Fedor Emelianenko moves the needle on name value alone.
The former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder will make his Bellator MMA debut against Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Matt Mitrione in the Bellator 172 headliner on Saturday at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Their three-round clash highlights a five-fight main card on Spike TV (9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT).
Emelianenko, 40, will enter the cage on a five-fight winning streak. However, his once-prodigious skills have diminished considerably with age and mileage. Never was the more apparent than in his most recent outing, as he was awarded a contentious majority decision over Fabio Maldonado at a Eurasia Fight Nights event on June 17 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The victory was shrouded in controversy. Maldonado, who typically competes at 205 pounds, had the Russian legend on the brink of being stopped for much of the first round and did enough to warrant at least a draw in the minds of many. Emelianenko was for years one of the central figures in the sport, as he amassed a ridiculous 27-0 record from April 6, 2001 until Nov. 7, 2009. He owns 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 defeated Brazilian icon Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), four time K-1 World Grand Prix winner Semmy Schilt and 2006 Pride open weight grand prix winner Mirko Filipovic. In his prime, there was no one better.
Mitrione has posted back-to-back victories since his ill-fated encounter with Travis Browne in January 2016 marked the end of his run in the UFC. “The Ultimate Fighter 10” quarterfinalist has delivered 10 of his 11 wins by knockout or technical knockout. His list of victims includes Gabriel Gonzaga, Shawn Jordan and former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder Derrick Lewis. Mitrione played defensive tackle for Purdue University and enjoyed brief stints in the NFL with the Vikings, Giants and 49ers.
With the Emelianenko-Mitrione showdown as the centerpiece, here is what to watch for at Bellator 172:
Josh Thomson and Patricky Freire are part of a line that has formed behind Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler.
Their paths will cross in the three-round co-main event, as the accomplished but oft-injured Thomson returns to the cage for the first time in more than a year. The 38-year-old American Kickboxing Academy mainstay has not competed since he knocked out Pablo Villaseca with punches in the second round of their pairing at Bellator 147 on Dec. 4, 2015. Victories over Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, K.J. Noons and Gesias Cavalcante anchor the extensive Thomson resume.
A two-time Bellator tournament finalist, Freire last fought at Bellator 157 in June, when he was felled by a wicked Chandler right hand in a battle for the vacant lightweight championship. The setback snapped a modest two-fight winning streak for the 31-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Freire has compiled a 9-7 record since arriving in Bellator in 2011.
Brass Ring Pursuit
All Cheick Kongo’s career lacks is a major MMA championship.
The French kickboxer will put a three-fight winning streak on the line when he takes aim at Oli Thompson in a three-round heavyweight showcase. Kongo has recorded seven wins in nine appearances since joining the Bellator roster in October 2013, losing only to former champion Vitaly Minakov and Muhammed Lawal. He last saw action at Bellator 161 on Sept. 16, when he walked away with a majority decision over onetime King of the Cage titleholder Tony Johnson. Kongo, 41, has secured 16 of his 25 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
Thompson has rattled off five wins across his past six outings, a TKO loss to the aforementioned Mitrione interrupting a run of sustained success for the British strongman. The 37-year-old East Sussex, England, native has past ties to the UFC, KSW and the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts.
Familiar Face, Different Place
More than five years have passed since Josh Koscheck last had his hand raised.
Having vacated his place as one of the world’s premier welterweights long ago, Koscheck will make his Bellator debut opposite Mauricio Alonso on the main card. Now 39, the longtime UFC veteran has lost five fights in a row, the last four of them finishes. A four-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Edinboro University, Koscheck has not fought since he tapped to an Erick Silva guillotine choke at UFC Fight Night 62 nearly two years ago. His career has been highlighted by victories over Matt Hughes, Paul Daley, Anthony Johnson and Diego Sanchez.
Alonso, 36, steps into the spotlight with the wind of a two-fight winning streak in his sails. He last competed under the Dragon House banner in August, when he captured a unanimous decision over Justin Baesman.
Anatoly Tokov has decided to come to America.
Long hailed as one of Europe’s top prospects, the 26-year-old Russian middleweight will test his considerable skills against Francisco France on the undercard. Tokov won an Absolute Championship Berkut tournament in 2016 and has competed inside the M-1 Global and Rizin Fighting Federation promotions. Tokov saw his 17-fight winning streak grind to a halt in a majority decision loss to Ramazan Emeev at M-1 Challenge 73 on Dec. 9. It marked his first defeat since 2012.
Tokov figures to have his hands full with France, a well-traveled former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion. He last fought at Bellator 150, where he was struck down by Kendall Grove in a second-round knockout a little more than a year ago.