Phil Davis thought he had a title shot lined up, but an injury to reigning Bellator MMA light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary altered those plans.
Davis will instead settle for a showdown with former Strikeforce titleholder Muhammed Lawal in the Bellator 154 main event on Saturday at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. The two were originally slated to meet in the final of a four-man grand prix on Sept. 19 before Lawal bowed out with injured ribs and left Davis to mop the mat with tournament alternate Francis Carmont.
A Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native, Davis will step into the cage on the strength of back-to-back wins. The 31-year-old Alliance MMA rep wrestled collegiately at Penn State University, where he was a four-time NCAA All-American, compiled a 112-17 career record and won a national championship in 2008. Davis started 9-0 after transitioning to MMA -- a run that included victories over Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. “Mr. Wonderful” has never been finished in 19 professional appearances, losing only to Rashad Evans, Anthony Johnson and Ryan Bader.
Lawal has rattled off seven straight wins since his disputed decision defeat to Quinton Jackson in May 2014. The 35-year-old last fought under the Rizin Fighting Federation banner in December, when he won an eight-man, two-day heavyweight tournament with victories over Brett McDermott, Teodoras Aukstuolis and Jiri Prochazka. A decorated amateur wrestler in his own right, Lawal was a national champion at the University of Central Oklahoma and later earned All-America honors at Oklahoma State University. He was also a three-time gold medalist at the USA Senior Freestyle National Championships. Since arriving on the MMA scene in 2008, “King Mo” has delivered 13 of his 19 wins by knockout or technical knockout.
With the Davis-Lawal battle shouldering the marquee, here is what to watch for at Bellator 154:
The Bellator heavyweight division could use an infusion of proven talent. Enter Sergei Kharitonov.
The menacing 6-foot-4 Russian brute will make his promotional debut in the co-headliner, as he takes on West Coast Fighting Championship titleholder Josh Appelt. A Pride Fighting Championships, Strikeforce and Dream veteran, Kharitonov has finished five consecutive opponents since submitting to a Josh Barnett arm-triangle choke in 2011. The 35-year-old brings with him a wealth of big-fight experience and an excellent resume that includes wins over Andrei Arlovski, Alistair Overeem, Pedro Rizzo, Fabricio Werdum and four-time K-1 World Grand Prix winner Semmy Schilt.
Appelt owns a 3-1 record inside Bellator. He will march into the most significant bout of his career on the heels of back-to-back victories over Roy Boughton and Joe Hernandez.
Fireworks are a virtual certainty when Evangelista Santos slings leather with Saad Awad in a three-round welterweight showcase.
Santos fought for titles in Cage Rage and Strikeforce before resurfacing on the Bellator stage with a surprising heel hook submission on Brennan Ward in April. Spawned by the famed Chute Boxe academy in Curitiba, Brazil, the 38-year-old has fought all over the globe during a career that dates back to 1997. Only seven of Santos’ 37 professional bouts have gone the distance. He has 10-, 13-, 30-, 55-, 80- and 97-second finishes to his credit.
A former Gladiator Challenge champion, Awad has posted three wins across his last four appearances. His claim to fame: a 43-second knockout against reigning Bellator lightweight titleholder Will Brooks in February 2013.
Two promising lightweight prospects collide on the main card, as the undefeated Adam Piccolotti takes on the once-beaten Ray Wood.
Piccolotti has raced out to a 7-0 record with five finishes in less than three years as a pro. The 27-year-old Half Moon Bay, California, native last competed at Bellator 147 on Dec. 4, when he submitted Team Alpha Male’s Mario Soto with a second-round rear-naked choke. Piccolotti was a champion inside the Dragon House promotion before catching the eyes of Bellator’s talent scouts.
Wood -- who joined the card after Piccolotti’s original opponent, Jordan Parsons, was struck and killed by an alleged hit-and-run driver in Florida -- made waves in his promotional debut at Bellator 151, where he disposed of Chris Jones with a spinning backfist and follow-up punches.
Fit for Primetime
Andre Fialho’s placement in a featured slot provides some insight into how Bellator evaluators feel about his potential for long-term success.
Just 22 years of age, he will put his perfect 6-0 record on the line against Resurrection Fighting Alliance alum Rick Reger. Fialho has finished all six of his opponents, five of them inside one round. The American Kickboxing Academy welterweight fought under the Bellator flag for the first time in February, when he needed 29 seconds to victimize Manuel Meraz with punches.
Reger has spent the majority of his eight-fight career competing within the Gladiator Challenge organization. He has not fought since October, when he took out Tramain Smith with second-round punches. Reger, 29, has secured three of his seven victories in less than a minute.