Fedor Emelianenko (Taro Irei/Sherdog)

Bellator 172: Fedor vs. Mitrione Preview and Predictions

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fedor Emelianenko is back stateside.

Bellator MMA has brought back one of the greatest fighters to ever enter the arena. At Bellator 172, the heavyweight legend returns in the main event against UFC veteran and top Bellator heavyweight Matt Mitrione.

Emelianenko has fought almost exclusively in Russia and Japan since his failed Strikeforce run that ended with a loss to Dan Henderson in 2011. Since then, Emelianenko has rattled off five victories. His last win came against Fabio Maldonado in June.


Mitrione has made a switch by trading the UFC Octagon for the Bellator cage. The Ultimate Fighter alum has won his first two fights for the promotion. Mitrione earned a slick knockout victory over Carl Seumanutafa in his Bellator debut, in a fight where Mitrione needed to really dig deep and recover to emerge as the victor. Then, in his sophomore outing for the promotion, Mitrione went to London and beat hometown favorite Oli Thompson with a second-round knockout.

In support of the heavyweight main event, Bellator will trot out the big guns in the lightweight division. UFC veteran Josh Thomson is set to take on Bellator mainstay Patricky Freire in a co-headlining fight that has title implications written all over it. Bellator has already unsuccessfully tried to make a Thomson and Michael Chandler fight happen once before, but Thomson pulled out due to injury. With a win, Thomson almost assuredly secures the next shot at the lightweight belt. Freire, on the other hand, will look to rebound from a loss to the champ Chandler and earn a rematch for Bellator gold.

More heavyweight action will take place on the main card when the aforementioned Oli Thompson faces one of Bellator’s top heavyweights, Cheick Kongo. At welterweight, we’ll finally get to see the debut of former UFC contender Josh Koscheck against Mauricio Alonso. Koscheck’s promotional debut has been put off numerous times, but it seems to finally be set to happen. Bellator 172 will also head to the women’s flyweight division, where Veta Arteaga meets Brooke Mayo.

Bellator 172 takes place at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. The preliminary card airs at 7 p.m. ET on Bellator.com. The main card action kicks off on Spike TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

Fedor Emelianenko is back. Will Emelianenko make an impact in the Bellator heavyweight division, or will he be an easy win for his opponent, Matt Mitrione?

Emelianenko will make an impact just by being in the cage for this fight. The man is arguably the greatest fighter to have ever fought in MMA. People tune in just to see him. That isn’t something Bellator’s heavyweight division has had too often in its existence. The company’s heavyweight champions have been lackluster and the depth of the division has been sorely lacking.

Bellator seems to be building the division back up with the likes of Emelianenko and a UFC veteran like Mitrione. If the organization can add a few more names — something easier said than done in such a shallow weight class — then perhaps it can become an interesting part of Bellator’s product. Bellator has some nice prospects to bring up the ranks, and there’s whatever the promotion is trying to do with Bobby Lashley, which maybe, just maybe, will lead to putting him against a quality opponent. But I digress.

Mitrione should win this fight. . Yes, he’s facing Fedor, who has faced bigger men before, but we’re talking about a 40-year-old Fedor, rather than the prime version of the Russian legend. Emelianenko did not look good in his fight against Fabio Maldonado. Anyone looking at the Russian after the fight might have thought he lost. Maldonado is not a true heavyweight; Mitrione is. Mitrione will take advantage of his size and pull off the win if Emelianenko fights as he did against Maldonado.

Mitrione was one of the better heavyweights on the UFC roster before the company let him go. His fight with Travis Browne was extremely affected by the eye pokes Mitrione suffered. Remove those fouls and the fight might have had a much different outcome.

Mitrione’s Bellator debut, which came against Carl Seumanutafa, wasn’t spectacular. Seumanutafa was able to drop Mitrione in 30 seconds. This could be a big problem if Mitrione supplies the same opportunity to Emelianenko. Mitrione dropped his hands and got clipped by Seumanutafa. If he were to do that again and Emelianenko landed a shot, the Russian would pounce and not sit back like Seumanutafa did. Emelianenko will finish the fight if given the opportunity.

Mitrione looked better in his second Bellator fight against Oli Thompson in London. It didn’t feature the prettiest first round. It was more your typical heavyweight slugfest than a striking masterpiece. However, Mitrione had a reserve gas tank and found his game in the second round to get the knockout finish.

I expect a much better Mitrione in this fight. He’ll take a hard-fought victory.

Josh Thomson is undefeated since joining the Bellator roster. Now, he’s set to meet recent title challenger Patricky Freire. Will Thomson get past the Brazilian? If he does, will Thomson’s next fight be a title tilt?

