Ryan Bader (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Bellator 256: Bader vs. Machida 2 Preview and Predictions

After a successful return last week, Bellator hosts its second event of the year, Bellator 256: Bader vs. Machida, on Friday, April 9.

The headlining affair is an opening-round fight in the light heavyweight grand prix that pits current heavyweight champion and former light-heavyweight kingpin Ryan Bader against former UFC light-heavyweight titleholder Lyoto Machida. This will also be a rematch nearly a decade in the making. Bader seeks redemption here after Machida stopped him via TKO in the second round of that first encounter.

The co-main event showcases two of the sport’s best flyweight ladies when Liz Carmouche and Vanessa Porto collide. Carmouche holds the distinction of being the first woman to step foot inside the UFC’s Octagon when she met Ronda Rousey in 2013. Porto recently vacated her Invicta FC flyweight title to join Bellator, but she starts her promotional tenure with a very difficult match-up.


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Featherweights Ádám Borics and Jeremy Kennedy also land on the main-card docket. Borics sports a 16-1 record, with his only blemish coming at the hands of former bantamweight champ Darrion Caldwell. Kennedy enters the fight with a record of 16-2 while riding a four-fight unbeaten streak.

The women’s featherweight division also has a marquee match-up in the lineup. Cat Zingano makes her second walk to the Bellator cage when she welcomes newcomer Olivia Parker to the organization.

The main card opens with a lightweight bout between all-action fighters Goiti Yamauchi and Dan Moret.

Bellator 256 takes place inside the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., as the company continues to operate out of a makeshift “bubble” in an effort to keep fighters safe in the lingering pandemic. The prelims air live on the Bellator YouTube channel at 6 p.m. ET. The main card follows on Showtime at 9 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this special edition of Toe-to-Toe.

The headliner between Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida is a rematch of a 2012 UFC bout that Machida won by stoppage. How differently will their second meeting play out?

Sumian: It will be the exact opposite result.

Bader found new life upon joining Bellator in 2017. The former double champ has compiled a 5-1-1 record while capturing both the light-heavyweight and heavyweight belts. Along the way, he has defeated Matt Mitrione, Fedor Emelianenko and Phil Davis. These aren’t necessarily impressive world-class victories given the stages these men were at in their respective careers, but Bader has undoubtedly proven himself as the “perfect” Bellator roster addition.

The league’s current heavyweight champ consistently earned a top-10 light-heavyweight ranking during his time with the UFC, and this only transitioned into utter domination when he first entered Bellator and put on masterful performances, albeit against aging veterans and second-tier talent. This is no knock on Bader’s accomplishments, as he has performed to near perfection since joining Bellator and will be a top name in both divisions for several more years. Most recently, he lost the light-heavyweight strap to rising star Vadim Nemkov, who he looks to rematch by successfully navigating this grand prix.

After countless years of success in the UFC, Machida hit a freight train and suffered brutal losses courtesy of Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero and Derek Brunson. He followed up a three-fight skid with a split-decision victory over Eryk Anders that was far from impressive. His final UFC bout was a “legends” clash with Brazil’s Vitor Belfort, who was unquestionably out of his prime and on his way out of the organization. Machida’s time with the UFC came to an end and the former champ did what most aging light-heavyweights do: he joined Bellator.

Machida’s move has resulted in a 2-2 record, with his only somewhat impressive win coming via knockout over the equally “done” Chael Sonnen in June 2019. Due to his unique karate style and fascinating counter-attack ability, Machida is considered one of the most incredible light-heavyweight talents to ever compete. However, the Brazilian’s days are unfortunately numbered. He enters this tournament as one of the bigger underdogs in the bracket, and he has an incredibly tough first fight against Bader.

In their first bout, Bader quite literally ran into Machida’s hand, which led to a devastating knockout loss and an eventual middleweight title shot for Machida against Chris Weidman. Since then, Machida has increasingly looked worse with each fight, whereas Bader has appeared better and better, even despite the loss to Nemkov. As long as Bader does not get too eager and fall victim to Machida’s ability to strategically counter aggression, he should score a fairly easy finish or at least convert the unanimous decision.

