Alessio Sakara (L) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Bellator 168: Sakara vs. Beltran Preview and Predictions

Bellator MMA goes abroad for Bellator 168. The company makes a return trip to Italy at the Mandela Forum in Florence for the event.

Due to a late change, the card has a new main event. Melvin Manhoef was set to headline the show opposite middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho, but Carvalho was forced off the card with an injury and Manhoef was scrapped from the lineup. Carvalho was expected to defend his title, but now the Italian crowd will see hometown hero Alessio Sakara step up in the main event against fellow UFC veteran Joey Beltran in a clash of light heavyweights.

The 205-pound division is also the host to more action at Bellator 168. Philipe Lins takes on fellow Brazilian Kleber Silva at light heavyweight.


At middleweight, a perplexing match-up takes place between UFC veteran John Salter and Claudio Annicchiarico. Italy will also play host to up-and-coming lightweight Goiti Yamauchi, who takes on Valeriu Mircea.

The Bellator 168 main card airs live on Spike TV at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10.

This card was slated to feature a middleweight championship bout between Rafael Carvalho and Melvin Manhoef, but an injured Carvalho was forced to withdraw from the contest. This leaves Alessio Sakara and Joey Beltran as the headliners of the evening. Can either of these men take this opportunity to return to relevance?

If we define relevance very, very loosely, then yes. This is more a fight to get Sakara back in his home country and draw in the Italian fans for the show.

The light heavyweight division is getting kind of deep with Bellator’s recent additions and some possible new acquisitions that are still in the works. Beltran was once a title challenger in the promotion, but things are starting to trend in a different direction.

Sakara, who will enjoy the home-field advantage, should get the win with a decision nod, but he has been relegated to serving as Bellator’s go-to guy for the company’s trips to Italy.

Regardless of who wins, they will both need more than just this victory to really climb the ladder. New champion Phil Davis sits at the top of the division and there are plenty of fighters nipping at his heels, including Liam McGeary, Linton Vassell and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. It’s hard to envision either Beltran or Sakara getting through those guys to get a title shot or even really becoming a relevant name at 205 pounds.

John Salter, a 12-3 veteran who has fought for the UFC and Bellator during his career, is slated to appear on this card opposite Claudio Annicchiarico, whose MMA record stands at 0-1. Is this an insane mismatch, or will Annicchiarico surprise the world on Saturday?

I don’t even know how this fight is happening, let alone how it’s sanctioned. This is an extreme mismatch that seems to go far even by Bellator’s standards. Sure, the promotion’s cards have typical mismatches, but a veteran versus a guy with only one professional fight? And that lone fight was a loss? Yeah, mismatch.

I understand the necessity of showcasing regional talent from Italy, but this is an extreme push that only makes Bellator look bad in the matchmaking department. There wasn’t one other fighter with a European passport or Italian citizenship that was available and had more than one professional fight? That’s an extremely hard sell.

I would be surprised if Salter somehow lost this fight. This is as close to a sure thing as I’ve seen in MMA. Anything can happen in MMA — underdogs tend to win more than in any other sport and guys come out of the woodwork from nowhere to turn their careers around on a dime — but Salter has been in the cage with guys who have at least some experience.

Che scherzo. Salter non è facile e troppo forte per Annicchiarico. In bocca al lupo, Annicchiarico.

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

Since we haven’t discussed it yet, let’s look at Goiti Yamauchi’s fight. I typically take a striker in this slot, since I favor the stand-up over grappling, but Yamauchi’s grappling is really something spectacular. If you’re new to the game, watch him for a good “Grappling 101” crash course. He takes on hometown favorite Valeriu Mircea, who will be taking a step up in competition. Mircea’s first true test was Cody McKenzie at Venator FC 3, a fight Mircea lost by submission.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (Spike TV, 4 p.m. ET)
LHW: Alessio Sakara vs. Joey Beltran Sakara
MW: John Salter vs. Claudio Annicchiarico Salter
LHW: Philipe Lins vs. Kleber Silva Lins
LW: Goiti Yamauchi vs. Valeriu Mircea Yamauchi