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Saturday marks the start of a brave new era for Bellator MMA. The promotion makes its debut on much-discussed and heralded over-the-top streaming service DAZN with a champion-versus-champion main event in Gegard Mousasi-Rory MacDonald. Legends Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Wanderlei Silva will make their rivalry a tetralogy in the co-headliner, and the start of Bellator’s welterweight grand prix sees former 170-pound champs Andrey Koreshkov and Douglas Lima make their own rivalry a trilogy.
The company is betting big on Bellator 206, which emanates from the SAP Center in San Jose, California, but as gamblers, should we be betting on this bad boy?
In truth, it’s a tried-and-true Scott Coker-style card. We have a championship superfight, some faded legends and a slew of showcase fights designed to put over the likes of Aaron Pico and Keri Anne Taylor-Melendez. Plus, we’re hamstrung by the fact that it’s Bellator, meaning we only get six fights and the most elementary of props into which to sink our betting teeth. Suffice to say, this is not a card with tight, seductive lines or overlooked underdogs.
With that said, everything is a little more fun when there are some stakes involved, so let’s figure out how we can best sweat it out at Bellator 206:
Straight Up CashGegard Mousasi (-260)
As usual, the bigger fight, the more even a layperson is enticed to bet, and naturally, I know people want a take on the main event. A -260 favorite isn’t normally the most tempting number unless you’re betting a lot of coin; however, there’s a reason Mousasi has been bet down from -200 to -260 since lines opened. Hopefully, you got in early and this simply makes you feel better about your play.
The first dynamic playing into the fight is how the 29-year-old MacDonald adjusts to Mousasi, who has experience as a light heavyweight and heavyweight during his combat sports career. With that said, MacDonald and Mousasi both sport 76-inch reaches, and MacDonald gives up just two inches of height; seeing both men side by side, there isn’t a shocking visual difference. More useful numbers: Using FightMetric numbers from their Ultimate Fighting Championship tenures, MacDonald typically averaged 1.77 takedowns per 15 minutes, while landing only 48 percent of his attempts. Meanwhile, he absorbs 2.80 significant strikes per minute to Mousasi’s scant 1.21.
If MacDonald’s title win over Lima is any indicator of how he’ll approach Mousasi, he’s going to pressure with his jab and throw as many takedowns as he can at the former Dream champion. Unfortunately for “The Red King,” Mousasi’s jab is superior to his and allows him to control distance and tempo. MacDonald often alternates between jabbing and punching and then throwing takedowns without using one to set up the other. This is the kind of dynamic that could make Mousasi the ring general for five rounds or less, especially factoring in his strong leg kicking game -- something that gave MacDonald considerable trouble in the Lima fight and allowed the Brazilian to take two rounds. This pick isn’t a mortal lock by any means -- MacDonald is still dangerous and talented, with a suitable middleweight frame -- but Mousasi should be able to use his technical precision and defensive savvy to take a unanimous verdict.
Straight Up PassAndrey Koreshkov (-140), Douglas Lima (+120)
At first glance, this may seem hypocritical, as I bemoaned the lack of close, intriguing lines on this card. Koreshkov-Lima 3 happens to be the only one, which makes me advocating a hard pass on this seem backwards.
It’s not just that Koreshkov and Lima have split their first two fights, but it’s how they fight against one another and how their styles combine. In their July 2015 encounter, “The Spartan” used a combination of his high-flying, spinning offense and vastly superior wrestling to shut out Lima. In the November 2016 rematch, Koreshkov combined his wrestling with higher striking volume, but Lima showed the emergence of an improved jab, shored up his wrestling and eventually turned the Russian’s aggression against him, landing a crushing left-handed counter that earned him the title back.
While both men possess power and dynamism, the improvements “The Phenom” showed since their first meeting combines with whatever impact his knockout in the rematch may have on Koreshkov’s attack. For my money, with so much on the line -- this is the start Bellator’s welterweight grand prix, and there’s extra incentive now with 50 Cent offering up $1 million to the winner of the tournament -- there’s just too much variability in a fight with such a dynamic, unpredictable clash of styles, especially over five rounds. Call me a wimp if you wish.
A Prop-ular PickQuinton Jackson-Wanderlei Silva 4 Goes To Decision (+155)
Allow me to qualify this by saying I’m also intrigued by the prop of Pico-Higo going to decision at +240, simply because the Brazilian veteran represents such a massive step up in opposition for Bellator’s anointed golden child. With that said, Higo is a pretty good finisher and since Pico slipped up in his pro debut, his offense has looked positively terrifying, to the point that it makes me more sheepish on that call.
