The completion of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix headlines Bellator 214 on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Forum in Los Angeles.
Fedor Emelianenko, who many people argue is the greatest fighter in the history of MMA, takes on the current Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader in the tournament final. This is a clash of the titans. Bader has remained unbeaten through four fights in Bellator and is riding a six-fight winning streak. Emelianenko is coming off back-to-back victories against Chael Sonnen and former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir.
The co-headliner marks the return of Aaron Pico, who will try to shed his prospect label against veteran Henry Corrales. Pico has won four straight fights since losing his first professional MMA outing. All four of his victories have come by way of first-round knockout. Corrales has been on his own four-fight winning streak, which includes victories over Georgi Karakhanyan and Cody Bollinger.
The main card also features Jack Hager, better known as former WWE wrestler Jack Swagger, in his MMA debut against fellow heavyweight J.W. Kiser. At the bantamweight level, Juan Archuleta and Ricky Bandejas will look to take the next step up the ladder to challenge for Bellator gold. A featherweight fight between Brandon McMahan and Adel Altamimi rounds out the main card.
The preliminary card for Bellator 214 airs live on Bellator.com at 7 p.m. ET. The main card airs live on the Paramount Network at 9 p.m. ET.
Will Fedor Emelianenko take the final step in his comeback and win this tournament, or will Ryan Bader, a natural light heavyweight, become the top “heavyweight” on Bellator’s roster?
Emelianenko has been on a good run, but it ends with Bader. The Russian legend hasn’t fought anybody near the same caliber as Bader in this tournament so far. The greatest heavyweight in MMA history has beaten an aged Frank Mir and a middleweight-turned-heavyweight Chael Sonnen to reach the finals. That’s not exactly the same level of competition as represented by the current Bellator light heavyweight champion Bader.
Emelianenko still possesses the same power he built his legacy on, but that is his only avenue to victory against Bader. Meanwhile, there are so many more paths for the light heavyweight champ. Bader has deep wrestling roots that he will most likely look to use to bring Emelianenko deep into the fight, where Bader will have a better chance at securing a finish.
Bader isn’t exactly the most exciting fighter, but he can be dominant. He has already taken out some of the better names in the tournament field, including Matt Mitrione and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal. Mitrione defeated Emelianenko when the Russian heavyweight made the jump to Bellator, and Bader is a better fighter than Mitrione. We’ll take Bader to win this fight by decision.
It’s weird to think that the best light heavyweight in Bellator will also become the best heavyweight in the organization. However, the division isn’t particularly deep outside of the UFC and this is proof of just how shallow it currently is in Bellator. Bader has been unstoppable the past couple of years, and now he will add another big part to his growing legacy within Bellator and become the best in two divisions.
Aaron Pico gets another big test against Henry Corrales. Is this too much, too soon for the featherweight up-and-comer?
Pico got a little more than he could chew in his first professional fight against Zach Freeman. Since then, however, the former collegiate wrestler has won four straight fights. Corrales is another tough veteran early on in Pico’s career, but it isn’t like Pico hasn’t faced someone of this skill level recently.
Pico is coming off a victory over Leandro Higo in September. Pico beat the Brazilian by first-round knockout. Higo isn’t just some nobody that waltzed into Bellator to fight Pico. He’s a top veteran who has challenged for a Bellator title before. Higo has held belts on the regional circuit, too. It was a huge test for Pico — and, honestly, it was rather risky for Bellator to insert Pico into such a tough fight so early in his career — but it paid off. Now, we’re left with a more experienced and confident Pico.
Corrales can’t just be passed off as an easy victory, though. He is still a notable veteran on the Bellator roster. Corrales is going to make this a dog fight and really try to test his less-experienced counterpart. If Pico can’t finish the fight early, then Corrales’ chances to win increase as the fight progresses.
Pico is going to need to go back to his wrestling roots and try to control the pace on the ground if he wants to win this fight. Corrales is riding a four-fight winning streak, but we should see Pico bring an end to it here.
Juan Archuleta and Ricky Bandejas square off in a key bantamweight affair on the main card. Which of these two rising prospects will suffer their second pro loss?
This is a toss-up.
Archuleta was able to beat UFC veteran Robbie Peralta at Bellator 201. Peralta hasn’t done anything notable in a few years, but it was still a big test for Archuleta. Bandejas, on the other hand, beat James Gallagher in his last fight via a first-round knockout. Gallagher had been a top prospect for Bellator, and for Bandejas to dispatch of him so easily was absolutely amazing.
This fight will come down to very small mistakes and who is able to capitalize on them. Bandejas has a lot of power and diversity in his strikes. The Gallagher knockout came by a head kick, and the option to throw some power shots beyond just his hands gives Bandejas a greater chance to control the striking and capitalize on the little mistakes. Bandejas is a good grappler as well, and those skills might be needed if Archuleta starts to control the striking exchanges.
Bandejas is only 27 years old, and a victory here would be huge for his future prospects in the bantamweight division. With so few challengers, this could be the start of a run to a title fight for the up-and-comer.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Jake Hager — also known as Jack Swagger — and J.W. Kiser.
It’ll be interesting to see Swagger transition from WWE stardom to the cage. He’s an All-American wrestler, so he at least sports a solid background as he enters the sport. However, it has been a while since he has actually wrestled. Swagger should win this fight, and he could become an interesting prospect in Bellator’s heavyweight division.
Main Card (Paramount Network, 9 p.m. ET)
HW Grand Prix Finals: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Ryan Bader
FW: Aaron Pico vs. Henry Corrales
HW: Jake Hager vs. J.W. Kiser
BW: Juan Archuleta vs. Ricky Bandejas
FW: Brandon McMahan vs. Adel Altamimi
Preliminary Card (Bellator.com, 7 p.m. ET)
BW: Desmond Torres vs. Steve Ramirez
WW: Ian Butler vs. Craig Plaskett
BW: James Barnes vs. Ryan Lilley
LW: Chris Gonzalez vs. Henry Mendez
HW: Sean Johnson vs. Art Rivas
BW: Weber Almeida vs. Odan Chinchilla
Catchweight (160 pounds): A.J. Agazarm vs. Jesse Roberts
WW: Jesse Merritt vs. Thor Skancke
LW: Jorge Juarez vs. David Pacheco
Catchweight: Osman Diaz vs. Christopher Reyes
FW: Jay Jay Wilson vs. Tyler Beneke
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