When 90,000 people packed the famous Wembley Stadium in London at the end of April, it was a real changing-of-the-guard moment for the fight game. Not only did rising megastar Anthony Joshua defeat longtime heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko to establish himself as the hottest property in the sport of boxing, but he also put his home city back on the combat sports map.
That fight proved that big pay-per-view events can happen in the United Kingdom, all while drawing huge crowds and capturing the imagination of not only the locals but fans all around the globe.
Bellator 179 on Friday comes on the heels of the Klitschko-Joshua sellout in the same city. The event takes place at Wembley Stadium’s neighboring SSE Arena in London and touches down at a perfect time for the ravenous combat sports fans in the area. Bellator MMA will strike while the iron is hot, doing so with a card full of local and international talent.
Two top-flight welterweights take the stage on the main event, as Rory MacDonald takes on Paul Daley in a showdown between former Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors. For Daley, it provides the chance at perhaps the biggest win of his career. For MacDonald, it serves as an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the roster in his Bellator debut. Just like the boxing match that preceded it, MacDonald-Daley looks to be a matchup between a long, technical fighter with a masterful jab and a gritty power striker who can finish anyone when he ups the tempo.
The stakes are undeniably high for both men. MacDonald wants to get back to his winning ways with his new organization after he exited the UFC on a two-fight losing streak. Meanwhile, Daley knows a win over the Canadian could thrust him into a title fight for the first time since he lost to Nick Diaz under the Strikeforce banner in 2011 in perhaps the greatest one-round fight of all-time.
With that said, the biggest lure for many at Bellator 179 was the presence of the undefeated Michael Page. Unfortunately, a knee injury forced MVP off the card and out of the scheduled co-main event against Derek Anderson. Much has been expected of Page since he made his debut in 2012, and although the point-fighting master has been impressive at every turn, he has thus far been largely shielded from upper-echelon fighters in Bellator’s welterweight division. Many feel Page needs a step up in competition, and whoever loses in the main event could be an option.
If he faced MacDonald, MVP would undoubtedly be buoyed by how well Stephen Thompson -- a man with a similar kick-oriented style -- performed against the Tristar Gym standout in the UFC; and with Bellator now in the pay-per-view business, a MacDonald-Page battle figures to draw well at the gate and at the PPV window. If Daley emerges as Page’s next opponent, it makes for a fight long talked about in the UK, a fight that could sell out arenas on its own.
Locals have a vested interest in the new co-main event, as light heavyweights Liam McGeary and Linton Vassell square off in Page’s stead. As long-serving members of the Bellator roster, a fight between former champion McGeary and Vassell was bound to happen at some point. It marks the first time that both McGeary and Vassell will compete in their home country while wearing the Bellator gloves. While that may place unneeded pressure on the light heavyweight contenders, it will also add some spice to a bout that might have flown under the radar in a different location.
The level of anticipation involved in the outcome of the top two fights makes Bellator 179 hugely important for Scott Coker and Co. moving forward. Bellator MMA still does not have a live TV deal in the U.K. or Ireland -- a fact which hurts the promotion’s efforts when it comes to attracting new fans and establishing itself as a legitimate threat to the UFC. Still, the area’s combat sports fans flock to big fights in large numbers, and an event featuring MacDonald-Daley and McGeary-Vassell certainly has the potential to give them something to talk about.