The third installment of Bellator’s World Grand Prix goes down Saturday as the main event for Bellator 198 features a battle between heavyweight legends Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir.
Even though the headliner will draw attention on its own, there’s a lot to look out for on the rest of the Paramount-televised main card taking place at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. From action fighters to Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenoms, Bellator has put together a supporting cast that could produce some highlights.
Below is what we’ll be watching for this weekend.
Bellator 198’s co-main event features a fun matchup between featherweights Emmanuel Sanchez and Sam Sicilia.
Sanchez (16-3 MMA, 8-2 BMMA) has quietly been stacking wins for some time, earning his last three over former Bellator champions. And with his highest-profile slot before him, the man who calls himself “El Matador” will be looking to further state his case for a title shot.
Sanchez is a well rounded fighter who brings a lot of skills to the table. Fueled by what appears to be a reliable gas tank, Sanchez works at an excellent pace that only builds with time. The Roufusport product also puts together combinations nicely, punctuating with a variety of weapons that range from switch-kicks to spinning assaults.
On the floor, Sanchez works well when transitioning from topside but is no slouch when put on his back. Whether he wants to attack from his guard or create scrambles, Sanchez will have a dance partner that’s more than willing.
Sicilia (16-8 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) is a fighter who never needs a warning for timidity. A slugger from when he first stepped onto the scene, the former UFC fighter has held a reputation for his willingness to go to war. Relying heavily upon his hammer of a right hand, Sicilia will unabashedly unleash it coming forward or off the counter.
Coming from a wrestling base, Sicilia wields an underrated takedown and scrambling ability. And with his propensity to headhunt following him to the floor, he rains down ground strikes like he’s a lumberjack chopping wood. Coupled with the steady improvements to his overall game, Sicilia carries a renewed sense of confidence with him into the Bellator cage.
Between Sicilia’s heavy-handed pressure and Sanchez’s unrelenting output, this matchup could surprise many by stealing the show. And with this bout carrying weight for the next contender for Bellator’s featherweight title, expect each fighter to bring his A-game.
In an interesting welterweight showcase that was originally supposed to go down at Bellator 185, Neiman Gracie will take on Javier Torres.
Gracie (7-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA), comes from a legendary lineage that needs no introduction. Great-nephew to Royce Gracie and training under Renzo Gracie, Neiman Gracie brings all the attributes you would associate with the family’s fighting style.
From his favored outside trips off the bodylock to duck-unders to take the back, Gracie demonstrates a preternatural composure to combat when working through the phases. The 29-year-old Brazilian’s striking might still be developing, but he shows steady improvements each time out. Still, it’s no secret that Gracie wants to get things to the floor, a place where he can truly shine.
Unlike many of the Gracies who came before him, Neiman uniquely took to the art of no-gi grappling early on, earning medals with both the World No-Gi Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Pan Jiu-jitsu No-Gi Championships. Those experiences have allowed him to translate his brand of grappling seamlessly to MMA, displaying the ability pass and advance to the back as if he’s just going through the paces.
Nevertheless, I will be interested to see if Gracie shows any new folds to his game when he tangles with his deceptively experienced counterpart.
Torres (10-3 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) has fought everywhere between Brazil, Mexico and all throughout the southwestern United States. The Mexican fighter also had a stint on Season 13 of “The Ultimate Fighter” but went 0-2 for his efforts.
Now riding a four-fight winning streak, the 33-year-old appears to be making another run. Since Torres’ injury that withdrew him from his original meeting with Gracie, he seems to be in top shape heading into this bout, training with the likes of Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway, amongst the rest of the Arizona collective.
A stalking southpaw, Torres offers up the jabs, hooks and crosses you would expect from that stance, punctuating with kicks when feeling in stride. However, Torres does tend to crash into the clinch in a lot of the footage I watched, which could come into play considering his opponent.
If Torres – who shows serviceable underhooks and understanding inside of the clinch – can keep things standing, then we may very well see Gracie taken into deep waters. Regardless of the outcome of this match, I will be most interested in seeing growth in Gracie’s game, something that makes a statement to the rest of the Bellator welterweight stable.
