi’s options at this point are in abundance, however he is contractually obliged to defend the belt at least one time in a year span until he loses or relinquishes the title. Horiguchi’s next bout will likely be under the RIZIN banner, before he comes back to defend his shiny new belt, if I had to guess.

Darrion Caldwell: Sam Sicilia in Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix

The general consensus going into Horiguchi-Caldwell 2 was that Caldwell should have had a solid opportunity to get one back, given the travel, size difference, and most importantly the switch from a ring to a cage.

However, sometimes certain guys just have your number. That is exactly what seems to be the case with this particular pairing, as Horiguchi may have proven once and for all his case as the better fighter.

Until Horiguchi, Caldwell was dominant inside the cage throughout his short-lived title reign. Now that the dust has settled with Caldwell remaining beltless, a move up to 145 pounds makes a lot of sense with the impending featherweight grand prix set to begin in the fall.