Ryan Bader (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Bellator 199: Bader vs. King Mo Preview and Predictions

Bellator is almost to the magic number 200 as it heads to the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., for the next fight in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix and Bellator 199.

The grand prix will, of course, serve as the main event of the night. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal takes on the reigning Bellator light heavyweight champion, Ryan Bader. Lawal, normally a light heavyweight, has recently been fighting at the heavyweight level, where he has gone 2-1 over his three recent bouts. Both of those victories came in the Bellator cage, where he met Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Satoshi Ishii. Bader comes into this fight after winning his last four fights, including two in the UFC.

The co-headliner could possibly produce a title challenger in the welterweight division. UFC veteran Jon Fitch return to the cage for the first time since last June to make his Bellator debut. He takes on knockout artist Paul Daley, who is 3-2 over his last five outings and won his last fight against another UFC veteran, Lorenz Larkin, by knockout.


There is also another heavyweight fight on the main card, but it’s not part of the grand-prix bracket. UFC veteran Cheick Kongo takes on Javy Ayala in that affair.

Bellator also showcases two prospects. Aaron Pico takes on Lee Morrison at featherweight, while Carrington Banks takes on Adam Piccolotti at lightweight.

The Bellator 199 preliminary card airs live on Bellator.com at 7 p.m. ET. The main card airs live on the Paramount Network at 9 p.m. ET.

The heavyweight grand prix quarterfinal for Bellator 199 essentially pairs two light heavyweights for a heavyweight battle. Does Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal’s previous experience at heavyweight give him the edge here, or will Bader, Bellator’s light heavyweight titleholder, prove dominant in this affair? Is the winner of this fight the favorite to take the entire tournament?

Lawal’s experience at heavyweight is better defined as success. He has only lost one time at the heavyweight level in six fights (nine, if you count the 220-pound Rizin tournament that Lawal won). He has three heavyweight victories in Bellator. The first of those was a split decision over Cheick Kongo. More recently, he’s topped Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Satoshi Ishii at the heavyweight level.

Lawal is a sleeper pick to win this tournament. However, Matt Mitrione or Lawal’s current opponent, Bader, are the true favorites. The current light heavyweight champion is riding a four-fight winning streak. Bader came over from the UFC and took the title from Phil Davis, one of the more dominant fighters in Bellator.

Lawal has an edge in experience at heavyweight, but overall Bader has faced some absolute killers at the UFC level. Both men are high-level wrestlers, and both will be more than willing to battle it out on the feet. Bader’s striking is just a little ahead, based on his recent fights. He has a lot more diversity and overall aggressiveness than Lawal, and that will help him command the fight.

If Bader gets ahead and tires Lawal down, we will see Bader move forward with some takedowns. King Mo has been known to fade, too, and Bader has been the better fighter in recent memory.

Jon Fitch and Paul Daley are two forgotten members of the welterweight’s upper tiers. Fitch went 6-2 under the World Series of Fighting banner and its successor, the Professional Fighters League. Daley is 5-2 in MMA action since rejoining Bellator in 2015. If Fitch beats Daley, does he immediately punch his ticket to a title shot?

This will be an extremely interesting fight. Fitch has a drastic edge in the grappling department, but Daley is the far superior striker. Neither guy wants to fight in the other guy’s area of expertise. So, it will be a matter of who gets to dictate where the fight takes place.

If it ends up being Fitch and he secures the takedowns early in the first round, Daley will inevitably gas out. Over the course of the next two rounds, Daley will become more and more unable to utilize his striking power. Fitch’s best-case scenario is to be aggressive with the takedown early and play the long game by grinding down his opponent. Fitch is not winning this fight by knockout, but possibly by late submission or decision. The smart money is on a decision.

Fitch has won four straight fights against opponents Daley probably could not have beaten. The experience edge certainly lies in Fitch’s corner. Daley needs to land a big shot early, perhaps on an early counter of one of Fitch’s takedowns. If the Brit can’t land that shot, then it’s going to be a long night for him.