Originally slated to face John Salter, who was forced to withdraw with an injury, [autotag]Rafael Lovato Jr.[autotag] will instead welcome [autotag]Gerald Harris[autotag] to the Bellator cage.
Lovato Jr. (7-0 MMA, 3-0 BMMA), is most known for his Brazilian jiu-jitsu accolades, being just the second American (behind B.J. Penn) to win the World Jiu-jitsu Championships at the black-belt level. Since 2014, Lovato Jr. has successfully been competing in MMA. He’s currently riding an undefeated run against fighters with winning records.
Proving to be more than just a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter, Lovato Jr. has dusted off his past experiences in boxing to further add to his MMA arsenal. And with the help of Evolucao Thai in Brazil, the 34-year-old had rounded out his striking arsenal nicely, adding in heavy kicks when feeling in stride.
Despite his lack of traditional wrestling takedowns, Lovato Jr. has an array of entries into his jiu-jitsu game. Whether he is working from the bodylock or dropping down for a deep-half series (a la Demian Maia), Lovato Jr. wastes little time when able to transition to the back. Given the strong wrestling ability of his opponent, I will be curious to see the path Lovato Jr. takes.
Harris (25-5 MMA, 0-0 BMMA), is a former collegiate wrestler who has fought everywhere from the UFC, IFL, Dream, and Legacy Fighting Championships. Despite dabbling with retirement in the recent chapters of his career, Harris has expressed his desire to still compete and put on entertaining shows.
With more than wrestling throughout his career, Harris wields undeniable power in both hands that he harnesses well. From countering at range to his dirty boxing skills in the clinch, the 12-year pro will have a lot of dangerous offerings on the feet. And should Harris end up on the floor with Lovato Jr., he will be far from a fish out of water.
Aside from the wrestling ability that allows him to dictate terms, Harris displays solid positional awareness in scrambles and sticky situations that have allowed the 38-year-old to avoid an official submission loss on his record thus far.
Harris is taking this fight on less than one weeks’ notice, but he’s an experienced fighter who claims he’s been active since his last win, so I expect him to be competitive. As for Lovato Jr., he will have his opportunity to make his name more familiar with the MMA audience.
Kicking off the main card for Bellator 198 is the debut of [autotag]Dillon Danis[autotag], who faces [autotag]Kyle Walker[autotag] in a catchweight bout at 175 pounds.
Danis (0-0 MMA, 0-0 ), known by mainstream audiences for his affiliation with former UFC champion Conor McGregor, first came to prominence from his accomplishments on the grappling scene. Earning his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under the well respected Marcelo Garcia, Danis has achieved accolades in multiple IBJJF tournaments, including winning the Pan American No-Gi Championships in 2016.
Danis’ well-versed talents have earned him attention from fans and fighters alike as he now spends time training across the pond at SBG Ireland. Although there is no sample size for Danis as far as his striking is concerned, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has approached all of his competitions like fights and is no stranger to adversity. But as we know, MMA is a different animal, and despite Danis’ opponent being commensurate on paper, things quickly could go south if he’s not prepared for what’s coming at him.
Walker (2-4 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) has been competing on and off on the regional scene since 2013. A stoutly muscled southpaw, Walker wields all the traditional weapons of a lefty, from check-hooks, counter crosses and liver kicks. When feeling in stride, Walker will pressure opponents toward the fence, but I’m guessing he’ll want to keep distance from Danis.
In what footage was available, Walker did show serviceable ground skills, but his game is levels below his counterpart given the positional transitions (and fumbles) Walker has shown on smaller circuits. If he gets sucked into a ground fight with Danis, it could be a short night for the fighter who hails from Illinois. But should Walker keep things standing, then he might make things very interesting.
Regardless of this fight’s outcome, all eyes will be undoubtedly on Danis and his ability to back up the brash proclamations made in the lead-up to this much-anticipated debut.
[Reprinted with permission from MMA Junkie.]