Bellator Matchmaker: Who’s Next For Bellator 223’s Main Card Fighters?

Rafael Lovato Bellator 223
Rafael Lovato Jr. Credit: Bellator MMA

After a wild weekend in London, we take a look at what could be next for all 16 fighters on Bellator 223’s main card.

Many people this side of the pond may be confused as to how we got there, but we eventually did arrive at the conclusion of a wacky and wild Bellator 223 in London. A new middleweight champion now reigns supreme in Bellator’s 185-pound division, and plenty of other fighters picked up critical wins for their careers as well. Here’s who I would match each Bellator 223 main card fighter with, next.

Raphael Lovato Jr. vs. Lyoto Machida

The culmination of a mere five years work beautifully blossomed from a world Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion’s determination to be a world champion in another discipline on Saturday, as Raphael Lovato Jr. carefully went about his gameplan to stun Gegard Mousasi and capture Bellator gold. 

Lovato’s next challenge solely depends on how the landscape shifts for the fire-breathing one waiting in the wings, and by that, I speak of Lyoto Machida’s decision to stay or move back down from his last contracted weight of 205 pounds. Should he opt to move down, I’m sure Bellator would be itching to get him a title shot as soon as possible given his track record.

Gegard Mousasi vs. John Salter

In what some would coin as a relatively underwhelming stint with Bellator thus far, Gegard Mousasi took his first defeat under the promotional banner thus relinquishing his middleweight title to new champion Raphael Lovato Jr. Mousasi could be considered for an immediate rematch year, however, if he is not, he can stamp himself right back amongst the division’s elite by holding off surging contender John Salter. 

Melvin Manhoef vs. Phil Davis

The living legend in the form of a Dutch mixed martial artist in Bellator’s light heavyweight division got his first win in nearly four years on Saturday, outgunning the hometown favorite in Kent Kauppinen.

Manhoef’s win did not go unnoticed, as Kauppinen’s stock as a fighter had never been higher than it was coming into this contest. If the legendary figure opts to remain at 205, Phil Davis is a guy who is also coming off a win, and has practically fought everybody else there is for him to possibly fight in that division. This would be a fun matchup, and one Bellator could use in just about any capacity.

Kent Kauppinen vs. James Mulheron

Failing to capitalize on the momentum that brought him as high as the next-to-last fight on a card as massive as this one was, Kent Kauppinen just didn’t quite muster enough offense to get by Melvin Manhoef on Saturday. 

Kauppinen’s local heritage makes him a prime target for billings on their European Series shows, one role fellow British light heavyweight James Mulheron has taken on as of late himself. Mulheron is coming off a decision loss to Lee Chadwick.

Aaron Chalmers vs. Promotional Newcomer

Aaron Chalmers bounced back into the win column in style Saturday night, and the ‘Geordie Shore’ cast sat front and center to witness his second-round submission victory over the 2-1 Fred Freeman in his sophomore campaign for the promotion.

Until we see Corey Browning fight again, I’d say we should hold off on gauging just how high the ceiling is for Aaron Chalmers, or ‘Baby Slice’ for that matter. 

Lob him another softball, Scott.

Fred Freeman: Fight outside the promotion

Fred Freeman entered his Bellator debut as a sacrificial lamb with a winning record, at least. However, he was clearly outmatched by a relatively green fighter himself in Aaron Chalmers. Freeman was brought in as a ‘sacrificial lamb’ per say against ‘Baby slice’ in 2017, and was choked out inside of two minutes. This time around, he was choked out inside of two rounds. I doubt Bellator brings him back on an immediate basis.

Paul Daley vs. Andrey Koreshkov

Paul Daley did just about everything he could to win, except finish his opponent through fifteen minutes of his main event (I think?) slot opposite former UFC welterweight Erick Silva. Daley swarmed the Brazilian in the second round, nearly scoring the finish of the relative promotional newcomer. 

Think about this; Daley and Koreshkov combine for 85 professional fights, with 27 of them coming under the Bellator promotional banner. And these two haven’t fought yet? 

Erick Silva vs. Lorenz Larkin

Erick Silva failed once again on Saturday to re-gather the momentum that saw him emerge as a top welterweight prospect once upon a time, losing a fairly one-sided decision to Paul Daley.

