They are two of the most dynamic strikers on the Bellator MMA roster, and the promotion would be hard-pressed to make a better match at 170 pounds.
Former Cage Rage champion Paul Daley will meet fellow Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Lorenz Larkin in a crackling welterweight showcase at Bellator 183 “Henderson vs. Pitbull” on Saturday at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Their three-round battle figures to clear the air in the divisional pecking order behind champion Douglas Lima and No. 1 contender Rory MacDonald, two men who will lock horns for the 170-pound crown in January.
Daley has rattled off six wins in eight appearances. The 33-year-old Englishman owns a long-established reputation as one of the sport’s premier knockout artists, having secured 29 of his 39 career victories by KO or TKO. His list of victims includes Brennan Ward, Scott Smith, Dustin Hazelett, Martin Kampmann, Daniel Weichel and Duane Ludwig. Daley last competed at Bellator 179 on May 19, when he submitted to a second-round rear-naked choke from the aforementioned MacDonald. “Semtex” has compiled a 6-2 record in Bellator.
Operating out of the Millennia MMA camp, Larkin has won four of his past six bouts. The Riverside, California, native last fought at Bellator 180 in June, when he dropped a five-round unanimous decision to Lima in his organizational debut and failed in his bid to unseat the reigning welterweight champion. Victories over Neil Magny, Jorge Masvidal, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Robbie Lawler highlight his resume. Larkin, 31, has been finished only once -- by former Ring of Combat titleholder Costas Philippou -- in his eight-year career.
Daley-Larkin is but one of the must-see fights on the Bellator 183 lineup. Here are four more:
Henderson has his work cut out for him yet again. Since signing with Bellator in 2016, the MMA Lab cornerstone has tackled three divisional champions -- welterweight Andrey Koreshkov, featherweight Patricio Freire and lightweight Michael Chandler -- and played to uneven results, going 1-2 in that three-fight span. The onetime UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder has not fought since he wound up on the wrong side of a split verdict against Chandler at Bellator 165 on Nov. 19. In his latest assignment, Henderson draws the less-heralded “Pitbull” brother in the main event. A two-time Bellator tournament finalist, Freire has secured 11 of his 17 professional victories by knockout or technical knockout. He cut down the American Kickboxing Academy’s Josh Thomson at Bellator 172 in his most recent appearance, as he disposed of the former Strikeforce champion in a stunning second-round KO in February.
Roy Nelson vs. Javy Ayala
After a 19-fight run in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Nelson has decided to take his Burger King belly and howitzer of a right hand to a different address. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 winner and former International Fight League champion will make his promotional debut opposite Ayala in the heavyweight co-main event. Nelson, 41, has lost seven of his last 10 fights, though those seven defeats have come against Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett, Derrick Lewis and Alexander Volkov. “Big Country” has not competed outside the UFC since 2009. Ayala sprang a shocking upset in his most recent appearance, as he knocked out Sergei Kharitonov in 16 seconds at Bellator 163 on Nov. 4. The 29-year-old Californian has gone the distance just twice in his career and sports eight first-round finishes among his 10 professional victories.
Two of the lightweight division’s most promising young talents will bring the weight class further into focus when the surging Yamauchi squares off with the unbeaten Piccolotti. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Fernandinho Vieira, Yamauchi has optimized his world-class grappling skills in MMA: He has delivered 17 of his 21 wins by submission, including 11 by rear-naked choke and four by armbar. The 24-year-old holds a 7-2 mark in Bellator, decision losses to Bubba Jenkins and Will Martinez representing his only missteps. Piccolotti has authored six finishes en route to a 9-0 record. He last appeared at Bellator 165 in November, when he captured a three-round unanimous decision over Brandon Girtz.
To say Aaron Pico’s MMA debut did not going according to plan would be a gross understatement. The hyped prospect bowed to a first-round guillotine choke from Zach Freeman at Bellator 180 on June 24, the 24-second submission quieting much of the buzz surrounding him. As such, Pico finds himself on the rebound ahead of his featherweight feature opposite Justin Linn. Despite his embarrassing setback against Freeman, the 20-year-old still possesses all the necessary skills to succeed at the highest level. Pico excelled as an amateur wrestler -- he finished second at the 2016 Olympic Trials -- and also enjoyed success in boxing and pankration. He signed a multi-fight contract with Bellator at the age of 18 in 2014, the Viacom-fronted promotion making a long-term investment in his talents. Linn will enter the cage on the heels of back-to-back losses to Cody Gibson and Matthew Lopez.