Toe-to-Toe: Bellator 149 Preview and Predictions

Bellator MMA is bringing the legends back to life at Bellator 149 at the Toyota Center in Houston. The five-fight main card is littered with some of the better fighters on the Bellator roster and some recognizable veterans of the sport.

The main event brings back two legends after some time out of the cage for one and a forgettable last fight for the other. Ken Shamrock lost almost a year ago to Kimbo Slice by TKO after nearly five years out of the cage for “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.” Shamrock’s opponent is a man he has yet to achieve victory over after two fights. This fighter is also one of the faces of MMA’s Mount Rushmore. Of course, we’re talking about Royce Gracie. Despite the fighters being 49 and 52 years old, respectively, they will clash for the final fight in a trilogy after almost 21 years since their second fight.

In the co-headliner, backyard-brawler-turned-MMA-fighter Kimbo Slice makes his return — his first appearance since beating Shamrock — against a former member of his crew, Dada 5000. Both fighters have made their feelings known leading up to this fight, and it has gone as far as prompting increased security for the fight. The bad blood is certainly there. Both fighters will look to rely on their heavy hands to decapitate their opponent and cement their victory in this feud.


In addition, there will be a light heavyweight showdown between former champion Emanuel Newton and Bellator veteran Linton Vassell. Melvin Guillard will seek to notch his first win in Bellator after he was upset in his debut by Brandon Girtz. Guillard’s opponent will be Bellator veteran Derek Campos, who who would like to bring a stop to his own losing streak after a loss by TKO against Girtz in November. One of the most division-shaping fights on the card will take place at featherweight, where UFC veteran Daniel Pineda makes his Bellator debut against the up-and-coming Emmanuel Sanchez.

The Bellator 149 preliminary card will stream on starting at 6:30 p.m. ET. The main-card action starts at 9 p.m. ET live on Spike TV. This special Bellator edition of Toe-to-Toe is brought to you by the sophisticated minds of Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Sal DeRose.

Bellator has transitioned to tentpole events that often involve the “seniors division.” This time, fans get Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock in the main event. Unfortunately, this match-up is roughly 20 years past its expiration date. Is it still an exciting scrap, or will we be cringing when these men take to the cage? Shamrock has never beaten Gracie. Will he finally do it?

Huntemann: I don’t think we will be cringing any more than when we watched Shamrock face Kimbo Slice last year. That fight was much-derided and ridiculed, but it ended up making that card one of Bellator’s highest rated ever. Scoff all you want at Bellator’s “seniors division” or at fights like Kimbo vs. Dada 5000, but it’s obvious Bellator President Scott Coker found an audience for them, or else people wouldn’t tune in regardless of whether it’s considered a “train wreck” or a “freak show.”

Now, will this be an exciting scrap? That’s a different question. Neither guy is exactly Conor McGregor or Jon Jones when it comes to striking. In fact, both guys are pretty much exclusively ground-based fighters. Can Gracie even throw hands? I’m asking a serious question. He’s never actually won a fight by knockout in his illustrious career.

Shamrock’s last TKO victory came in 2004 against Kimo Leopoldo (I will pay anyone 20 bucks if they can tell me who that is). So, I expect this to quickly become a jiu-jitsu bout that probably resembles one you would see at your local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym. This fight will probably give “lay-and-pray” a whole new meaning and make even Jon Fitch envious.

Will Shamrock exorcise his Gracie family demons in this fight? I say yes. Even though he was knocked out in his last fight against Kimbo, Shamrock did show glimpses of maybe having something left in the tank when he locked in a rear-naked choke that Kimbo was somehow able to escape. Conversely, Gracie hasn’t competed since 2007 when he edged out a split-decision victory over Kazushi Sakuraba, who had clearly seen better days. Before that, Gracie was pounded out in the first round by Matt Hughes.

It may not be pretty, or even passable, but Shamrock will find some measure of redemption against Gracie.

DeRose: I actually like the idea of a “seniors division.” I’m also scared at the fact that the expiration date for this fight is as old as I am. So the question is: is this fight like a Twinkie that will survive in a post-apocalyptic world or like a fish that you forgot was in your fridge and is now stinking up the place?