With a win, yes, Thomson’s next fight will be for the championship.

It’s a little more complicated, considering the depth of the lightweight division for Bellator, but it’s a pretty good bet that Thomson, with a win against Freire, fights for the strap. Michael Chandler is the Bellator lightweight champion, and the promotion has already tried to set up a fight between these two men. It only stands to reason that Bellator is itching to book this fight again.

Thomson had to withdraw from his scheduled bout with Chandler due to injury. If he had beaten Chandler, then it would have been the crowning jewel on his Bellator resume. Now, Freire is the only thing standing in the way of that jewel. It’s a pretty close fight to pick, though. Thomson will most likely look to outpoint Freire and use his well-rounded skills to get the victory. Freire is going to want to make this a brawl and, despite his high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu game, he will try to knock out Thomson.

Freire tends to get reckless with his striking and leaves himself open for easy counters that a veteran of Thomson’s level should be able to recognize and capitalize on. You’re talking about 30 professional fights in Thomson’s corner against all levels of competition. If Thomson can come out with a win over Nate Diaz, a brawler with a big size advantage on Thomson, then Freire should be just as easy for Thomson to overcome.

Freire has reeled in his habit of wild striking a little bit in recent fights, but he does tend to get back into the old swing of things. It took Chandler just over two minutes to find an opening. Thomson should be able to find it as well.

The big factor working against Thomson is how much time he has spent off from fighting. We’re at 13 months by the time he steps foot back into the cage. At age 38, that could be a big ask for Thomson. Yet, Thomson is experienced enough that it shouldn’t play too big of a part in the outcome of this fight.

Josh Koscheck is set — for the third time, no less — to make his Bellator debut. His opponent is the unheralded Mauricio Alonso. Will Koscheck impress or disappoint?


Koscheck didn’t look good on his way out in the UFC, and that doesn’t bode well for his future in Bellator.

Bellator has been trying to put together a rematch between Koscheck and Paul Daley for quite some time, but it seems destined to fail. Meanwhile, this is attempt number three at Koscheck’s promotional debut. Injuries have caught up with him and kept him sidelined for a while. Koscheck is riding a five-fight losing streak, albeit to a string of top welterweights.

Luckily for Koscheck, Alonso isn’t exactly Stephen Thompson or Robbie Lawler. It shouldn’t be too hard of a match-up for the UFC vet. With the layoff, the losing streak and Koscheck’s overall fighting style, though, I’m going to bank on a lackluster performance.

Alonso is going to want to grapple, which will excite Koscheck, who likes to rely on his wrestling. The ring rust shouldn’t really matter if Koscheck is able to secure the takedown and control Alonso on the ground. If he lets Alonso gain control and wear on his cardio, then it could be a problem because of the amount of years off and injuries that Koscheck has endured.

This should be a nice little setup to see where Koscheck is at after the layoff. It could make the Daley rematch a little more relevant, too. Daley faces Rory MacDonald next, and my early pick there is on MacDonald. If Daley loses to MacDonald, the it makes sense that the Brit’s next fight would come against Koscheck.

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

We’ll head to the undercard, where J.J. Okanovich clashes with Zach Andrews. Okanovich looked great in his sophomore fight for Bellator against Luis Vargas. Okanovich scored the second-round submission victory over Vargas. The 26-year-old could be someone to watch at lightweight. His opponent, Andrews, is on a three-fight winning streak in which all three fights ended before the final bell. With a combined 6-1 mark between these two men, it’s a good match-up that could reveal the potential next guy to climb the ladder.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET)
HW: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione Mitrione
LW: Josh Thomson vs. Patricky Freire Thomson
HW: Cheick Kongo vs. Oli Thompson Kongo
WW: Josh Koscheck vs. Mauricio Alonso Koscheck
Women’s FlyW: Brooke Mayo vs. Veta Arteaga Arteaga
Preliminary Card (Bellator.com, 7 p.m. ET)
WW: James Terry vs. J.C. Llamas Terry
MW: Anatoly Tokov vs. Francisco “Kiko” France Tokov
LW: Nikko Jackson vs. Cesar Gonzalez Jackson
WW: Rick Reger vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha Rocha
FW: John Cardenas vs. Luis Vargas Cardenas
FlyW: Anthony Do vs. Bobby Escalante Do
FlyW: Matthew Ramirez vs. Jeremy Murphy Ramirez
LW: J.J. Okanovich vs. Zach Andrews Okanovich
FW: Justin Tenedora vs. Roque Reyes Tenedora
MW: Martin Sano vs. Diego Herzog Herzog
FW: Abner Perez vs. Gaston Bolanos Bolanos
WW: Dominic Sumner vs. Abraham Vaesau Sumner