Bellator is back with a card full of title implications and a spot of interim-championship gold. The future of the Bellator MMA heavyweight division will begin to crystalize as Tim Johnson and Valentin Moldavsky face off for the Interim Bellator MMA Heavyweight Championship. The winner will keep the heavyweight crown warm while current-champion Ryan Bader tries his hand in the Bellator World Light-Heavyweight Grand Prix. In addition, the Women’s Flyweight title picture is going to get a little clearer when Kana Watanabe and Liz Carmouche compete in what is essentially a title eliminator.
All that and more on the Bellator 261 Main Card. Read on to get the difference-making details of Friday’s fights.
Light Heavyweight: Christian Edwards vs. Simon Biyong
Christian Edwards (4-0, 4-0 Bellator) is an athlete out of Oklohoma, but he he does his camps with Jackson Wink MMA. Edwards was actually the first recipient of a scholarship designed to help upcoming talent get training for the next level. This guy is being groomed for big things under the Bellator banner. He is only 22, but he’s been signed with Bellator since his professional debut. In terms of skills, Edwards fights a bit like a lesser Jon Jones. That is not to disparage Edwards, it’s actually a complement. Edwards is clearly a cerebral fighter, and he has a wide array of weapons. He fights long with front kicks and oblique kicks. In close, Edwards uses elbows and knees. Edwards clearly works on his wrestling and it seems to be better with every fight. All that said, he still looks like an athlete with only four fights under his belt. This fight is another step to better refine Edwards.
Simon Biyong (7-1, 0-0 Bellator) is an athlete out of Genova, Italy. Biyong hasn’t fought in some time. He was last in action at Rizin 20 on New Years Eve 2019. Biyong brings power and athleticism to the cage, and he has some solid wrestling. He can generally take control of the bout if he can get top position on the ground. Biyong has some great ground striking, but he leaves his arms exposed when he’s in his opponent’s guard. In terms of striking, Biyong seems to have improved bout over bout, and I expect him to have gotten better by the time we see him at Bellator 261. There’s not a ton of footage of Biyong, but there’s enough to show he’s a legit challenge for Christian Edwards.
What to Expect: I expect Christian Edwards to control the bout. He is good at range and his inside fighting is much better than Biyong’s. That said, Biyong is very much in this fight, but he’ll need to be in good condition. Considering Biyong is taking the bout on short notice, I’m not sure how good his gas tank will be though. Edwards wears down over the course of three rounds, and Biyong might be able to secure takedowns through attrition.
Lightweight: #4 Miles Jury vs. Sidney Outlaw
Miles Jury (19-5, 2-1 Bellator) is an athlete aligned with Alliance MMA in San Diego, California. After a rough three-fight skid, Jury has found his footing in Bellator MMA. He competed twice in 2020 and won both showings. After besting Karakhanyan and Girtz, Jury is ranked at #4 in the Bellator lightweight division. On the feet, Jury is sound defensively, but isn’t a noticeable threat offensively. Sure, he has good boxing and kicks, but they are not as impactful as they could be. That said, this is probably an intentional pacing strategy to maintain his gas tank. Jury shines on the mat, and his submission game is pretty dang good. Jury’s takedowns are also pretty good, and they rely mostly on timing rather than power.
Sidney Outlaw (15-4, 2-1 Bellator) is out of Renzo Gracie Pennsylvania in Telford, Pennsylvania. Outlaw last fought at Bellator 244 where he got back to the win column with a split-decision over Adam Piccolotti. Outlaw relies on his grappling prowess and sets up his takedowns with strikes. Outlaw has some good ground striking, but he is not very dynamic outside of scrambles. That said, if Outlaw is in a scramble, he’s usually able to come out in dominant position.
What to Expect: This fight hinges on grappling. If Outlaw can get takedowns, Jury is usually willing to play guard. Of course, Outlaw will need to avoid the submissions of Jury, but his path to victory is ground control. For Jury, he needs to stand and touch Outlaw with offense. Jury has good jabs and counter crosses, and I think his striking game is more versatile than Outlaw’s. Jury is good at avoiding most damage, and his footwork puzzles lesser strikers. This bout will most likely go to decision.
Featherweight: #6 Daniel Weichel vs. Keoni Diggs
Daniel Weichel (40-12, 9-4 Bellator) is an athlete out of MMA Spirit in Frankfurt, Germany. He is a mainstay of the Bellator featherweight divison, fighting with Bellator MMA since Bellator 110 in 2014. I consider Weichel’s #1 weapon to be his experience. With over 50 fights, Weichel has seen a lot of different looks in the cage, so he’s not easily surprised. Recently, Weichel hasn’t been very lucky with the judges, losing three of his last four fights via decision. He has a very polished skillset, but he has been slowing down a bit as he approaches 40 years old. His grappling and boxing are his most dangerous weapons, but he seems to have hit a skill ceiling on his wrestling defense and scrambling.
