Bellator MMA makes its lone appearance for July in Thackerville, Okla., at the WinStar World Casino & Resort with Bellator 181.
The event is headlined by a lightweight fight between Derek Campos and Brandon Girtz. This bout will be the rubber match between the two, who have thus far split the series. Campos took the first affair with a gritty unanimous decision victory at Bellator 96. The two fought again almost two years later, and Girtz earned the win with a quick TKO.
The co-headliner takes place in the middleweight division, where Kendall Grove meets John Salter. Salter has been on a tear, winning his first three fights for Bellator and riding a five-fight winning streak overall. Grove lost his last fight by knockout to Alexander Shlemenko in October. The defeat is his lone loss since his title outing against Brandon Halsey.
Also on the card, Jessica Middleton goes up against Emily Ducote in the women’s flyweight division. At bantamweight, company man Joe Warren looks to get back in the win column against Steve Garcia, Jr.
The Bellator 181 preliminary card streams live on Bellator.com at 6 p.m. ET. The main card action will air live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
The trilogy fight between Derek Campos and Brandon Girtz takes the headliner spot. Can Campos and Girtz deliver?
Hopefully this wasn’t meant as a slight against Valérie Létourneau, a big signing for the promotion who was originally slated to make her promotional debut at Bellator 181. If it was meant as a move thinking ahead about the possibility of Létourneau withdrawing from the event, it was a smart one in hindsight.
Campos and Girtz aren’t a bad option, though. Campos is 7-3 in this run with Bellator, with his only losses coming to Girtz, Michael Chandler and Patricky Freire. Campos boasts victories over Derek Anderson, Melvin Guillard and, of course, Girtz.
Girtz is another one of the better lightweights on the roster. The 32-year-old was able to spoil the Bellator debut of Guillard and even stepped up to face Fernando Gonzalez at a catchweight of 174 pounds to help bolster Bellator 174.
Both guys can certainly deliver in this slot. Campos fought the aforementioned Anderson in his last fight, and it turned out to be one of the better fights of the early going this year. Girtz can certainly be entertaining — four of his six victories in Bellator have come by finish.
This trilogy match makes sense. Campos could be one of the next in line for a title shot once the promotion figures out the logistics of a rematch between Chandler and Brent Primus.
UFC veterans Kendall Grove and John Salter meet in the evening’s co-main event. Salter is on a five-fight winning streak, all stoppages, and has won three in a row inside the Bellator cage. Does a win over Grove punch Salter’s ticket to a title shot? Can Salter get past Grove?
With the recent signing of Gegard Mousasi by Bellator, Salter is looking at a tough case to argue his shot at the title no matter what he does in this fight. Salter has looked good so far in his three Bellator outings, where he’s beaten guys like Dustin Jacoby and former Bellator middleweight champion Brandon Halsey. He also won all three fights by finishing his opponent. The 32-year-old’s resume is certainly an impressive one.
Grove is certainly a good opponent for Salter. He has emerged as the middleweight gatekeeper for Bellator. Grove is a proven UFC veteran who has been decent during his Bellator tenure, posting a 4-3 record in the promotion and an appearance against Halsey for the middleweight title. However, Grove isn’t anywhere near the level of opponent Mousasi has faced recently in the UFC before making the move over to Bellator.
Bellator will continue the trend by giving its big free-agent signings a crack at the title in their first go with the promotion. The company did this with former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson, current light heavyweight titleholder Ryan Bader and even with veterans like Lorenz Larkin. Phil Davis got the same treatment, albeit in a four-man, one-night tournament for the light heavyweight crown.
Salter can certainly get past Grove. Grove’s biggest advantage comes in his size, but he never really mastered his range. Grove does possess a decent enough guard game to make anybody worry about bringing this fight to the ground.
Salter has been on a roll recently, and his overall game looks dangerous. He should continue his trend against Grove.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Let’s skip to the preliminary card and single out Justin Lawrence and Treston Thomison.
Thomison’s Bellator career has been a mixed bag, but when he wins, he does it in style. All three of Thomison’s Bellator victories have been submissions. Lawrence, on the other hand, is a really flashy striker who, if given the space and the ability to settle into his striking, can knock out anyone. Both of Lawrence’s victories have come by way of knockout in Bellator, and even his loss to Emmanuel Sanchez was a closely contested split decision loss.
|Main Card (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Brandon Girtz vs. Derek Campos||Campos|
|MW: Kendall Grove vs. John Salter||Salter|
|Women’s FlyW: Jessica Middleton vs. Emily Ducote||Ducote|
|BW: Joe Warren vs. Steve Garcia, Jr.||Warren|
|Preliminary Card (Bellator.com, 6 p.m. ET)|
|MW: Romero Cotton vs. Arron Rodriguez||Cotton|
|MW: Rafael Lovato, Jr., vs. Mike Rhodes||Rhodes|
|FW: Justin Lawrence vs. Treston Thomison||Lawrence|
|HW: Valentin Moldavsky vs. Carl Seumanutafa||Seumanutafa|
|BW: Jordan Howard vs. Johnny Marigo||Marigo|
|WW: Andre Fialho vs. A.J. Matthews||Fialho|
|Women’s FW: Brittney Elkin vs. Amanda Bell||Bell|
|WW: Kemmyelle Haley vs. Logan Storley||Storley|
|WW: Will Florentino vs. Jonathan Gary||Gary|
|WW: E.J. Brooks vs. Guilherme Bomba||Brooks|
|Women’s FlyW: Katy Collins vs. Bruna Vargas||Vargas|
|WW: Guillermo Gomez vs. Fernando Trevino||Gomez|