Silva drops to 0-2 in Bellator, has lost four of his last five and six of his last eight spanning back to 2015. Silva and Larkin were originally booked to fight at Bellator 207 last October.

James Gallagher vs. Patrick Mix

Bellator’s favorite Irish firecracker outworked a game opponent in the form of a natural featherweight in Jeremiah Labiano. Gallagher now makes it back-to-back wins since his first professional defeat to Ricky Bandejas last August.

Call me crazy, and call it unlikely, but I found Patrick Mix’s callout of James Gallagher just over a week ago inside Madison Square Garden as an admirable move from the blue-chip prospect. It appears to be an evenly-matched fight, between two grappling specialists. Bellator has been rumored to be returning to Dublin in September, where Gallagher will all but surely be one half of the main event. So my question is, why not?

Jeremiah Labiano vs. Adil Benjilany

In what was a valiant effort, Jeremiah Labiano ultimately came up short in his bid to play spoiler and rain on James Gallagher’s parade. Labiano fell to an unflattering mark of 12-7, and is now all square at 3-3 inside of the Bellator cage.

I’m not very supportive of the notion that includes Labiano in the featherweight tournament, unless he’s serving some sort of alternate role. Adil Benjilany is another Bellator featherweight I believe fits that mold, and is also coming off a loss, a submission loss to Cris Lencioni back in May at Bellator 221.

Fabian Edwards vs. Leo Leite

Fabian Edwards once again looked fantastic against a grossly overmatched opponent on Saturday, and looked impressive despite failing to secure the finish. Brother of UFC welterweight contender Leon, Edwards is now 8-0 as a professional pushing his record to 4-0 inside the Bellator cage.

I’m not sure whether or not they’ll actually serve him up a true test in his next fight, but I’m willing to meet squarely in the middle between expectation and necessity. Leo Leite is 10-2 as a professional, but 0-2 inside the Bellator cage and has not fought since dropping a decision to Chris Honeycutt last July.

Jonathan Bosuku: Fight outside the promotion

Bosuku was largely outclassed, and rarely in control of a fight he was likely brought in to lose in the first place.

Despite entering the weekend on a five-fight win streak, Bosuku was outmatched from the start and is unlikely to get a call to return.

Costello van Steenis: Rafael Carvalho/Chidi Njokuani Winner

Outside of our new middleweight champion, the Dutch prospect Costello van Steenis was the only underdog on the card to score a victory across the pond Saturday night. Van Steenis has now won six fights in a row, and all four of them under the Bellator banner. 

This was a massive win for the 26-year old, as he officially stamps himself as a legitimate threat in this middleweight division. Testing him with whoever comes out of the Carvalho-Njokuani matchup would be the perfect measuring stick to determine whether or not ‘The Spaniard’ is ready for his shot at the title.

Mike Shipman vs. Charlie Ward

Mike Shipman was riding a 13-fight win streak heading into his fight with Costello van Steenis, all of those wins coming by way of finish, and was certainly on the doorstep of a middleweight title shot. 

Unfortunately, one elbow in the clinch during round two was the beginning of the end, and the British middleweight upstart now heads back to the drawing board.

With Bellator’s return to Ireland looming this Fall, Shipman could easily get a call to be featured on that card. A fun fight in which we can see what we could learn about both guys, a Charlie Ward matchup in Ireland makes all the sense in the world.

Charlie Ward vs. Mike Shipman

It’s crazy to imagine that just under two years ago, Charlie Ward was a member of the UFC’s middleweight roster. Four knockouts later, Ward’s stock is as high as it’s ever been as a fighter. The only problem is, with a combined record of 22-21, those four opponents his knockout streak spans across tell us that we’re not sure just yet how good he’s really become.

In what would certainly be a fun fight for the local, and international fans, a matchup with Mike Shipman would be an ideal measuring tool as to just how good Charlie Ward can be.

Taylor Moore: Fight outside the promotion

While it wasn’t all downhill all the time for the promotional newcomer, Taylor Moore ultimately succumbed to strikes on the ground to the SBG centerfold Charlie Ward in round two.

Moore is 34, and has now lost his last two fights, being finished in the second round of both. Unless Bellator needs a short-notice replacement on a European card prelim, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Moore’s next appearance inside the Bellator cage.