The British invade the Bellator main card at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., this Friday for Bellator 134.
The top-billed fight on the card is current light heavyweight champion Emanuel Newton’s next title defense, which comes against tough British finisher Liam McGeary. Newton is coming off an exciting fight against Linton Vassell in which he defended his belt for the second time. McGeary has finished his last six opponents in the first round to improve to a perfect 9-0 record.
In the co-main event, Paul Daley gets a change in his fight. The British striker was originally scheduled to face welterweight champion Douglas Lima in a title tilt, but Lima was forced out with an injury. His first title defense will have to wait. Meanwhile, Andre Santos will look to spoil Daley’s title aspirations. Santos is coming off a unanimous decision victory over James Terry at Bellator 129.
Three more fights round out the main card. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou takes on the aforementioned Vassell at light heavyweight, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal moves up to heavyweight to face UFC veteran Cheick Kongo and late replacement Brennan Ward will take on Curtis Millender in a clash of welterweights.
The Bellator 134 preliminary card begins at 7 p.m. ET on Spike.com. The main card airs on Spike at 9 p.m. ET.
LHW Championship: Emanuel Newton (25-7-1) vs. Liam McGeary (9-0)
Light heavyweight champion Emanuel Newton makes his return to the cage against Liam McGeary, one of the most exciting fighters at in Bellator’s 205-pound division.
This could certainly be a successful cap to Bellator’s “British Invasion” event for McGeary, who has had a deadly run of knockouts and submissions in his young career. The 32-year-old, who has finished all of his opponents, is as dangerous as they come. He has not been out of the first round in his last six fights, all of which have taken place under the Bellator banner.
McGeary is definitely the more powerful striker in this match-up, but his ground game is often overlooked. The Brit has four submission victories, and his last one against Kelly Anundson was a spectacular inverted triangle choke. McGeary could potentially take the win by either submission or knockout. He does need work on his takedown defense, though, which is one area opponents could exploit.
Newton has decent hands and favors the spinning backfist, a move that put his name on the map when he used it to knock out Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. The 31-year-old also has a good chin, which he will definitely need against McGeary. One of Newton’s best assets is his sheer strength in scrambles. His fight with Linton Vassell included a great display of his scrambling ability. The fight also showed how tough Newton is as a fighter, just how good he is at getting out of bad positions and how much composure he has to recover from early trouble.
McGeary is easily going to be the bigger man in this contest. He towers a full five inches over Newton and possesses a six-inch reach advantage over the champ. The size advantage certainly helps McGeary with his takedown defense problem and should allow him to keep Newton at bay.
Everything in this fight screams that McGeary is going to bring it and end the fight early. The later the fight goes on, the more it swings in favor of Newton. McGeary’s gas tank is an unknown, as he hasn’t been out of the first round in quite some time. It could be terrible or it could be great, and that is the biggest x-factor in this fight.
This will end in an upset win for McGeary, but it isn’t a really big upset considering how this fight is quite even. McGeary should take it, but not in the first round. Instead, McGeary will put an exclamation point on the British invasion with a second-round knockout.
WW: Paul Daley (35-13-2) vs. Andre Santos (37-9)
Andre Santos steps in for the injured Douglas Lima against Paul “Semtex” Daley. Daley originally was slated to fight for Lima’s welterweight title. Now, he’ll fight a largely unheralded Brazilian and put his title aspirations on the line. After all, a loss here would scrap any plans Daley has for an immediate shot at Lima.
These are two very experienced fighters — both men have over 30 wins. That is only in terms of record, though, and not quality of opposition. In the latter area, Daley holds the edge with plenty of cage time against high-quality opponents in his UFC and Strikeforce days. The Brit is riding a two-fight winning streak, with both victories coming in the BAMMA cage. The 32-year-old went back to his deadly knockout ways in those two fights and finished his opponents in the second round of each contest.
If Daley is to win this fight, it has to come via the knockout. “Semtex” is a heavy hitter whose fists have accounted for 26 of his victories. Santos won’t cause much concern for Daley on the feet. The Brazilian is better on the ground, where he has earned 22 submission victories. Daley isn’t known for his ground game. If the fight hits the mat, Daley will need to find a way to get back up or hold on and look to end the round without being finished.
Santos will rely on a game plan that puts the priority on bringing this fight to the canvas, but he might not be able to get it there before Daley gets to work. Daley should get off to a fast start and keep the takedowns to Hail Mary shots. Daley will get a knockout to keep his name fresh on the minds of fans until Lima gets back.
LHW: Rameau Sokoudjou (16-12) vs. Linton Vassell (14-4)
This should be a good fight for Linton Vassell, who looks to rebound from a loss to champion Emanuel Newton. The 31-year-old’s opponent, Pride and UFC veteran Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, needs no introduction.
Sokoudjou, at age 30, is actually a year younger than Vassell and he has fought some of the best light heavyweights in the world. Since losing to Luiz Cane in 2009, Sokoudjou has been bouncing from promotion to promotion. He made his Bellator debut last June and has gone 2-0 with the promotion so far, finishing both of his opponents. Vassell is Bellator’s first attempt to throw a truly tough opponent Sokoudjou’s way. His last two opponents were a combined 29-21 in their MMA careers, so Vassell is a definite change of pace.
