Rory MacDonald (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Bellator 222: MacDonald vs. Gracie Preview and Predictions

After a small hiatus, Bellator MMA returns at New York’s Madison Square Garden for Bellator 222.

The Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix continues in the main event of the evening. Current 170-pound champion Rory MacDonald takes on the undefeated Neiman Gracie. MacDonald is coming off a draw in his last fight against Jon Fitch at Bellator 220 in April. He had gone just 2-3 in his five previous fights before his clash with Fitch. Gracie ended Ed Ruth’s undefeated run with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round of their Bellator 213 encounter.

The co-headliner features two of the more noteworthy names on Bellator’s roster. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida is coming off of split-decision victory over Rafael Carvalho in his Bellator debut. Machida is set to take on takes on Chael Sonnen, who last fought at Bellator 208 in October in a losing effort against Fedor Emelianenko.


There will also be another title fight on the main card, as current Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell looks to defend his belt against Kyoji Horiguchi. Caldwell and Horiguchi have fought previously in Rizin, where Horiguchi emerged the winner with a third-round submission finish of Caldwell.

The main card includes two additional bouts. At featherweight, former Bellator champ Eduardo Dantas takes on multiple-division King of the Cage champion and rising prospect Juan Archuleta. Meanwhile, Dillon Danis and Max Humphrey square off in a catchweight fight taking place at 175 pounds.

The preliminary card for Bellator 222 airs at 6:30 p.m. ET on The main card airs live on DAZN at 10 p.m. ET.

The welterweight grand prix continues with a clash between Bellator’s welterweight champion, Rory MacDonald, and Neiman Gracie. Gracie enters the cage as an undefeated fighter, but will he leave with his perfect record intact and a title belt around his waist?

This is MacDonald’s fight to lose. Despite his recent performances, the UFC veteran is easily still one of the best fighters on Bellator’s roster. MacDonald’s fate in this fight comes down to whether or not his head is in the game. If he fights like he has recently, with the possibility of retirement lingering around him, then it could lead to the continuation of Gracie’s run.

MacDonald clearly is mentally exhausted. He has lost the killer instinct he once possessed. Long gone are the days when MacDonald angrily stared down Robbie Lawler and appeared ready to die in the cage. We’re at a point now where this may very well be the end for MacDonald.

This won’t be an easy fight. If it hits the ground, then MacDonald could very well be outgrappled by Gracie. On the feet, MacDonald holds a considerable advantage over Gracie. The Canadian just has to keep this contest in his world.

When your head and heart clearly aren’t in the game, it’s time to let go. MacDonald is past this point. His post-fight interview after his draw with Jon Fitch was hard to watch. MacDonald is just 2-2-1 over his last five fights, and he has taken a lot of punishment throughout his career. If this is the end, then MacDonald has put on one hell of a show throughout his career. Despite the concerns about MacDonald’s loss of drive and killer instinct, he will still put in a good performance to close out his career.

Lyoto Machida and Chael Sonnen are both over the 40-year-old mark. Is this nothing more than a legends fight, or does the winner of this one enter the light heavyweight title mix?

This may be a legends fight, but the winner could easily go on to fight for the belt. This isn’t because Machida or Sonnen are still championship material, but because they are big names to share a bill with defending champ Ryan Bader.

Machida performed well in his Bellator debut, where he took a split decision over Rafael Carvalho. The Brazilian’s recent fight against a legitimate Bellator talent could be considered a huge advantage going into this fight with Sonnen, who has only fought in legends fights so far in his Bellator tenure. Machida, who utilizes a very defensive karate style that makes him hard to hit, is a much better striker than Sonnen. Machida’s defensive style has seemingly withered over the years, but the decline has come against much better competition than Sonnen represents in this fight.

