Bellator MMA brings yet another card to mark its third straight week of events. The company heads to the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla. for Bellator 151. Unlike its two predecessors, this event will return to a four-fight main card.
The headliner brings back former Bellator champion Joe Warren. Warren looks to march back to a title fight, but he’ll have to get past up-and-coming bantamweight Darrion Caldwell. Warren is the best and biggest name Caldwell has faced so far in his young career. If Caldwell were to score a win over the former champ, it could catapult him to a shot of his own at the bantamweight title.
The co-main event no longer includes Michael “Venom” Page, who was scrapped earlier in February. His scheduled opponent, Fernando Gonzalez, will now face a tough replacement in UFC veteran Gilbert Smith. Smith is making his Bellator MMA debut after spending the last four fights under the Resurrection Fighting Alliance banner.
Featherweight wrestling prospect Bubba Jenkins will also look to straighten out his path back to the Bellator title picture against featherweight grappling prospect Goiti Yamauchi. Just a division below at bantamweight, Joe Taimanglo will make a return to the main card against UFC veteran Sirwan Kakai.
The Bellator 151 preliminary card airs live on Bellator.com at 6:45 p.m. ET. The main card will begin at 9 p.m. ET on Spike TV.
Bellator continues its trend of pitting an old-school Bellator veteran against a member of Bellator’s new school here. Joe Warren is, of course, an ex-champion and Bellator’s “company man.” He’s one of the most recognizable faces in the promotion. Darrion Caldwell, meanwhile, is just starting to turn the corner.
This is a huge fight for Caldwell with a lot of future implications if he can come away victorious. The 28-year-old has notched a perfect record thus far, with five of his eight wins coming under the Bellator banner. His opposition has steadily improved over the course of his Bellator tenure. He beat Shawn Bunch in his last fight in September at Bellator 143. This fight is also the first time in Caldwell’s Bellator stint where he will be in the main event, and it’s only the second time he has been featured on the main card.
Caldwell and Warren have strong wrestling backgrounds that have made them talented fighters inside the cage. Warren has proven time and time again that he can beat bigger fighters in grappling exchanges. One prime example of this would be his fight with Eduardo Dantas where Warren was able to capture the bantamweight championship despite being at a disadvantage in the size department.
However, Dantas doesn’t have the wrestling ability of Caldwell. Caldwell’s wrestling prowess is what has made him a very dangerous fighter so far. Caldwell will enjoy a four-inch height advantage and five inches in the reach department over Warren. That could easily help Caldwell keep Warren on the outside and give the former champion more problems in closing the distance and securing the takedowns. Warren has looked good off of his back as well, but he does tend to struggle against high-caliber grapplers.
This might be an upset pick, but Caldwell’s size advantage and wrestling strength should give him enough of an edge. Caldwell hasn’t fought anybody of Warren’s caliber, but he has displayed some strong skills and has enough of a head start to secure the win. If Warren plays a high-pressure fight and keeps Caldwell in short range against the cage and uses that to secure the takedown, it could be different. Yet, Caldwell should be well prepared for Warren’s strategy and take a unanimous decision from the ex-champ.
Gilbert Smith is a replacement for Michael Page against Fernando Gonzalez. This was set to be one of the first real tests for Page, but that will have to wait. Gonzalez is making the switch back to MMA after losing to Paul Daley in a kickboxing match at Bellator: Dynamite last year.
Smith has bounced around a lot, setting down for stints in the RFA, Legacy FC and Titan FC. He also appeared on The Ultimate Fighter and in the UFC. The TUF alum is a grappler with a wrestling base. He does tend to struggle completely with landing the takedown, but he has improved and become more consistent in his last few fights. Smith is going to look for takedowns against Gonzalez, who is stronger on the feet, in an effort to take Gonzalez out of his comfort zone.
Gonzalez has been a major surprise in Bellator, where he has claimed wins in his last four fights. It was unexpected to see the 32-year-old get this far against fighters like Karl Amoussou, Karo Parisyan and Marius Zaromskis. Gonzalez won these fights through a tenacious striking style that has thrown his opponents off guard. Furthermore, he has won the grappling exchanges — his last win, against Curtis Millender, was even a submission victory — and he has been able to dictate the fight to his preference and not play to the will of his opponent.