Most likely, it’s the former. There really isn’t any serious tone to this fight. It shouldn’t grab more attention than any of the other fights on the main card, sans the co-main event, but it inevitably will. Sometimes it’s fun to have some of these fights grace the card. It isn’t an easy fight to pick, and I may heavily regret saying all of this later on if it ends up being a snoozefest — which is entirely possible when you have two guys who, at their age, probably go to bed at 8 p.m. every night — but it’s meant to grab the casual eyeball while also entertaining those of us who know how great these fighters were back in the day.

The last time Bellator put on one of these fights as the main event, Stephan Bonnar and Tito Ortiz didn’t exactly produce fireworks. This one could be different, but both men do have their own problems. Gracie hasn’t fought in a long time and Shamrock is coming off the bad loss to Kimbo. So, yeah, this could go bad. However, I’ll stay hopeful, considering the clashes these two men had in the past, and hope that years later it goes the same way.

Gracie was absolutely outclassed by the aforementioned Hughes at UFC 60 just a year before his victory over Sakuraba. He’s been out of the game for almost nine years, and that’s going to play a huge role in this fight. Shamrock’s loss to Slice wasn’t pretty either, but at least he has been in a cage this decade.

I’ll take Shamrock to finally get over the hump here, but I highly doubt it will be anything more than a decision victory.

The evening’s co-headliner — Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000 — seems more like a match-up out of the pro-wrestling world, or perhaps a backyard brawl. Dhafir Harris, one of the competitors, doesn’t even have an actual, legal last name listed on the event’s promotional materials, and Kevin Ferguson is also going by an alias. Is there any seriousness to this fight whatsoever, or should serious MMA fans just accept that this is Bellator’s zany, but effective, way of making an event fun?

DeRose: If the main event isn’t enough to make you cringe, maybe the co-main do the trick and push you over the edge. Much like the headliner, there really isn’t any seriousness behind this fight. Neither Kimbo nor Dada will fight for a heavyweight title anytime soon, and possibly never. This is just supposed to be a fun fight with a big heavy caveat that it will bring in eyeballs to help compete with the UFC.

Serious MMA fans as a whole may not accept this fight, but they should know that it helps bring in new fans to watch the sport. The biggest concern is that this might make the sport look bad by making this a match-up that seems like a scripted pro-wrestling storyline as opposed to a legit MMA match. But to that point I’d ask, what about some of those Pride fights people love so much? Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic did after all fight a masked wrestler in one match-up, and that wrestler ended up becoming Alberto del Rio years later in the WWE. People adore Pride, and here’s Bellator, taking a page out of the defunct Japanese promotion’s playbook.

Slice should win this contest, but it is one of those fights where legitimately anything could happen. Both guys are going to wing shots, both have power in their hands and both haven’t exactly looked like world beaters at any point in their MMA careers. If anything, this will be a sloppy slugfest that will echo their backyard-brawling backgrounds with the added addition of unified rules and a small pair of gloves. Slice has better experience, which leads me to believe he gets the edge. Who honestly knows for sure, though.

Huntemann: My esteemed colleague is right. There is no seriousness behind this fight. This is just another attempt by Mr. Coker to boost ratings and bring in eyeballs. And you know what? That’s exactly what he should be doing, because it’s proven to be a success so far. The previous two Bellator cards that featured main events with no real rhyme or reason behind them — Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar and Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice — were among Bellator’s highest-rated cards.

Coker knows exactly what he’s doing. Kimbo is still a draw among casual fans and people who just want to watch something unusual. His videos drew hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of hits for a reason. As much as some of us like to think we’re above watching two guys basically re-enact a backyard brawl in the Bellator cage, we’re still going to tune in and watch.

For those MMA “purists” who still bemoan fights like Kimbo/Dada and Shamrock/Gracie 3 as farces that hurt the sport of MMA, I say this: You guys remember what MMA originally was, right? Art Jimmerson fighting Royce Gracie while wearing one boxing glove. Guys who basically looked like sumo wrestlers duking it out. Bob Sapp beating up tomato cans. Exactly.

