The Bellator Light-Heavyweight Grand Prix kicks off this Friday with a rematch between former UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion, Lyoto Machida and former Bellator Champ-Champ, Ryan Bader. For the record, Bader is still the Bellator Heavyweight Champion. This is an interesting test for both men as it will provide a barometer for how they’ve each improved, stagnated, or diminished with time. Either way, the winner moves on to the semi-finals of the Grand Prix and will face off against the winner of Corey Anderson vs. Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov.
The rest of the main card features matchups that all feature at least one ranked Bellator athlete. Before we take a closer look at the main event, let’s start at the main card’s opening bout and work our way up.
Lightweight: Dan Moret vs. Goiti Yamauchi
Dan Moret (14-6, 0-0 Bellator) is an athlete out of Fight Ready MMA in Mankato, Minnesota. He is a UFC veteran where he went winless under the promotion. Since his UFC stint, he rebounded with a single 2019 win under the UAE Warriors promotion. His bout at Bellator 256 will end an almost two-year hiatus from the sport. In terms of style, Moret is a southpaw. He likes attacking with kicks from his rear leg, especially inside calf kicks and body kicks. He sometimes kicks from a little too close, and he gets tagged as a result. Moret’s boxing is pretty solid. When he commits, Moret usually throws his punches in combination, often leading with a jab or left hook. As far as defense goes, Moret lacks head movement and is pretty hittable in boxing range. Moret’s wrestling and grappling will come in handy against Yamauchi, who will have an advantage if the action hits the floor. Moret has a decent top-game, enough to get some ground and pound off, but he lacks the finesse required to battle a foe like Yamauchi. If he ends up on his back, Moret will be in deep trouble.
How Moret Wins: Moret wins with his kicks and defending the takedown. Moret has some powerful inside calf kicks. Yamauchi likes to maintain a kicking range with his opponents, and Moret will be able to capitalize with his kicks to the leg. He should stay away from body and head kicks to avoid having them caught for a takedown. Moret’s boxing combinations would be easier to land against a Yamauchi with a compromised lead leg.
How Moret Loses: Moret loses if he plays on the floor. While Moret has some solid ground and pound, he will want to avoid the canvas altogether – even if he thinks he can get a TKO finish from ground and pound. Moret has a troubling tendency to completely square his stance if he feels he can land on his opponent. If he squares his stance against Yamauchi, he will be a prime target for the takedown.
Goiti Yamauchi (25-4, 11-3 Bellator) is a fighter out of Yamauchi Team in Curitiba, Brazil. While it has been a while since Yamauchi has stepped into the cage, he has been known to take rather long hiatuses from the sport. That said, the layoff he has enjoyed this time around is his longest yet. Yamauchi is a truly well-rounded athlete, but his specialty lies on the mat. From either his guard or on top, Yamauchi is a submission threat. Nine of his eleven Bellator wins are submission finishes, and he has won three straight fights heading into Bellator 256. In terms of striking, Yamauchi is no beginner, but that’s not what he’s here to do. On the feet, Yamauchi has solid distance management and likes to use long weapons like kicks to keep his opponents at distance. When the fight gets closer in, Yamauchi is looking to crush through the boxing range and clinch. Once clinched, Yamauchi is willing to pull guard just to get the fight to the floor.
How Yamauchi Wins: It’s no spoiler-alert that Yamauchi is looking to grapple and hunt a submission finish. While he might find some slight opposition from Moret’s defensive wrestling, if Yamauchi could get to a dominant position on the ground, he will be in complete control of the bout. That said, I still think Yamauchi would get a finish if he pulls guard on Moret.
How Yamauchi Loses: If Yamauchi leaves his head exposed while shooting for a double or single leg takedown against the fence, Moret hits really hard and hammerfists and elbows from him could stun Yamauchi. In addition, if Yamauchi is unable to ground the fight, he might find his front leg chewed apart by the calf kicks of Moret. This would hinder Yamauchi’s movement (distance management) and ability to base on his injured leg for takedowns.
Featherweight: Cat Zingano (#3) vs. Olivia Parker
Cat Zingano (11-4, 1-0 Bellator) an athlete out of Zingano BJJ in Broomfield, Colorado. A former mainstay of the UFC roster, Zingano made a smooth transition to Bellator, winning her debut last Fall. Zingano seems to have refocused on her wrestling, which was her base martial art when she came to the sport of MMA. Zingano may be better than ever right now. During her UFC stint, Zingano established herself as having fantastic clinch strikes like elbows and knees. Well, she still has those weapons, only now she uses those strikes to set up wrestling positions in the clinch. While she has solid double and single-leg takedowns, most of Zingano’s takedowns come from those clinch positions, where she sets up throws and trips. On the feet, Zingano is pretty unorthodox through her use of lateral movement, odd hand positioning, and odd angles. Zingano also heavily relies on leg kicks as they are her main offensive strike.
How Zingano Wins: Zingano should look to practice her striking in this bout. Her opponent, Parker, seems to be rather lost in striking exchanges, and I think this is a good bout for Zingano to show off some of her striking skills.
