Bellator MMA continues its 2018 heavyweight grand prix on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, where a quarterfinal pairing between Ultimate Fighting Championship veterans Matt Mitrione and Roy Nelson will headline Bellator 194.
Mitrione and Nelson have met once previously, with “Big Country” delivering a first-round technical knockout at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale in December 2012. Much has changed in the more than five years that have passed since, and neither man has lost as a member of the Bellator roster. Mitrione is 3-0 during a run that includes a first-round knockout of Fedor Emelianenko; Nelson made his organizational debut at Bellator 183 on Sept. 24, when he took a unanimous decision from Javy Ayala.
To the winner goes a spot in the grand prix semifinals, where a battle with either Ryan Bader or Muhammed Lawal awaits.
While the Mitrione-Nelson heavyweight rematch serves as the Bellator 194 anchor on the Paramount network (9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT), the rest of the card gives way to other weight classes. Here are four other must-see fights at the event:
A loser in two of his last three fights, McGeary faces a pivotal test when the onetime light heavyweight champion collides with Nemkov in the co-main event. McGeary has fought to mixed results since losing his title and undefeated record to Phil Davis in 2016. He defeated Brett McDermott at a 215-pound catchweight and took a step in the right direction at Bellator 173. However, McGeary closed his 2017 campaign with a triangle choke submission loss to Linton Vassell and now must prove he still belongs with Bellator’s best at 205 pounds. Up against the red-hot Nemkov, author of three consecutive first-round finishes, McGeary finds himself in dangerous waters. For the 8-2 Nemkov, a win over a former champion would move him toward the top of the light heavyweight division.
Bellator snapped up two former boxers in Hardy and Julaton in an ongoing effort to deepen its women’s divisions in 2017 and have paired them together in what promises to be an intriguing standup affair. Hardy was the more accomplished boxer of the two, as she posted a 20-0 record and won the WBC international featherweight and bantamweight titles before cashing in on an opportunity with Bellator. Julaton left boxing in 2014 and has gone 2-3 in MMA competition, with all three of those losses coming by decision.
They have combined for a grand total of two professional fights, but Claxton and Perez will open the main card in a showcase of two promising prospects in the featherweight division. A late addition to the lineup, the fight serves as an opportunity for Claxton to build his star after his spectacular flying knee knockout on Jonny Bonilla-Bowman at Bellator 186 went viral. Can he show he is more than a one-hit wonder? Perez lost a decision to Kevin Carrier in his pro debut but did enough to warrant this assignment.
The undercard will feature Giulietti’s pro debut against Fialho at 155 pounds. Giulietti holds a 4-1 amateur record that includes a Reality Fighting victory over Jeremiah Soto at the Mohegan Sun Arena, but he has his work cut out for him here. Spawned by the American Kickboxing Academy, Fialho’s 9-1 record commands respect and gives him a decided experience advantage over his opponent. He has won three of his four fights in Bellator, losing only to former Tachi Palace Fights titleholder Chidi Njokuani.