Keoni Diggs (9-0, 2-0 Bellator) is an athlete out of 808 Fight Factory in Glendale, Arizona. Diggs last saw the Bellator cage when he took out Derek Campos at Bellator 246. The undefeated fighter touts awkward timing on his strikes and competent wrestling. His ground control is quite good, and he hits hard on the ground. Another wrinkle to breaking down Diggs is his experience. While he doesn’t have nearly the experience of Weichel, Diggs has been a professional since 2012 – almost a decade. So while Diggs has not been in the cage as many times as Weichel, the 34 year-old Diggs has been training for a while.
What to Expect: I expect Weichel’s experience to pay off, but Diggs is dangerous. Diggs hits hard, and I think he’s a bit faster than Weichel. I don’t think the wrestling will be a huge factor, but either man has the ability to take the other down. That said, I think the grappling falls in favor of Weichel. While Weichel is a bit older, it’s only by two years, and he is still very durable in a fistfight. This should be a fun one.
Flyweight: #5 Liz Carmouche vs. #9 Kana Watanabe
Liz Carmouche (15-7, 2-0 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. Carmouche’s win over Vanessa Porto at Bellator 256 showed off the hard work she’s been working on her boxing, but it’s not perfect. 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.
Kana Watanabe (10-0-1, 2-0 Bellator) has been perfect thus far in her MMA career. She started her martial arts journey with Judo and it definitely shows in her fights. Her standup fighting is not bad, but she is clearly looking for clinch-based takedowns. Those takedowns are fantastic Judo trips that she’ll chain together to eventually force her opponent to the mat. Watanabe likes to fight from the top position on the ground and she has some pretty effective and powerful ground and pound. Also, judging from her bout against Ilara Joanne at Bellator 237, Watanabe has some great submission defense as well. Her major issue is when her clinches get thwarted. She sometimes just starts pawing at air and gets clipped with punches as a result. She also seems to be vulnerable to strikes on clinch exits. Watanabe barely held onto her undefeated record with a split-decision at Bellator 255.
What to Expect: Liz Carmouche’s newfound boxing skills should make the difference here. While Watanabe’s Judo is fantastic, I don’t think it will stun Carmouche. Carmouche is hard to get down, but even harder to keep down, and her scrambling ability is world class. This is unmistakably for the next shot at the Bellator MMA Women’s Flyweight Championship, and both women should be looking to make a major statement. That said, I predict a decision, but an entertaining technical battle nonetheless.
Bellator MMA Interim Heavyweight Championship: #1 Tim Johnson vs. #3 Valentin Moldavsky
Tim Johnson (15-6, 3-2 Bellator) is a fighter out of the Academy of Combat Sports in Las Vegas, Nevada. Once a UFC heavyweight prospect, Johnson chose to test free agency and signed with Bellator MMA in 2018. While he lost his first two fights with the promotion, Johnson has put together three straight wins. Johnson’s most recent bout at Bellator 248 was a close one, a split-decision win against Cheick Kongo – the man who beat Johnson in his Bellator debut. Johnson seems to have found his fighting rhythm and he’s become really good about using his toughness only when he needs to. In the past, Johnson would rely on his ability to take a shot, and just end up knocked out. In recent times, Johnson is much more likely to wrestle and use dirty boxing to impose his will. While it’s sometimes not the most entertaining style, it is effective. If Johnson can get his opponent down, he has substantial power in his ground strikes. Johnson isn’t very explosive, but for a big guy, he has an excellent gas tank.
Valentin Moldavsky (10-1, 5-0 Bellator) is a Combat Sambo specialist, and he fights out the Alexander Nevesky team in Stary Oskol, Russia. Since making his Bellator MMA debut in 2017, Moldavsky has remained undefeated through five showings. Moldovsky has the markings of heavyweight combat sambo: great movement, explosive striking, and excellent grappling. In the past he has been vulnerable to bigger wrestlers, but Moldavsky is good at staying relaxed in wrestling positions. In addition, Moldavsky is very comfortable in the clinch and utilizes trips to get opponents down. On the feet, Moldavsky relies on quickness and head movement for defense. His offensive striking weapons are looping hooks and leg kicks. He often uses leaping attacks to put himself into clinch range. From there, Moldavsky often looks for the takedown. Moldavsky is quick when he needs to be, and he’s like a heavy wet blanket when he’s in top position on the floor. Let’s just say, the influence of his training partner Fedor Emelianenko is rather noticeable.
What to Expect: I expect Moldavsky to get it done against Johnson. Johnson’s standard strategy relies on him getting control of the clinch, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to do that against Moldavsky. In addition, Moldavsky hits hard on the feet and is the faster athlete between the two. Johnson might be able to outlast Moldavsky in the later rounds, but Moldavsky isn’t known to have bad conditioning. To be clear, I don’t see this as a blowout. Johnson has ways to win, especially if he can win the wrestling battles and consistently get top position on the ground. Further, Johnson can crack; if he catches Moldavsky with a solid hook, he has a good chance of capturing gold.
And that’s it! Thanks for reading, and enjoy the fights!
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