Moving on, it’s almost October 2018 and we’re getting a fourth fight between “Rampage” and “The Axe Murderer,” both of whom are completely faded, in a mere three-round fight? I’ll take +155 for this unnecessary fourth meeting to go that full, fateful 15 minutes.
To my mind, the only thing that teases a stoppage here is if Silva is even more dilapidated than he was 15 months ago against Chael Sonnen and allows Jackson to land one big shot that crumbles his once-proud chin. However, Jackson, who also looked like a shell of his former self in his own recent loss to Sonnen, hasn’t knocked out anyone in four and a half years and has become even more lethargic in that time period, lazily trudging around the cage with no hint of his once-fantastic jab, occasionally rolling his shoulders and throwing slow left hook-right hook combos or otherwise getting stuck in the clinch. However, the 40-year-old Jackson still has one of MMA’s all-time great chins and should be able to withstand -- or more likely for this version of “Rampage,” simply avoid -- whatever a 42-year-old Silva sloppily chases him with in a lackluster 15-minute fight.
An Un-prop-ular PickKeri Anne Taylor-Melendez-Dakota Zimmerman Goes to Decision (+155)
I understand why some smarts and sleuths would want to hop on this prop bet. For an obvious host of physiological reasons, women don’t carry the same pop that men do, which leads to far more decisions. On top of that, the effect is magnified as you slide down the scale, and this fight takes place at 115 pounds. In the UFC, 69.2 percent of women’s strawweight fights go to decision, the highest number in the company by nearly eight percentage points. Keep in mind that’s despite 115 pounds being the most talented, dynamic women’s weight class in the company.
Even so, there’s a reason that Melendez is a whopping -1100 favorite and over -1400 on some books. She’s a woman around which Bellator wants to build its future. Plus, considering her relationship and that of husband Gilbert Melendez’s with Coker, do you really think they’d be setting her up for anything more than a chance to shine?
Zimmerman is making her pro debut and only had two amateur fights; Taylor-Melendez has already stopped her first two opponents in Sheila Padilla and Tiani Valle, both of whom are more talented and have far more combined amateur and pro experience than Zimmerman, who hasn’t fought in over two years. Zimmerman is a straightforward, wild brawler, while Melendez is a much more composed technical striker with real kickboxing experience. She is also likely far more skilled on the ground, as evidenced in the Valle win. Plus, Taylor-Melendez does seem to have legitimate potential and isn’t going to just coast on promotional favoritism in the long term. I understand why someone would be tempted to bet this prop, but it’s entirely contingent on the mere idea “women always go to decision.” This fight is as basic of a set-up as you get, and Taylor-Melendez should get her third straight stoppage to start her career.
An Accumulation ContemplationGegard Mousasi (-260)
Quinton Jackson (-270)
Gaston Bolanos (-550)
Total Odds: (+123)
Although there’s always an inherent risk in parlaying for obvious mathematical reasons, on a card like this without too many juicy betting opportunities and so many staunch favorites, the ol’ classic three-teamer might be the best way we can get positive odds and make some money.
Mousasi is obviously the biggest worry here, as he’s in a five-round fight with a talented, dangerous fighter; after all, as mentioned, he opened at -200 and was largely bet into this position because of early money from folks questioning MacDonald’s viability as a middleweight. Nonetheless, Mousasi is a righteous favorite, so I see no reason to fade the action. Plus, we have to take what can get here.
Even though I previously predicted an ugly fight in Jackson-Silva 4 and I recommended betting on the fight to go to the scorecards, “Rampage” is less shopworn than Silva, has been more active if routinely disinterested in fighting and may even resort to his wrestling, which favors him. Plus, the major threat to my recommended prop was that the Memphis, Tennessee, native can still punch and Silva’s chin is busted, so in case Jackson does clobber Silva, this could be a good way to hedge against that.
As for Bolanos, he’s a top-notch athlete with some high-octane striking, as evidenced in his savage spinning back elbow win over Rick Gutierrez in December and his destruction of Malcolm Hill’s legs in just three minutes in May. Opponent Ysidro Gutierrez is just a straightforward tough guy who favors the striking game but doesn’t have much output and should be at a significant striking disadvantage.
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