Bellator aims to make an impression with its first card of 2018.
In the main event of Saturday’s Bellator 192, Chael Sonnen and Quinton Jackson face off in the first bout of the Bellator heavyweight grand prix tournament. The co-headliner is the much-anticipated title fight between welterweight champion Douglas Lima and former UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald.
Sonnen and Jackson are two of the most prominent names competing in the eight-man tournament to decide Bellator’s first heavyweight champion since the promotion stripped Vitaly Minakov of the title in 2016. Minakov last defended the belt in April 2014.
RelatedBellator 192 pre-event facts: Champ Douglas Lima looks to add to knockout record
Lima has lost just twice in the past seven years, both in Bellator welterweight title fights. He’s in no hurry to add a third to his record. MacDonald, in just his second fight with Bellator, is confident he’s the man to end Lima’s second run as 170-pound champion.
Bellator 192 takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., and the main card airs on Paramount following prelims on MMAjunkie.
Here are five reasons to watch the event.
1. Let the grand prix begin
Sonnen has had mixed results during the “Legends Ass-Kicking Tour” he embarked on when he signed with Bellator. He lost his first fight when Tito Ortiz submitted him via rear-naked choke at Bellator 170. The outspoken Oregonian earned a win at the New York City tour stop when he defeated Wanderlei Silva via decision. Sonnen now (29-15-1 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) faces Jackson (37-12 MMA, 4-1 BMMA) when the “American Gangster” tour bus rolls into Inglewood.
Jackson is 4-1 in Bellator. His first loss with the promotion came in his most recent bout when he dropped a decision to Muhammed Lawal in March.
Sonnen never has fought higher than light heavyweight. Jackson, meanwhile, has and weighed in at 253 pounds for the Lawal fight.
Not only will this matchup determine who moves onto the next round of the grand prix, but it also has some financial implications. During the media tour for their bout, Jackson told Sonnen he would give him $10,000 each time Sonnen earned a takedown. Jackson has often lamented the fact he has to compete against fighters who employ a wrestling base. The threat of parting with cold, hard cash is just another reason for him to keep the fight standing.
According to the heavyweight grand prix bracket, the winner of this fight moves on to face the victor of the Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir bout.
2. More than a belt on the line
Lima has participated in five previous Bellator title fights. None were as meaningful as his matchup against McDonald.
Those in the know already recognize Lima (29-6 MMA, 11-2 BMMA), who is No. 8 in the most recent USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings, as one of the best fighters in the 170-pound division. Lima feels if he can get the best of the No. 3-ranked MacDonald (19-4 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) he will put himself in position to be recognized as the best fighter in the weight class.
“I’d love to think (the winner is No. 1 in the world) – I think Rory’s been on the top for a long time,” Lima said on a recent conference call. “He beat the guy who is supposedly the No. 1 (Tyron Woodley) right now – he beat him before. So he can be considered the No. 1, and I’ll take that spot when I beat him next Saturday, for sure. I’m honestly not even thinking about that. I’m just focused on the fight. I don’t really care much about rankings. There’s always going to be someone saying something like, ‘He doesn’t deserve to be No. 1.’ So, I’m not really focusing on that.”
For MacDonald, this fight is the opportunity to gain what eluded him in 2015, a major MMA title. Then-UFC champion Robbie Lawler stopped MacDonald via TKO at UFC 189. A decision loss to Stephen Thompson followed that fight. MacDonald then moved to Bellator via free agency. In his first bout with the promotion, MacDonald submitted Paul Daley in the second round.
Lima is coming off a unanimous-decision win over former UFC fighter Lorenz Larkin.
3. Opportunity knocks
Goiti Yamauchi has a huge opportunity. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt faces former lightweight champion Michael Chandler at Bellator 192. With a win, he has a chance to earn a shot at the man who defeated Chandler for the title, Brent Primus.
Yamauchi has three lightweight fights with Bellator to his name. He’s ended each of those via first-round submission. He’s used three different submission holds to gain those stoppages: rear-naked choke, triangle choke and armbar. Overall, 18 of his career wins have come via submission. His most recent decision victory occurred in 2014.
Chandler (16-4 MMA, 13-4 BMMA) presents the toughest test of Yamauchi’s (22-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC) career. The two-time Bellator champion was riding a four-fight winning streak before an ankle injury stopped his bout with Primus. Chandler starts his fights in a hurry. If Yamauchi, who has never been finished, can withstand the initial onslaught, Chandler’s energy reserves could wane. That could present Yamauchi with the opening to become the first man to stop Chandler by submission.
4. And the verdict is?
Aaron Pico was one of the most hyped prospects in MMA. Signed by Bellator in 2014, the standout amateur wrestler finally made his debut in 2017. It couldn’t have gone worse. Zach Freeman submitted Pico in 24 seconds.
The California-based fighter bounced back in a big way in his next bout. Pico showed off his wrestling, ground game and striking on his way to a highlight-reel knockout victory over the more experienced Justin Linn.
The 21-year-old Pico (1-1 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) faces Shane Kruchten (12-3 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) in Inglewood. The 33-year old is coming off a decision win over Jeremy Mahon at WSOF 34. Kruchten has nine stoppage wins to his name.
With mixed results in his first two bouts, the jury is still out on Pico.
5. Deep roots
Khonry Gracie, the son of MMA legend Royce Gracie and grandson of just straight-up legend Helio Gracie, makes his professional MMA debut on the prelims of Bellator 192.
The 20-year-old has one amateur bout on his record, a unanimous-decision win. Gracie (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA), a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, faces Devon Brock (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA), who went a perfect 5-0 in amateur competition in 2017 and also makes his professional debut.
The pressure on Gracie is huge, but that’s something he seems to welcome.
“When he (Royce) started, the whole goal was to spread jiu-jitsu,” Khonry said at a recent media day. “The same goal continues today: spread jiu-jitsu as far as we can, as wide as we can. We’re here to carry on the family name and legacy – make my grandfather proud, make my father crowd.”
Royce, Rodrigo and Roller Gracie will corner Khonry for this fight.
For more on Bellator 192 check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.