Matches to Make After Bellator 269

By Tristen Critchfield Oct 24, 2021

Even in the twilight of his mixed martial arts career, Fedor Emelianenko still has dangerous speed and power in his hands.

The legendary Russian put that on display in the Bellator 269 headliner, as he knocked out Timothy Johnson with a three-punch combination 1:46 into Round 1 of their heavyweight clash at VTB Arena in Moscow on Saturday. It’s arguably the most impressive triumph of Emelianenko’s Bellator tenure and is a perfect swan song for “The Last Emperor” in his home country.

Emelianenko has previously stated that his farewell tour will include three legs: Japan, Russia and the United States. With two of those three successfully complete, it’s difficult to imagine Emelianenko calling it a career without one last ride — even if Saturday’s effort would be a storybook ending.

In the wake of Bellator 269, here are four matches that should be made.

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Josh Barnett: When the Bellator 269 headliner was announced, Emelianenko vs. Johnson was something of a head scratcher. Barnett, for one, called for the long-awaited showdown with “The Last Emperor” as soon as it was rumored that Emelianenko would be headlining a card in his home country. Of course, Barnett and Emelianenko were originally slated to lock horns at an Affliction event in 2009 before “The Warmaster” failed a drug test. Thus far, Barnett’s Bellator tenure hasn’t yet gotten off the ground, as two separate bookings against Ronny Markes have fallen through — one due to Barnett not being medically cleared due to illness and another due to a licensing issue on a card that was ultimately canceled altogether due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If Emelianenko does indeed elect to go through with a third bout for his farewell tour, a showdown with Barnett on U.S. soil seems like the ideal headliner for a future Bellator card. At the very least, we can dream.

Said Sowma vs. Vitaly Minakov: In his first fight in more than two years, Minakov looked nothing like the wrecking machine of years past, when he was regarded as one of the top heavyweights in the sport regardless of organization. That said, he deserved better than an injury stoppage due to an apparently dislocated finger in a third-round technical knockout loss to Sowma in Saturday’s co-main event. Prior to the injury, Minakov had clearly won Round 1 and depending on perspective, could have also won Round 2. Regardless, both Minakov and Sowma deserve a chance to get some real closure with a rematch.

Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Goiti Yamauchi: Nurmagomedov rolled through Patrik Pietila via first-round submission in what amounted to little more than a showcase bout for the Dagestani prospect at Bellator 269. It was undeniably something of a curious booking for the highly-touted cousin of Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the man himself called for Bellator to feed him a Top 10 opponent for his next promotional appearance. At 14-0 and 3-0 in Bellator, Nurmagomedov is ready for a step up. Yamauchi, who has won four of his last five promotional appearances and currently sits ahead of Nurmagomedov in Bellator’s 155-pound rankings, fits that description.

Anatoly Tokov vs. John Salter: Like Minakov, Tokov had to shake off the ring rust from a two-year hiatus. Fortunately for Tokov, his return went better than the ex-heavyweight champion’s did, as he powered past Sharaf Davlatmurodov for a hard-fought split-decision triumph at 185 pounds. That makes six straight triumphs under the Bellator banner for the FedorTeam export, who could use another solid victory before he enters the conversation as a potential opponent for reigning champion Gegard Mousasi. Salter, the most recent 185-pound title challenger, was supposed to lock horns with Tokov in 2017 before the Russian suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of the fight. A convincing win over Salter would cement Tokov as a worthy No. 1 contender.

Note: This item was updated at approximately 6:42 p.m. ET to include additional information regarding Barnett's Bellator MMA tenure.
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