Giants in their chosen profession, Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir will soon stand face to face with one another inside the cage -- a battle once believed to be unlikely at best come to fruition.
Emelianenko will take on Mir in the 2018 Bellator MMA heavyweight grand prix, their showdown headlining Bellator 198 this Saturday at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. A date with Chael Sonnen in the tournament semifinals awaits the winner, as Bellator whittles down what was once an eight-man field in pursuit of its vacant heavyweight championship.
While a shell of his former self, Emelianenko remains one of the sport’s most revered competitors. The 41-year-old former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder has not fought since he was on the receiving end of a first-round technical knockout from Matt Mitrione at Bellator 180 on June 24, the loss snapping a five-fight winning streak for “The Last Emperor.” Emelianenko’s resume speaks for itself and loudly so. He holds wins over four former UFC champions -- Mark Coleman (twice), Kevin Randleman, Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia -- and three Olympic medalists: Satoshi Ishii, Matt Lindland and Naoya Ogawa. Emelianenko has also beaten Brazilian great Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), four-time K-1 World Grand Prix winner Semmy Schilt and 2006 Pride open weight grand prix winner Mirko Filipovic. At the height of his power, the Red Devil Sport Club lynchpin compiled an absurd 27-0 record from April 6, 2001 until Nov. 7, 2009.
Mir is something of a wild card at this stage of his career. The Las Vegas native last appeared in March 2016 -- he was knocked out by 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt -- and has not posted a victory since he wiped out Todd Duffee in the UFC Fight Night 71 main event nearly three years ago. Wins over Nogueira (twice), Filipovic, Sylvia, former EliteXC champion Antonio Silva, “The Ultimate Fighter 10” winner Roy Nelson and World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Brock Lesnar highlight his career, which stretches across roughly 17 years.
The Emelianenko-Mir confrontation is but one reason to watch Bellator 198. Here are four more:
Contender on the Rise
Emmanuel Sanchez has begun to make his move toward the top of Bellator’s featherweight division. The Roufusport representative will carry a three-fight winning streak into his co-main event with Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Sam Sicilia. Sanchez, 27, has pieced together an 8-2 mark under Bellator employ, decision defeats to Pat Curran and Daniel Weichel his only missteps. The Duke Roufus protégé last competed at Bellator 184 on Oct. 6, when he submitted former champion Daniel Straus with a third-round triangle choke and announced his arrival as a legitimate title contender at 145 pounds. Sicilia made his promotional debut in December, as he took a three-round unanimous decision from Marcos Galvao at Bellator 189. The Sikjitsu export has delivered 12 of his 16 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
Dillon Danis can talk the talk, and Bellator has decided to give him the chance to walk the walk. A decorated submission grappler who holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under four-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Marcelo Garcia, the New Jersey native will test MMA waters for the first time when he squares off with Kyle Walker in a catchweight clash at 175 pounds. Danis, 24, operates out of the SBG Ireland camp, where he trains alongside former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor. A King of the Cage alum, the 31-year-old Walker has already been submitted twice in five career bouts.
Rafael Lovato Jr. has put himself on the doorstep to a middleweight title shot, and the undefeated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt can strengthen his position further when he locks horns with Gerald Harris in a featured attraction at 185 pounds. Lovato sports six finishes among his seven pro victories, four of them inside one round. The former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder last fought on Dec. 1, when he was awarded a three-round unanimous decision over two-time NCAA All-American wrestler Chris Honeycutt at Bellator 189. The win moved Lovato to 3-0 in Bellator. A short-notice substitute for the injured John Salter, Harris has strung together four straight victories since his decision loss to Joshua Burkman in November 2012.
Neiman Gracie shoulders the flag for MMA’s First Family. The unbeaten 27-year-old great-grandson of Carlos Gracie has submitted six opponents en route to a perfect 7-0 record and will look to add another victim to his growing list when he toes the line against Javier Torres in a three-round welterweight showcase. Gracie last competed at Bellator 185 on Oct. 20, when he tapped Zak Bucia with a neck crank 2:27 into the second round of their encounter at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Syndicate MMA’s Torres enters his Bellator debut on the strength of a career-best four-fight winning streak.