Sonnen has one avenue to victory: he has to get this fight to the ground. Sonnen needs to make this into a grind for Machida and use his wrestling to put Machida in a tough spot in the later rounds. In other words, he needs a game plan similar to the one that almost garnered him a UFC title win over Anderson Silva. If Sonnen can implement this strategy over the course of three rounds, then the decision should undoubtedly end in his favor. This will be easier said than done against Machida, though.

Machida didn’t look bad for a 40-year-old in his fight with Carvalho. He can work that same magic against Sonnen. His striking alone should be enough to put Sonnen away.

This card also features a rematch between Darrion Caldwell and Kyoji Horiguchi. The two previously met under the Rizin banner, where the former flyweight Horiguchi prevailed with a submission finish to capture the Rizin bantamweight strap. This time, Caldwell’s Bellator crown is on the line. Will Horiguchi continue his tremendous run and unseat Caldwell?

Horiguchi is by far one of the best fighters on the planet in the smaller weight divisions. The only reason he wasn’t a total success in the UFC is the fact that he had to contend with Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, the best fighter in history in the lower weight classes, as champion. If Johnson wasn’t atop the flyweight mountain, Horiguchi could have claimed UFC gold.

Horiguchi has won nine straight fights since leaving the UFC. Caldwell, who already fell victim to his Japanese counterpart once before, will help raise this winning streak to 10 bouts. Over the course of the streak, Horiguchi has gone to decision twice and knocked out his opponent five times. Horiguchi was able to secure a submission victory in his first fight with Caldwell, and he also packs plenty of power to make him a dual threat.

Caldwell has been excellent for Bellator. Horiguchi was one of the rare slips for the bantamweight champion. Caldwell has a chance to win this fight, but, in what has turned into an obvious theme for this card, he needs to get the fight to the ground.

Horiguchi is quick and has the striking skills to create fits for Caldwell on the feet. Their first fight ended by guillotine choke, and if Caldwell goes for the takedown, then he could leave himself open to the very same submission.

Things should continue to trend upwards for Horiguchi. He left the UFC on a win, and he’s continued his success a division up while competing in Japan. He has a ton of talent, and it will shine through in his second fight with Caldwell.

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

Adam Borics and Aaron Pico.

It will be interesting to see how Pico responds to his second loss. This will be Pico’s first fight since he suffered a knockout at the hands of Henry Corrales in the first round at Bellator 214. The loss was a huge upset that set back Pico’s prospect timetable. Pico needs a boost of confidence, which would come with a victory over an undefeated prospect like Borics. Borics, who has collected most of his victories on the regional circuit in Europe, has yet to fight a quality fighter like Pico in his MMA career.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (DAZN, 10 p.m. ET)
WW Championship/WW Grand Prix Semifinal: Rory MacDonald vs. Neiman Gracie MacDonald
LHW: Lyoto Machida vs. Chael Sonnen Machida
BW Championship: Darrion Caldwell vs. Kyoji Horiguchi Horiguchi
Catchweight: Dillon Danis vs. Max Humphrey Danis
FW: Eduardo Dantas vs. Juan Archuleta Dantas
Preliminary Card (, 6:30 p.m. ET)
FW: Aaron Pico vs. Adam Borics Pico
BW: Ricky Bandejas vs. Patrick Mix Mix
FlyW: Brandon Polcare vs. Brandon Medina Polcare
BW: Mike Kimbel vs. Sebastian Ruiz Kimbel
Women’s FlyW: Heather Hardy vs. Taylor Turner Hardy
Catchweight: Haim Gozali vs. Gustavo Wurlitzer Gozali
MW: Phil Hawes vs. Michael Wilcox Hawes
Catchweight: Kastroit Xhema vs. Whitney Francois Xhema
FW: John Beneduce vs. Kenny Rivera Rivera
WW: Robson Gracie vs. Oscar Vera Gracie
Women’s Catchweight: Rena Kubota vs. Lindsey vanZandt Kubota
Women’s Flyweight: Valerie Loureda vs. Larkyn Dasch Loureda