One of the most eagerly-anticipated showdowns in the history of British MMA will be served up alongside the return of a heavyweight great in a surprisingly hefty week in mixed martial arts.
Three events will take place this weekend, with Bellator 215 and 216 on Friday and Saturday and UFC on ESPN 1 on Sunday to keep us entertained until the heavy-hitters that make up the latter parts of February and early March come around.
Bellator 215, while admittedly the weakest of the lot, will act as a fun intro to the stronger cards to be found on Saturday and Sunday.
In the main-event, heavyweights Matt Mitrione and Sergei Kharitonov collide in a matchup that will undoubtedly crown a number-1 contender to the divisional crown recently seized by Ryan Bader.
The matchup will be preceded by several noteworthy bouts – including the return of hotly-tipped prospect Logan Storley, who will take on SBG Ireland’s Ion Pascu and unbeaten talents Mike Kimbel and Austin Vanderford as they look to extend their impressive early-career showings with another finish.
When Saturday comes around, however, Bellator 216 is where the fireworks will start.
Legends Mirko Cro-Cop and Roy Nelson will throw down before one of the best in the world, the former Bellator heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov returns to the organisation and will look to move to 22-0 by taking out Cheick Kongo.
Another unbeaten talent Yaroslav Amosov (20-0) will return to the Bellator cage for the second time in an attempt to truly make a splash at 170lbs by defeating the former UFC veteran Erick Silva.
In the main-event, the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut will play host to perhaps the most eagerly-anticipated showdown in the history of British MMA – the clash between Paul Daley and Michael ‘Venom’ Page.
MVP has been a viral sensation for several years now as a result of his incredibly unique style and now, after a career that has seen him go 13-0, he will make a huge step up in competition to face ‘Semtex’ Daley in the opening round of the promotion’s welterweight grand-prix.
Daley has been in there with some of the greatest fighters the division has ever known such as Nick Diaz, Rory MacDonald, Tyron Woodley, Jorge Masvidal, Josh Koscheck, and Jake Shields.
A lot is still unclear as far as the pedigree of Page is concerned but make no mistake, if he can overcome the challenge he is set to face this weekend – it will be a lot harder to doubt him.
Two very solid Bellator cards will then see our attentions move to UFC on ESPN 1 on Sunday night – easily the strongest card of the three, one stacked top-to-bottom with incredibly compelling matchups.
The UFC are clearly pumping a lot of talent into their ESPN events – which is understandable given the exposure the sporting network brings – and for their debut on ESPN’s main channel, they have well and truly put together a cracking card.
Hugely impressive prospects like Manny Bermudez, Vicente Luque, and the debuting Kron Gracie (son of the legendary Rickson Gracie) are to be found on the night’s billing alongside a massively interesting bantamweight contender-fight between Jimmie Rivera and Aljamain Sterling but the real gold here is to be found in main and co-main event slots.
Paul Felder will take a break from doing his stellar work in the commentary desk by taking on the always-tricky James Vick in the night’s penultimate showdown – who will be looking to bounce back from a shocking first-round KO loss to Justin Gaethje with a win against one of the division’s best action fighters.
It would have been an interesting headliner in its own right but thankfully, we will be treated to a heavyweight clash for the ages in the main-event – a fight that will almost certainly have ramifications for the divisional title-picture in 2019.
Cain Velasquez is as iconic a heavyweight as the UFC has ever known and in his matchup against Francis Ngannou, we have one of the most compelling stylistic clashes we’ll see all year.
Both guys have a pretty clear path to victory and both bring their own respective x-factors to the cage with them that could see the fight’s momentum swing wildly in an instant.
The fight is a bettor’s nightmare and to be honest, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who will be confident in their pick heading into this one.
Not a bad weekend for fighting by any stretch!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena