The Bellator cage will be set up at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut as the first semifinal in the heavyweight world grand prix takes place when Matt “Meathead” Mitrione faces Ryan “Darth” Bader. The current light heavyweight champion, Bader, is a -325 favorite for this bout with Mitrione coming back at +250.
The second semifinal of the heavyweight grand prix goes Saturday night at Bellator 208 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum between Fedor Emelianenko and Chael Sonnen.
Ryan Bader vs Matt Mitrione
Bader (-325) is a well-rounded fighter who has good power in his hands mixed with a strong wrestling game. Since leaving the UFC in 2016 to join Bellator, he has rattled off three straight victories, including earning a TKO win over Linton Vassell to win the Bellator light heavyweight championship at Bellator 186. Bader hasn’t defended his title as he was thrust into the heavyweight grand prix and won his quarterfinal matchup against King Mo in 15 seconds via TKO at Bellator 199.
Mitrione (+250) has also found success since making the jump from the UFC to Bellator in 2016. Meathead has picked up four straight wins, the longest win streak since he won five straight to begin his professional career, with three of those four wins coming by T/KO. One of Mitrione’s victories during this current streak came against Fedor Emelianenko, one of the fighters in the other semifinal of the heavyweight grand prix. The 40-year-old stopped “The Last Emperor” via TKO in the first round at Bellator 180 before the grand prix began.
This is a big step up in size for Bader as he has never fought anyone as big as Mitrione. Meathead’s striking looked much improved in his last fight against Roy Nelson in their quarterfinal match at Bellator 194 and if he can put together combinations as he did in that fight, it could be a rough night for Bader. However, Darth has a fantastic wrestling pedigree and if he is able to muscle Mitrione to the ground and contain him, then it’ll be his hand raised in the end.
Prediction: Matt Mitrione (+250) via knockout
Roy Nelson vs Sergei Kharitonov
Returning to the Bellator cage for the first time since March of 2017 is Sergei Kharitonov (+255) as he takes on the resilient Roy “Big Country” Nelson (-335). Kharitonov has won nine of his last 10 fights, winning six of those bouts by T/KO, while his only loss came via a first-round knockout against Javy Ayala. He will attempt to do what only two men have ever done, and that is knock out Roy Nelson.
Big Country has a ridiculous chin that has been tested by many men but only Andrei Arlovski in 2008 and Mark Hunt in 2014 were able to knock him out. Nelson constantly moves forward looking to land his wild-swinging right hand because if he connects, it’s usually lights out for his opponent. The 42-year-old has been on a win-one, lose-one streak over his last seven fights, and is coming off a majority-decision defeat to Mitrione in the quarterfinal of the heavyweight grand prix. Expect these two fighters to stand toe to toe and don’t blink as it may be over quick.
Prediction: Roy Nelson (-335) via decision
Lorenz Larkin vs Ion Pascu
This is an alternate fight for the welterweight grand prix as Lorenz “The Monsoon” Larkin (-800) takes on last-minute replacement Ion “Bombardierul” Pascu. Originally, Larkin was supposed to fight Yaroslav Amosov, but an injury forced Amosov off the card, then Erick Silva was forced to withdraw with an injury, so up stepped Pascu.
Larkin is 3-2 in his last five fights, losing to knockout specialist Paul Daley and via a unanimous decision to former welterweight champion Douglas Lima at Bellator 180. The Monsoon rebounded from those two losses with a decision win over Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 193 and has his sights set on being a replacement in the welterweight grand prix. Larkin is a sprawl-and-brawl type of fighter, electing to keep most of his fights standing so he can throw hands. Eleven of his 19 professional victories have come via T/KO.
This is just the second career Bellator fight for Pascu as he was a last-minute replacement at Bellator 196 against Ed Ruth, which resulted in a unanimous-decision defeat in that bout. Bombardierul is a well-rounded fighter who has a record of 18-8 with nine wins by T/KO, four by submission and five by decision. The Romania native has gone to decision in four of his last five fights and has split those decisions 2-2 while earning a knockout victory in between.
I expect Pascu to try to get this fight on the mat but it may be hard to do against a dangerous fighter in Larkin. The Monsoon has been to the Sportsbook of the sport fighting for a championship and has all the tools to get his opponents out of the cage. Larkin will look to keep this fight on the feet where he can put together his devastating combinations.
Prediction: Lorenz Larkin (-800) via knockout
Kevin Ferguson Jr. vs Corey Browning
Kevin “Baby Slice” Ferguson Jr. (-750) looks to extend his three-fight winning streak as he takes on fellow grappler Corey Browning (+475). Son of Kimbo Slice, Ferguson Jr. was submitted in his professional debut at Bellator 165 but has rattled off three straight victories since, including back-to-back rear-naked chokes in his last two fights. Browning brings in a 2-1 record with each fight ending via submission, with his two wins coming via a triangle choke and an armbar while his loss came by a rear-naked choke. Expect these two submission specialists to hit the floor and work on their grappling.
Prediction: Kevin Ferguson Jr. (-750) via submission
Carrington Banks vs Mandel Nallo
Carrington “Jetsetter” Banks (-175) looks to rebound from his first career loss when he tries to knock off undefeated Mandel Nallo (+145). Banks began his professional career with seven straight wins, with his last four victories coming by decision, but was stopped in the first round by rear-naked choke against Adam Piccolotti at Bellator 199. Meanwhile, Nallo enters the cage for the first time since December of last year when he earned a first-round head kick knockout win in just 18 seconds against Alec Williams. The undefeated Canadian has never had a fight go out of the second round, winning four fights by submission and two via head kick knockouts.
Prediction: Mandel Nallo (+145) via submission