The possibility of a title shot for Fitch is uncertain. Fitch is a former UFC contender and a rather well-known name to build a title fight around, despite the fact that he has not fought at the highest levels for the past few years. Rory MacDonald and Jon Fitch seems like a pairing that could have happened years ago, but it didn’t. MacDonald, the current champion, needs to fight some high-level talent in his first defense to stake his claim as a the true king of the division. Fitch is the perfect fit.

This is a big spot for both Aaron Pico and Carrington Banks. Pico meets veteran Lee Morrison in a featherweight scrap, while Banks draws Adam Piccolotti in a lightweight showdown. Will both prospects emerge victorious?

Let’s start with Pico. He struggled in his debut to dispatch of tough veteran opponent Zach Freeman, but he went on to destroy his next two foes, Justin Linn and Shane Kruchten. His opponent, the aforementioned Morrison, sports a great record of 18-8, but Pico has the tools necessary to take control of this fight. He has some of the best wrestling you’ll find in MMA, and he has shown flashes of a growing striking game that makes him an extremely dangerous fighter in the future. Pico’s two wins have come by knockout. He has grown a lot since his first fight, and this is a big jump back into the deep end of the MMA waters. Pico will emerge with the win.

Banks is not a sure thing in his fight against Piccolotti. Piccolotti had been great for Bellator during his tenure up until his last two fights, where he failed to beat Goiti Yamauchi and David Rickels, respectively. Both of those losses aren’t big deals — Yamauchi and Rickels are tough opponents — but the experience against them will be valuable for Piccolotti. Piccolotti has a great grappling game that helped him secure three victories in Bellator, all by way of submission.

Banks, a top-level wrestler, is inevitably going to bring this fight to the ground. He hasn’t faced a fighter at Piccolotti’s level, despite back-to-back victories over previously undefeated fighters. Much like in Pico’s case, this a jump into the deep end for Banks. So far, Banks, who is coming off a victory over Steve Kozola, has remained undefeated. If he sticks to his wrestling and is able to remain focused, then we’ll have a fight. Banks should win, but it’s not a complete lock.

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

Let’s take a jump down to the flyweight level, where Josh Paiva meets Adam Antolin. Antolin entered [i]The Ultimate Fighter 24[/i] house as the Tachi Palace Fights flyweight champion after beating Alex Perez. Even as the 13th-ranked fighter in the house, Antolin was able to pull off an upset over the fourth-ranked Damacio Page. Paiva will be another tough test for Antolin. Paiva returns to Bellator for the third time in his career, but he has never stuck around as a promotional regular. All but one of Paiva’s nine victories come by either knockout or submission.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (Paramount Network, 9 p.m. ET)
HW GP Quarterfinal: Ryan Bader vs. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal Bader
WW: Jon Fitch vs. Paul Daley Fitch
FW: Aaron Pico vs. Lee Morrison Pico
HW: Cheick Kongo vs. Javy Ayala Kongo
LW: Carrington Banks vs. Adam Piccolotti Banks
Preliminary Card (Bellator.com, 7 p.m. ET)
FW: Gaston Bolanos vs. Malcolm Hill Bolanos
LW: J.J. Okanovich vs. Hugo Lujan Okanovich
Women’s FW: Amber Leibrock vs. Janay Harding Leibrock
MW: Ahmed White vs. Deron Winn Winn
Catchweight: James Terry vs. Danasabe Mohammed Terry
MW: Brandon Hester vs. Jordan Williams Hester
FlyW: Mark Climaco vs. Daniel Oseguera Climaco
Catchweight: Elias Anderson vs. Hyder Amil Amil
BW: Josh San Diego vs. Nohelin Hernandez Hernandez
WW: Dominic Sumner vs. Tom Oswald Sumner
BW: Khai Wu vs. Cass Bell Wu
FlyW: Josh Paiva vs. Adam Antolin Antolin
BW: Justin Tenedora vs. David Rivera-Cruz Tenedora
FW: Ignacio Ortiz vs. Matt Aragoni Aragoni