Rafael Carvalho seeks the kind of validation that only comes with time.
The once-beaten Brazilian will defend the Bellator MMA middleweight championship against American Top Team mainstay Alessio Sakara in the Bellator 190 headliner on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Forum in Florence, Italy. There, Carvalho can become the second fighter -- Alexander Shlemenko was the first -- to successfully defend the promotion’s 185-pound title on three different occasions.
Sakara faces an uphill climb. The well-traveled “Legionarius” has piled up the miles during a career that stretches back more than 15 years and covers more than 30 professional bouts. Sakara, 36, last competed at Bellator 168 on Dec. 10, when he brought down fellow Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Joey Beltran with first-round punches. He has rattled off three straight wins since his December 2014 encounter with Maciej Browarski resulted in a no-contest.
One of MMA’s more underappreciated stars, Carvalho finds himself on a 14-fight winning streak that includes a 5-0 mark in Bellator. The 31-year-old champion last appeared at Bellator 176 in April, when he disposed of Melvin Manhoef with a head kick in the fourth round of their rematch. Carvalho holds other notable victories over Brandon Halsey, Joe Schilling, Brian Rogers and Gustavo Machado.
With the Carvalho-Sakara confrontation as the centerpiece, here are some of the intriguing numbers associated with Bellator 190:
1: All-America selection for Brandon Girtz, who meets Luka Jelcic in a three-round lightweight showcase. Girtz was an All-American wrestler at Minnesota State University in 2007.
2: Sakara wins by submission. The Italian dispatched Mastioli Mastioli with an armbar in June 2002 and disposed of Adam Woolmer with a kimura a little more than a month later. Though Sakara holds the rank of Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Marcus “Conan” Silveira, he has not tapped an opponent since.
3: Men other than Carvalho who have held the Bellator middleweight championship. They are Shlemenko, Halsey and Hector Lombard.
4: Consecutive victories for Carlos Leal Mirando ahead of his promotional debut against undefeated Romanian prospect Mihail Nica.
8: Submission victories for Lena Ovchynnikova, six of them by armbar. The Ukrainian kickboxer takes on the little-known Mary Rous Mejia in a women’s flyweight feature.
9: First-round finishes for Jelcic. They include five submission victories: two by rear-naked choke, one by guillotine choke, one by shoulder choke and one by kimura.
10: Countries in which Gregory Babene has competed as a professional mixed martial artist. They are Hungary, Russia, Japan, France, Spain, Canada, Italy, Germany, Poland and the United States. Babene, 33, will put his three-fight winning streak on the line against Albanian middleweight Tony Zanko.
11: Carvalho wins by knockout or technical knockout. They account for 79 percent of his career total.
13: Sakara wins by knockout or technical knockout. They account for 68 percent of his career total.
36: Seconds needed for the unbeaten Nica to prevail in his first appearance under the Bellator MMA flag. Nica submitted Samba Coulibaly with an anaconda choke at Bellator 176 on April 8.