Bellator MMA is not holding back when it comes to its effort to “Salute the Troops.” The promotion is headed to Hawaii and teaming with the USO for not one, but two full nights of MMA action for the U.S. military personnel. It all starts with Bellator 235 on Friday.

The smaller of the two-night extravaganza, this show still delivers with a headliner that puts the spotlight on Josh Barnett. The Pride, Strikeforce and UFC veteran is back in MMA action for the first time since 2016. His Bellator debut comes against Ronny Markes, a fellow UFC vet who slides up from the light-heavyweight ranks for this bout. The Brazilian has been active as part of the Professional Fighters League in 2019, but weigh-in mishaps derailed his chances at a big payday in that organization’s postseason. Instead, he’ll look to cash in with a headlining slot for Bellator. The checks will get even bigger if he can score the upset against a former UFC heavyweight kingpin.

In the evening’s co-main event, another UFC veteran is set to make his promotional debut. Mexico’s Erik Perez left the UFC while on a three-fight winning streak. The bantamweight up-and-comer joins Bellator after adding a successful two-fight stint with Combate Americas. He’ll have to get through Hawaii’s own Toby Misech on Friday night.



The lineup also features a women’s flyweight scrap. Colombia’s Alejandra Lara finally righted the ship in August after suffering back-to-back losses in her previous two fights, including a title bid against Bellator champ Ilima-Lei Macfarlane. Now, she draws American Veta Arteaga, who also came up short against Macfarlane when the two ladies met in April. Which one of these women can climb back into contention with a win in Hawaii?

The evening’s festivities take place at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu. The preliminary card begins at 8:45 p.m. ET and can be seen on DAZN, Bellator.com or via the promotion’s app. The main card gets underway at 10 p.m. ET and airs live on the Paramount Network and DAZN.

Is Ronny Markes capable of defeating Josh Barnett?

No.

This one is pretty clear cut. Markes, a product of Brazil’s Nova União camp, would have to hope for a fluke knockout, and that’s just not his typical style. The 31-year-old is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Andre Pederneiras and relies heavily on his grappling skills to end fights via either submission or ground-and-pound. These are two areas where he’s going to be outmatched by Barnett, a master of catch wrestling.

Further damaging Markes chances, the Brazilian has fought most of his career at light heavyweight and middleweight. He had a super-heavyweight contest in 2017 under the King of the Cage banner and won, but that came against the rapidly declining Tony Lopez. Even when Markes has missed weight for his 205-pound outings, he’s tilted the scales at 208 and 211. He figures to be a little heavier for this one, since he hasn’t been cutting weight, but he’s still set for a scrap with an opponent who has come in around 240 to 260 for his more recent affairs.

Barnett, 42, is getting up there in years and isn’t anywhere near his form from the Pride or Strikeforce days. However, “The Warmaster” still worked effectively against top UFC heavyweights as recently as 2016. He’s been away from MMA action in the years since, but he’s remained active in the grappling world. Unless the three-year absence has cloaked a steep dropoff in skills from Barnett, the Pride legend should deliver another wrestling-heavy performance en route to a finish.

Erik Perez is set to make his Bellator debut. He’s riding a five-fight winning streak that includes victories in his final three UFC outings and his two Combate Americas appearances. Will he find success against Toby Misech in the pair’s bantamweight clash?

Perez is one of those rare competitors who departed the UFC on a high note. After missing more than a year following his loss to Bryan Caraway, the Mexican fighter returned to post victories over Taylor Lapilus, Francisco Rivera and Felipe Arantes. After a split verdict over Arantes, “Goyito” had fought out his UFC contract and was not re-signed by the promotion. Instead, he inked a deal with Combate, where he added wins over DJ Fuentes and Andres Ayala. Once again a free agent, Perez made his way to Bellator.

His first opponent, Misech, is right in line with his recent challenges and even those dating back to his final trio of wins in the UFC. The Hawaiian fighter is an 18-fight veteran, but he already has seven losses. The 31-year-old has had his ups and downs, but his recent stretch of fights suggests his ceiling in the sport. He suffered a loss to Ricky Palacios on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, topped Edward Thommes at Bellator 212, and lost a decision to former Bellator champ Eduardo Dantas at Bellator 215. He has also suffered defeat at the hands of UFC veteran Dustin Kimura and recent Contender Series fighter Austin Springer.

Perez’s overall UFC mark stands at 7-2. He’s gone undefeated in both BAMMA and Combate. This was a smart acquisition for Bellator. Perez has name value, and it’s likely that Bellator head Scott Coker views him as a future member of the bantamweight title mix. Misech is likely to serve as a respectable opponent in what will ultimately be a showcase fight for Perez.

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

This card can be divided into three parts. There are the “big fights” — the headliner, Perez’s debut, and the women’s flyweight clash between Veta Arteaga and Alejandra Lara. There are showcase bouts — Tywan Claxton’s rebound attempt against undefeated upstart Braydon Akeo, Joey Davis in a main-card opener against veteran Chris Cisneros, and Cass Bell’s prelim bout — and then there’s the filler. This isn’t a dig on the fighters involved, but Bellator isn’t exactly looking to heavily promote any of these guys right now. That doesn’t mean some couldn’t develop into future contenders or stars, though. A few of them — Hunter Ewald and Max Holloway training partner Pierre Daguzan — even enter as part of a Bellator tryout selection process that could lead to multi-fight contracts with the organization.



There is one bout, however, that doesn’t really fit into any of these three categories. That would be the prelim scrap between middleweights Ty Gwerder and Joseph Creer.

Gwerder has tallied four fights since making his pro debut in late 2018. He scored first-round stoppages in all of those fights. None of these contests lasted beyond the halfway point of the round. The 37-year-old Creer is no world-beater, but he’s put up decent numbers: six wins through eight fights, one knockout, one submission, and an appearance opposite Bellator standout Austin Vanderford in a losing effort.

This could prove to be another showcase fight, providing the Legacy Fighting Alliance vet Gwerder with an opportunity to impress the Bellator front office. However, Gerder has seen so little action that we can’t be confident in his resilience when he finally collides with someone who can test him inside the cage. Creer had a 6-1 showing on the amateur circuit and now checks in at 6-1-1 as a pro. The “Dark Knight” could serve to show fans whether Gwerder is the real deal or not. This one might just be worth the trouble of hopping online for the prelim broadcast.

Fight Picks

Fight Pick
Main Card (Paramount Network and DAZN, 10 p.m. ET)
HW: Josh Barnett vs. Ronny Markes Barnett
BW: Toby Misech vs. Erik Perez Perez
Women’s FlyW: Alejandra Lara vs. Veta Arteaga Arteaga
FW: Tywan Claxton vs. Braydon Akeo Claxton
WW: Joey Davis vs. Chris Cisneros Davis
Preliminary Card (DAZN and Bellator.com, 8:45 p.m. ET)
BW: Cass Bell vs. Pierre Daguzan Bell
WW: Hunter Ewald vs. Brysen Bolohao Bolohao
MW: Ty Gwerder vs. Joseph Creer Gwerder