With Patricio Freire, Pat Curran, Daniel Weichel and more hanging around the top of the division, featherweight is probably one of the more interesting of the Bellator weight classes. Can either Daniel Pineda or Emmanuel Sanchez stake a claim for a featherweight title shot with a win here, or even climb up to earn one within this year? Or is the crowded division going to be a problem for either fighter?

Huntemann: This fight is a great opportunity for the winner to stake a claim for a title shot, for sure.

This will be Pineda’s Bellator debut, but he has quite a pedigree already by having competed in the UFC and in some of the bigger regional promotions like Legacy FC. He’s won three in a row, all by submission, including a victory over seasoned veteran Leonard Garcia.

Sanchez has only lost once in Bellator. The defeat came against Pat Curran, one of the promotion’s best featherweight fighters.

Sanchez and Pineda seem to have a proclivity for submissions, so I expect a ground clinic in this one. The depth in Bellator’s featherweight division rivals that of the UFC. While champion Daniel Straus is preoccupied with guys like the aforementioned Weichel and a possible rematch with Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, the winner of Sanchez/Pineda — I’m picking the latter, for the record — can get on the short list of contenders.

DeRose: Every time Sanchez fights, I pick against him for some convoluted reason. Here, I’ll pick him to claim the victory for the very simple reason that he is always able to find a way to win in almost every fight. Yes, he lost to Curran, but that’s an excusable loss. Curran is an ex-champion and is one of the better fighters in Bellator’s division. In his last two fights, Sanchez has won by split decision over Henry Corrales and Justin Lawrence. He has looked very well rounded in both outings. He used his grappling and even looked like the better striker against Lawrence, who has a striking background.

Does a win put Sanchez right in that title shot talk? Probably not. It will take maybe one or two more wins to put Sanchez right in the middle of it. Those couple of wins will have to come against the bigger names on the Bellator roster, guys like Freire, Curran and Weichel. Those would be some really good tests to see whether Sanchez could make a statement in a title fight, or if Straus (or whoever is champion at the time) will make easy work of him. Pineda is a good name for Sanchez to add to his resume, though. Pineda was one of the middling fighters in the UFC, but he has the experience and name recognition that Sanchez so far lacks.

It’s going to take some time. Sanchez is only 25 years old and trains at Roufusport, so there is a lot of potential for growth there. Time is aplenty for him. Pineda will likely need the same amount of wins, maybe a couple more than Sanchez, at the same strength level. But, no, neither guy will get a title shot right off the bat with the win. Maybe next year, fellas.

Is this Melvin Guillard’s last hurrah as an MMA fighter? His history is well known and his signing was much ballyhooed by Bellator, but he lost his debut in less than stellar fashion. While only 32 years old, Guillard has nearly 50 fights under his belt (one less fight than Ken Shamrock, actually). If he comes up short against Derek Campos, should Guillard call it quits?

DeRose: If Guillard loses to Campos, then, yes, he should be done with Bellator. He hasn’t been on a winning streak in a very long time. And considering where he was on his last winning streak — the UFC, in 2010-11, for five consecutive victories — it’s really bad to look at where he is at now and see him losing to fighters whom he probably would have beaten during his streak (except for Justin Gaethje; that was a tough fight for Guillard to win at any point in his career).

Campos is a good test to see where Guillard is at in Bellator. Campos is typically one of the guys Bellator sets up with fighters looking to break through into the top ranks or guys already at the top who are looking to bounce back. Guillard may not be worth the headache that he can be, though. He had a tendency to miss weight during his World Series of Fighting tenure, which caused more problems than he was worth.

A loss to Campos would only send Guillard further down the rabbit hole that is the lightweight division. Guillard, if he loses, should retire. It probably won’t get better in terms of mid-major promotions wanting his services. He most likely won’t look to do that, instead opting to use his status as a UFC veteran to his advantage and headline some regional promotions here and there. Guillard would be a good fight for any fighter on the small circuit to look to add to their list of victories, but he is otherwise looking at a steep climb back up the ladder.

Huntemann: Once again, my colleague and I are in agreement. This should be Guillard’s last hurrah. Though I expect that even if he loses to Campos, Bellator will still keep him around for at least one more fight, because he’s still a name that draws in casual fans.