How Zingano Loses: Zingano has a willingness to fight from her back. She cannot do that here because Parker is actually really effective in top position. If Zingano insists on hunting for submissions, she might instead just waste away for 15 minutes.
Olivia Parker (4-1, 0-0 Bellator) is an athlete out of Knoxville Martial Arts Academy in Knoxville, Tennessee. Parker made her professional debut in 2019, and she remained undefeated until her most recent bout at Invicta 40, losing via first-round TKO to Chelsea Chandler. Parker is an interesting test for Zingano due to her skill set. Parker touts an impressive wrestling and grappling game, and I think Zingano might not be able to impose her will so easily. That said, Parker seems pretty out of her depth anytime a fight starts to become a slugfest. She often tries to clinch out of desperation if she gets hit, a tendency that will get her into trouble against a veteran like Zingano.
How Parker Wins: Parker needs to wrestle as soon as possible and grind for three rounds. I think this is her best strategy against Zingano. Parker can wear on people against the fence, and she can especially impose her will from any top position.
How Parker Loses: Unless Parker has put in a tremendous amount of work on her striking, she will be vulnerable in the striking range – kicking or boxing range. If she cannot get ahold of Zingano, she will be in for a quick, but bad night.
Featherweight: Jeremy Kennedy (#8) vs. Adam Borics (#3)
Jeremy Kennedy (16-2 1NC, 1-0 Bellator) is an athlete out of Canada, but in the past, he has trained at Xtreme Couture. He is a UFC veteran, going 3-1 in the promotion with his lone loss coming to current champion Alexander Volkanovski. Kennedy’s main skill is his wrestling. He has solid techniques against the fence and his striking is pretty good too. Kennedy is also good at mixing in his wrestling behind strikes, and he has good timing on his defensive takedowns for when his opponents get over-aggressive. Once on the floor, Kennedy is looking to strike and wear his opponents out with top pressure. His main weapons on the feet are leg kicks and a good jab.
How Kennedy Wins: Kennedy wins by being a mixed martial artist. He will need to blend his skills against Borics, but ultimately rely on his wrestling. Kennedy is heavy on top, and he puts together some great ground and pound. Stay safe on the feet by utilizing bread and butter techniques like jab/cross and leg kicks. He should use blend those strikes into his takedown and clinch attempts.
How Kennedy Loses: Kennedy loses by being predictable. Borics has great strikes to counter wrestling attempts like uppercuts and flying knees. Other than getting caught while going for a takedown, if Kennedy gets stuck in a kickboxing contest with Borics, he is likely to get stopped.
Adam Borics (16-1, 7-1 Bellator) is a fighter out of Sanford MMA and he is a staple of the Bellator featherweight division. Borics is a fantastic striker with dynamic attacks that look to put people away. His combinations are quick and accurate, and they combine kicks and punches in equal measure. Borics has struggled with his wrestling in the past (see loss to Darien Caldwell), but it’s clear in his recent footage that he’s put in serious work in that area of MMA. He still sees periods of adversity when his opponents start to wrestle, but much less so than before. It also seems that Borics needs to settle into the fight a bit, leading to him starting somewhat slow.
How Borics Wins: Use footwork and discourage wrestling. Borics wants this bout out in the open. If he can keep the competition in the middle of the cage, Borics will be much more likely to win. Kennedy will definitely try to wrestle, so Borics will need to defend and then punish Kennedy with strikes, either on Kennedy’s entries or clinch exits.
How Borics Loses: The wrestling blueprint is out on Borics. If Borics can’t stop the takedown and is unable to get back to his feet, he’s going to be in big trouble against Kennedy. Borics will sometimes unintentionally put his back to the cage – he cannot afford to do that in this one.
Flyweight: Liz Carmouche (#2) vs. Vanessa Porto
Liz Carmouche (14-7, 1-0 Bellator) became a legend of the sport when she fought at UFC 157, a show where herself and Rousey became the first women to headline a UFC PPV and the first women to appear on a UFC PPV. She trains out of Team Hurricane Awesome in San Diego, California. When she began her MMA career, Carmouche was a wrestling specialist, but she has become quite the well-rounded fighter. On the feet, Carmouche is a mixed bag. She has good defensive movement and decent head movement. Carmouche is quite comfortable with her kicks to the legs, body, and head. In the past, she has had difficulty finding her boxing range, often just a bit too outside. She seems to have worked on this part of her game, evidenced by the performance in her Bellator debut. On the floor, Carmouche is good everywhere. She’s great in a scramble, and she’s good at getting back to her feet if she needs to. Carmouche’s takedowns are great as well.
How Carmouche Wins: Carmouche wins with her wrestling and good timing. Porto rushes forward when she throws strike combinations, often straight forward and in a squared-up stance. Carmouche should be able to snag a takedown with some good timing as Porto comes forward. In addition, Carmouche’s footwork will be useful to avoid some of the strong strikes of Porto.
