The new era of MMA being hoisted up onto the pedestal of mainstream media through outlets like Showtime Sports and ABC (for UFC aficionados) has officially begun. Whether it’s because more eyes are focused on the sport or big-time networks have starting to buy in, this is just what is needed during this time. From stunning upsets to legends being dethroned, 2021 has seen it all.
ONE Championship came in swinging into the North American waters with a six-bout card that saw pioneer multi-time champion Eddie Alvarez succumb to a controversial disqualification a mere minute into the fight after landing punches to the back of his opponent’s head. If that wasn’t enough, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, the man who many see as the greatest of all time in the flyweight division, was knocked out by Adriano Moraes in the second round of their showdown.
Then came Bellator. The company responded with its own splash by breaking a four-month hiatus with a card centered around the featherweight grand prix semifinal between current champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and Emmanuel Sanchez. The aforementioned event, Bellator 255, just so happened to be the first time MMA was broadcasted on Showtime since Strikeforce in 2013. It also aired live for fans on streaming services Hulu and Pluto. Bellator 256 followed on Showtime a week later.
Now, the company returns with Bellator 257 on Friday, April 16. The show includes 13 planned fights and takes place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. In the headlining affair, newly crowned light-heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov looks to pull off his first successful title defense in a rematch against former UFC veteran Phil Davis. The contest also serves as an opening-round fight in the light-heavyweight grand prix. The co-headliner between Corey Anderson and Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov is also a tournament affair.
The Bellator 257 prelims are slated for 6 p.m. ET on Bellator’s YouTube channel. The main card has a 9 p.m ET start time and airs live on Showtime.
Light-heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov puts his belt on the line in an opening-round tournament match-up in a rematch with Phil Davis. Nemkov barely squeaked by Davis the first time around. What will be the key to a more decisive win for either fighter this time around?
Nemkov’s speed is the reason why he is so dangerous to face in every fight. Through all of his 15 bouts as a professional, we have yet to see his speed diminish as the fight extends into the second round and beyond. Lucky enough for Davis, however, is that Nemkov is human. If Davis wants to hand Nemkov just the third setback in the 28-year-old Russian’s career and the first during his five-fight Bellator tenure, it would be a wise decision for him to have a takedown-heavy approach. This is especially important when fatigue and sweat can’t factor in.
Davis, a native of Harrisburg, Pa., has been with Bellator for five years, but he has yet to fight an opponent who is in their prime. With the exception of Nemkov, the 27-year-old Swiss prize fighter Karl Albrektsson is the only one that fits the mold as a natural 205-pounder. The only time Albreksson did not fight at light heavyweight was in RIZIN’s 2016 World Grand Prix, where he clocked in at 231 pounds. Even in that contest, Davis was ahead on the scorecards after the first two rounds before claiming Albrektsson’s back and having referee Kevin Macdonald halt the action as Davis was throwing elbows and hammerfists three minutes into the third frame that went unanswered.
Nemkov was just on the right side of 26 when he defeated Ryan Bader for the strap last year. This will be his first title defense, and experience will play a huge role in the outcome. If Davis can perfect the timing on his attacks, then he could prevail.
Nemkov should return the favor and see if he can be the one that pursues the takedown. By doing so, the reigning champ can make Davis more hesitant. In their first encounter at Bellator 209 two years ago, Davis had no answer for Nemkov’s leg kicks. If the Russian mixes his takedown attempts with his kicks, then he could end up besting Davis for the second consecutive time.
Corey Anderson’s opening-round tourney bout comes against a relative unknown to American fans: Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov. Does Anderson have much to worry about here?
Yagshimuradov has primarily fought in Ukraine and Russia for promotions such as M-1 Global and Oplot MMA. Four of his fights were against rookies. Surprisingly, he actually lost one of those fights: His first loss came to Vasily Babich at Oplot Challenge 2. The Turkmenistan-born fighter is currently on an eight-fight winning streak, though. He moves very well for a man of his stature and doesn’t really need to cut weight to make the 205-pound limit.
As actions speak louder than words, Yagshimuradov has a knack for the ground-and-pound game. He’s also the one who has his back facing the cage for a majority of his fights. In his fight against Alexey Butorin, Yagshimuradov had front kicks, ground-and-pound, and rear-naked choke attempts at his disposal. It’s pretty clear how decisively he won the first three rounds.
Simply put, Anderson would be making a mistake if he were to dismiss Yagshimuradov.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Mads Burnell and Saul Rogers. Both fighters are coming into the contest with 17 fights under their belt, and they have mirroring records of 14 wins and three losses.
The elder statesmen of the two is Rogers, who is searching for a win to level his record in the Bellator cage at .500. He was a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 22, where he went 4-0 with a pair of second-round finishes against Paulo Boer and Marcin Wrzosek.
Burnell is on a five-fight winning streak that includes four submission finishes. He had a three-fight stint in the UFC before flourishing in the Cage Warriors system, where he claimed the featherweight title in just his third fight with the London-based promotion.
Main Card (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET)
LHW Championship and Tournament: Vadim Nemkov vs. Phil Davis
LHW Tournament: Corey Anderson vs. Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov
Women’s FlyW: Veta Arteaga vs. Desiree Yanez
Catchweight (175 pounds): Paul Daley vs. Sabah Homasi
Preliminary Card (YouTube, 6 p.m. ET)
Women’s FW: Julia Budd vs. Dayana Silva
LHW: Karl Albrektsson vs. Viktor Nemkov
FW: Pedro Carvalho vs. Jay Jay Wilson
FW: Saul Rogers vs. Mads Burnell
LHW: Julius Anglickas vs. Gregory Milliard
FW: John De Jesus vs. Alfred Khashakyan
HW: Steve Mowry vs. Shaun Asher
WW: Grachik Bozinyan vs. Demarques Jackson
LW: Lance Gibson Jr. vs. Marcus Surin
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