But Guillard has a ton of mileage on him. He’s a year older than me and has nearly 50 professional fights. He’s only won two fights since 2013 and still has no semblance of a ground game, as Brandon Girtz proved once again when he defeated Guillard last year. Moreover, Guillard still doesn’t seem to care to learn any kind of ground game, either. “The Young Assassin” ain’t so young anymore, boys and girls. If he can’t get past Campos, then it’s time for him to hang up the gloves.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Huntemann: The story of Justin Wren in mixed martial arts is one of the most uplifting, and one many people haven’t heard of. He competed on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter and although he won three fights in a row following his stint on the show, he was battling personal demons. Some personal and religious discovery led him to the Congo, where he worked to help the people there. He returned to MMA last year and won his first Bellator fight.

His fight against Juan Torres on the Bellator 149 prelims is one to watch. Even if the fight itself won’t be the prettiest, the cause Wren is fighting for is more than laudable. He still fights for the Congolese people, and “The Big Pygmy” is a person, not just a fighter, we should all aspire to be like.

DeRose: I’m actually kind of curious to see how well Charlie Ontiveros does in his first real fight in Bellator.

I don’t really count his fight with Michael Page as his debut. That bout was designed more to keep the Page hype train going than anything else. Ontiveros was the sacrificial lamb.

Ontiveros has been rather inconsistent since starting his career, alternating between wins and losses. However, if he was ever going to get back into the win column, this should be it. James Christopherson has only one fight since 2013, and that fight came against the now famous Sage Northcutt almost a year ago.

This should be a better fight for Ontiveros and one that could possibly kickstart his confidence into generating a winning streak once again.

Pair this card with…

DeRose: Some realism. Look, I know this isn’t some marvelous matchmaking that pits guys together who will make a run at a title or become future champions. These are supposed to be some fun fights in the main and co-main event of the night. They’re in those spots because these guys have some mass-marketing appeal. People know Kimbo Slice. They know Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. There are some fun fights on this card. If you’re going to thumb your nose at the lineup because there are two guys who almost qualify for the AARP in the main event and two guys in the co-headliner who draw their fame from putting brutal backyard knockout videos on YouTube, then maybe you’re not so serious of a fan after all. I could write so much more, but this is what the sport was built around and how the lower promotions compete with the UFC audience. Get used to it.

Huntemann: Your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt. Last night, I watched the most recent film version that came out in 2014 and, man, doesn’t that just make you nostalgic for the good ol’ days? The days of Nintendo, when you had to blow on the cartridge to get rid of dust so the video games would actually work, and the days of Thundercats, Voltron and all the other awesome cartoons that defined my youth, and hopefully yours, too. What I’m getting at is, this Bellator card is all about nostalgia. We have Shamrock/Gracie 3, which harkens back to their days in the infancy of the UFC. We have Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000, another fight that is reminiscent of MMA’s early days when it was a step above bareknuckle boxing. So grab a RC Cola, your He-Man action figures (not dolls, mind you) and settle in to take a trip down memory lane, MMA-style.

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick DeRose’s Pick
Main Card (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET)
Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie Shamrock Shamrock
HW: Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000 Slice Slice
FW: Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Daniel Pineda Pineda Sanchez
LHW: Emanuel Newton vs. Linton Vassell Vassell Newton
LW: Melvin Guillard vs. Derek Campos Campos Campos
Preliminary Card (, 6:30 p.m. ET)
HW: Justin Wren vs. Juan Torres Wren Wren
BW: Davis Sylvester vs. Jeremy Mahon Mahon Mahon
WW: Charlie Ontiveros vs. James Christopherson Ontiveros Ontiveros
MW: Ruben Esparza vs. Clovis Hancock Hancock Esparza
FW: Adrian Yanez vs. Daniel Santos Santos Yanez
MW: Ike Villanueva vs. Richard Knepp Villanueva Villanueva
LW: Mike Trinh vs. Joe Zamora Zamora Zamora
LW: Jason Langellier vs. Anthony Ivy Ivy Langellier
BW: Manny Lozoya vs. Jake Norsworthy Lozoya Lozoya