With this loss, Machida will likely retire and celebrate a storied career as one of the most memorable 205-pounders in the sport.

Petela: This fight will indeed look nothing like that first encounter. These guys are not the same men who fought nine years ago in the UFC. Bader is a better version of himself, while the years have taken their toll on Machida.

A big finish here for Bader will be exactly what he needs to get back all the momentum he lost in the Nemkov fight. He’ll utilize his All-American wrestling pedigree to get this contest to the ground early and stifle any flashy offense from his foe.

Make no mistake, Machida is no slouch on the mat. In fact, he is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, he does not have the type of active, flexible guard that can give Bader problems. This one ends via ground-and-pound before the second round comes to a close.

The biggest question was raised by my colleague. Where does Machida go from here? The 42-year-old hasn’t looked terrible in his last two outings, both split decisions, but he came up short against Gegard Moussasi and the aforementioned Davis. An early exit in this grand prix that comes in devastating fashion may be enough to force serious thoughts of retirement into the minds of Machida and his team. If that is the case and this weekend is the last time we see the great Lyoto Machida, he surely is deserving of a place in the sport’s Hall of Fame.

The women feature prominently on this card, with Liz Carmouche and Vanessa Porto in the co-headlining spot, Cat Zingano on the main card, Talita Nogueira on the prelims, and a overall total of eight ladies fighting on the night. Which two women make the biggest statements?

Petela: This will be a night where the two former UFC stars shine brightly. Carmouche and Zingano will have impressive performances in their sophomore bouts with Bellator. The two women both picked up wins in their debut performances, with Carmouche finding a submission and Zingano grabbing a clear-cut unanimous decision.

Porto will prove to be a tough opponent for Carmouche, but the UFC veteran will overcome the mid-fight adversity and pick up a very impressive win over the former Invicta champ.

Zingano will have a much easier time in her bout with Olivia Parker, who is making her promotional debut on the heels of her first professional loss. The wily veteran Zingano will fall back on her wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills to earn a submission win over Parker, who sits at 4-1 overall. It will be a statement performance that says that she could be a real threat to Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino’s featherweight title reign.

Sumian: Carmouche and Zingano will indeed shine on Friday, but let’s also not leave Nogueira’s name out of the mix. The former undefeated BJJ ace has hit a rough patch after suffering two straight losses in Bellator. However, she will get back to her winning ways when she takes Jessica Borga and turns in a finish over the Florida native.

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

Sumian: The lightweight match-up between Dan Moret and Goiti Yamauchi is going to be an instant Bellator classic. The pair have combined for 28 submission victories and 31 total finishes in their pro MMA careers. These two competitors are extremely well versed in both submission grappling and striking. This could be an all-out brawl that ends in an exciting finish.

Petela: Cass Bell and Jornel Lugo. These two bantamweights are going to put on a show. Bell is coming off his first loss and is sure to bring with him the pace that earned him the nickname “The Mean Green Fighting Machine.” Lugo, on the other hand, has yet to taste defeat. “A1” will give Bell all he can handle and then some. This prelim contest will likely steal the show.

FIGHT PICKS
Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET)
LHW Tournament: Ryan Bader vs. Lyoto Machida Bader Bader
Women’s FlyW: Liz Carmouche vs. Vanessa Porto Carmouche Carmouche
FW: Ádám Borics vs. Jeremy Kennedy Borics Borics
Women’s FW: Cat Zingano vs. Olivia Parker Zingano Zingano
Lightweight: Goiti Yamauchi vs. Dan Moret Yamauchi Moret
Preliminary Card (YouTube, 6 p.m. ET)
FW: Cody Law vs. Nathan Ghareeb Ghareeb Law
Women’s FW: Talita Nogueira vs. Jessica Borga Nogueira Nogueira
Women’s FlyW: Diana Avsaragova vs. Tara Graff Avsaragova Avsaragova
BW: Cass Bell vs. Jornel Lugo Bell Lugo
LW: Nainoa Dung vs. Izzy William Dung Dung
MW: Dalton Rosta vs. Tony Johnson Johnson Rosta
BW: Jaylon Bates vs. Jeffrey Glossner Bates Bates
BW: John Douma vs. Will Smith Douma Smith