If it were Page and not Smith, this fight might go a different way. However, Gonzalez doesn’t get Page. He gets Smith, and he should be able to stuff Smith’s takedowns and keep this fight on the feet. Gonzalez will add another decision victory to his recent surge.
This battle, much like the headliner, is a showdown between two extremely strong grapplers of two different styles. It would be an understatement to say Bubba Jenkins had a successful collegiate wrestling career. Meanwhile, Goiti Yamauchi has shown to be one of the better grapplers in Bellator’s featherweight division.
Despite his decorated wrestling career, Jenkins hasn’t fully lived up to the high expectations set for his transition to MMA. He rattled off four wins after a loss to LaRue Burley at Bellator 100 in 2013, but then he met Georgi Karakhanyan and was quickly submitted by the former World Series of Fighting champion. While there is no shame in losing to somebody like Karakhanyan, it does set the table for this fight against Yamauchi, who is also a very strong Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. Jenkins might want to keep this one on the feet, where his power can be a strong asset. Yamauchi is certainly not a weak striker, though. He has continued to improve in each fight in his striking, both offensively and defensively. However, the power is certainly tilted in favor of Jenkins.
Jenkins is a strong wrestler, but he should avoid bringing the fight to a place where Yamauchi is much more comfortable and able to work his magic. Yamauchi has 15 career submission victories, including finishes in his last two fights where he was able to sink in rear-naked chokes against Isao Kobayashi and Martin Stapleton. Yamauchi has also faced fighters before with the power edge, and at a higher reputation level, like Mike Richman in May 2014 at Bellator 120. Yamauchi was able to beat Richman, one of the best featherweights on the Bellator roster, by unanimous decision. IHe had a tough third round where Richman secured a takedown, but Yamauchi, even off of his back, was constantly looking to put himself into a position to secure a submission. One thing Yamauchi excels at is chaining submissions together. If he can’t get one, he works to put in another.
That kind of pressure could be very dangerous for Jenkins, who has struggled before against good submission artists. Yamauchi is a rising prospect in Bellator and this fight should continue his progress with the promotion. Yamauchi beats Jenkins by submission.
Joe Taimanglo gets bumped up to the main card for the first time since 2013. He’ll go up against UFC veteran Sirwan Kakai.
Kakai is a well-rounded fighter who has four knockout victories and another six submission wins. Kakai didn’t have the most successful tenure in the UFC, where he went just 1-1. The lone Octagon loss came against Frankie Saenz in his last fight in August. Kakai showed good skills on the feet as well as on the ground, but he isn’t overly good at one or the other. Kakai has decent technical striking that can make it difficult for Taimanglo to secure the knockout victory. Kakai’s grappling was also put to the test against Saenz, who has a strong collegiate wrestling background.
In his last fight, Taimanglo proved that he could finish his opponent by something other than a submission. The 31-year-old flashed some power when he connected for a straight knockout over Antonio Duarte in May 2015. Taimanglo is the smaller fighter here by two inches in both the reach and height department. Taimanglo is accustomed to be the smaller man, but the size disadvantage doesn’t always work to his opponent’s benefit. Taimanglo likes to apply the pressure and close the distance to make the fight dirty.
Kakai has fought better competition already and should be ready for Taimanglo’s game plan. Kakai’s experience ultimately gives him the edge and the victory.
|FW: Stephen Banaszak (5-5) vs. Steven Peterson (13-4)||Peterson by unanimous decision|
|WW: Neiman Gracie (3-0) vs. Roger Carroll (16-13)||Gracie by second-round submission|
|FW: Chris Jones (10-3) vs. Ray Wood (6-1)||Jones by unanimous decision|
|BW: Steve Garcia Jr. (6-0) vs. Ricky Turcios (5-0)||Garcia Jr. by first-round knockout|
|WW: Justin Patterson (6-1) vs. Chance Rencountre (8-1)||Rencountre by second-round knockout|
|FW: Treston Thomison (8-4) vs. Aaron Roberson (5-3)||Roberson by second-round submission|
|MW: Derek Palmer (0-0) vs. Jermaine Barnes (0-1)||Palmer by unanimous decision|