That being said, Sokoudjou is clearly a big name to add to Vassell’s record. Sokoudjou might no longer be the same fighter who once quickly knocked out Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona in Pride, but his name still holds some recognition for fans. If Vassell wants another shot at the light heavyweight crown, this is where it starts.
Vassell looked great early in his fight with Newton and gave the champ constant trouble with submission attempts. Vassell had Newton in a couple of deep rear-naked chokes, but somehow couldn’t find the finish. If Vassell fights with the same fire against Sokoudjou, it should be quick work for the former contender.
Sokoudjou needs to finish this fight. He’ll have to find a way to land the knockout or somehow out-grapple Vassell, who was able to hang with Newton on the ground. Vassell had a highly impressive performance in his losing effort against Newton, and he should retain that form here to score the win as he looks to get another shot in a relatively thin division for Bellator.
HW: Cheick Kongo (22-9-2) vs. Muhammed Lawal (14-4)
Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal makes the jump back up to heavyweight to face UFC veteran Cheick Kongo.
This fight might come down to who can get the fight to the ground more often and retain position. Kongo has been a deadly grinder for a long time now, and he has been very successful with that approach. Recently, the 39-year-old has switched it up and gone for the finish in his last two fights. He was able to score the TKO against Eric Smith at Bellator 120 and used his superior grappling ability to submit Lavar Johnson at Bellator 123.
Lawal hasn’t fought at heavyweight since beating Mike Whitehead by knockout in December 2009, and Kongo is definitely the best heavyweight he has faced in his career. That isn’t to mention how much smaller Lawal will be in comparison to Kongo, who has a four-inch height advantage and a three-inch edge in reach over the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion.
If this stays on the feet, Lawal needs to keep his hands up and his chin down. This is the heavyweight level now, and despite Kongo probably weighing in around just 240 pounds, he is still a muscular heavyweight. If Kongo is given the opportunity, he will get the knockout. Lawal often opens up and leaves his chin exposed when he starts feeling confident. It has been a problem for King Mo during his time with Bellator. Lawal can not listen to his inner voice when it starts telling him that he’s got this one in the bag. Instead, he needs to ignore the voice and stay tight. Flashy wins can wait until he faces someone who is not quite on Kongo’s level. Plus, Kongo’s most recent knockout losses have come from Roy Nelson and Mark Hunt. Lawal isn’t on their level of power — or, in Hunt’s case, level of striking.
Kongo will work his clinch game and stifle Lawal against the cage. It will be another tough setback for Lawal, as Kongo should either get the knockout victory or pressure and outpoint Lawal en route to a unanimous decision victory.
WW: Brennan Ward (9-3) vs. Curtis Millender (7-0)
Brennan Ward gets bumped up from the preliminary card as a late replacement for Michael Page, who was originally slated to fight Curtis Millender until he sustained a cut in training less than a week out from the fight and was forced to withdraw.
This is a tough fight to pick because these fighters have had a short amount of time to train for each other. Both fighters were originally slated to face opponents with totally different styles. Usually, talent tends to win out when fights take place on such short notice, and despite what his record may say, Ward is the more talented fighter.
Ward was viciously knocked out in a short amount of time by Tamdan McCrory at Bellator 123 in September. He is riding a two-fight losing streak now, with his other loss coming against former middleweight champ Alexander Shlemenko. Ward gets the experience edge based on his fight with Shlemenko and a total of eight fights under the Bellator banner, where he is 5-3.
Ward’s strength comes in the striking department. Against a newcomer like Millender, Ward should look to overwhelm the debuting fighter. Ward would be well advised to keep pressure on Millender, pick his spots and be aggressive. If he does so, it could result in an easy decision victory in Ward’s favor.
This is Millender’s first fight with the promotion and expectations probably aren’t set high, especially considering the short-notice nature of the fight. Millender wasn’t projected to beat Page and he doesn’t project to be the favorite here. However, he will be under a microscope. Bellator will want to see if he can build off of his perfect record and develop into a star. Ward provides Millender with a good first hurdle to clear.
Yet, short-notice fights typically go to the talent, and the talent in this case is Ward. There will be no finish here, but Ward will take a unanimous nod from the judges.
Preliminary Card Predictions
BW: Marvin Maldonado (2-3) vs. Blair Tugman (6-5)
Tugman by unanimous decision
WW: Neiman Gracie (2-0) vs. Bobby Flynn (4-2)
Gracie by second-round submission
MW: Tamdan McCrory (12-3) vs. Jason Butcher (8-1)
Butcher by third-round TKO
HW: Josh Diekmann (15-5) vs. Raphael Butler (8-1-1)
Diekmann by first-round TKO
FW: Matt Bessette (13-6) vs. Josh LaBerge (9-4)
Bessette by unanimous decision
BW: Randy Costa (0-0) vs. Carlos Hernandez (1-1)
Costa by unanimous decision
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