How Carmouche Loses: It is conceivable that Carmouche gets frozen on the outside as she did in her final UFC bout against Valentina Shevchenko. Porto is strong in the clinch and she hits hard, a possibly tough combination for Carmouche. If Carmouche allows herself to be backed up and kept at boxing range, she will have a long night at Bellator 256.
Vanessa Porto (22-8, 0-0 Bellator) is an athlete out of Drenix Iglesia Team in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She has fought mostly in Invicta FC since 2012, and she makes her promotional debut at Bellator 256. Porto is riding a four-fight win streak heading into her clash with Carmouche, but it’s been a while since she has made her way to the cage. It has been about a year and a half since her last bout. Porto’s skillset is well-rounded: she has solid kickboxing and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. While striking, Porto has powerful boxing and good kicks that she uses as range finders for her punches. She seems to be pretty strong and that is especially noticeable when she has top position on the ground.
How Porto Wins: Porto wins with aggression and measured forward motion. She wins when she goes first. I think Porto is really solid when she uses her striking and she might be able to stun Carmouche. If she does end up on the ground, hopefully, it is in the top position. I think that she might actually be able to grind out a decision if she can find the takedowns. That said, I think Porto should keep the fight in the center of the cage if possible.
How Porto Loses: Porto has been known to wear down late in the fight. If she gets put on the fence for extended periods of time or ends up having to fight from her back, she will get tired. I think she could also put herself in bad positions with her hyper-aggressive finishing style.
Light-Heavyweight: Ryan Bader (#1) vs. Lyoto Machida (#4)
Ryan Bader (27-6 1NC, 5-1 1NC Bellator) enters into this contest as the reigning Bellator Heavyweight World Champion and the former Bellator Light-Heavyweight World Champion, losing the title to Vadim Nemkov in his lone showing of 2020. This is a rematch of a 2012 bout that saw Lyoto Machida victorious via second-round TKO. So not only will Bader be looking to rebound from his most recent loss, but he will also look to avenge a loss from earlier in his career. This is an interesting crossroad for both athletes, but for different reasons. How much has Bader improved his striking? How much better is he at closing the distance? Only this fight will tell.
In terms of improvement since his 2012 meeting against Machida, Bader has for sure polished up his game. He has better (but still not great) head movement, and his overall striking game is more refined, with punches coming in combination. In the past, Bader would most often just wade in with overhand right hooks and left hooks. Defensively, Bader holds his hands higher, and he now fights behind his jab, which is a bit of a pawing strike. Unfortunately, Bader still loses his feet sometimes while striking, and he will still rush forward with his chin exposed as he gets more frustrated. Bader’s wrestling is just as strong as ever, but it’s now a bit more suited to MMA.
How Bader Wins: Bader wins with his wrestling and staying composed. Unless Bader gets a quick stoppage, success will not come quickly against a fighter like Machida. Bader will need to be okay using jabs and leg kicks until he sees an opportunity to wrestle. In addition, Machida has pretty solid takedown defense, so Bader will need to wear on the aged Machida in order to win over the course of five rounds.
How Bader Loses: As stated earlier, Bader will wade in with strikes if the fight starts to get away from him. That is how he lost the first fight against Machida, and I feel it is the most likely way he’ll lose this time around to Machida.
Lyoto Machida (26-10, 2-2 Bellator) is the former UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion and he has maintained at least a top-10 ranking for the last decade. He is older now, less quick, and less elusive. Lucky for him, he had some wiggle room there, because he’s still pretty elusive and pretty quick. Machida is coming off two straight losses and a small layoff heading into this rematch with Bader. Machida’s only losses under the Bellator banner have been decisions. He still has trouble being the leader when he needs to, unfortunately, a bit out of his depth if an opponent doesn’t allow Machida to play counter-striker.
Machida’s skill set has changed very little since the “Machida Era” of 2009 – 2010. He’s still very good at distance management and his kicks are just as lethal, but his footwork has slowed with time. It now seems much easier for opponents to cut off the cage than in the past. Now, that could be age, but it could be that opponents have more tape to study to break down the tendencies of the formerly mysterious Machida. That said, if an opponent is able to put him against the fence, Machida’s Sumo techniques make him difficult to take down.
How Machida Wins: Staying elusive, kicking the legs, and waiting for Bader to rush in. Bader still rushes with looping punches at times, and that is when Machida should be able to capitalize. In other words, make the fight slow and keep it that way for 25 minutes.
How Machida Loses: Wild exchanges and a high chin. While Machida is typically good at dancing away from enemy fire, he does tend to keep his chin high and his hands down. That’ll put him in prime position for one of Bader’s overhand strikes. In addition, Machida has a tendency to exit clinch positions with his hands down. Momentary defensive lapses, combined with Machida’s diminished chin, spell disaster if Bader lets his hands go in close quarters.
And that’s it! Thanks for reading, and enjoy the fights!
If you’d like to keep up with me outside of the predictions, you can catch me on the Sparring Partners Podcast, either on YouTube or Spotify.
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