Everyone can agree that Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie have seen their better days, and those days were a long, long time ago. Nevertheless, a certain amount of train-wreck intrigue surrounds their forthcoming third meeting.
The two Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famers will lock horns in the Bellator 149 main event on Friday at the Toyota Center in Houston, as Bellator MMA utilizes two of the sport’s best known figures as the anchors for its first tent-pole event of 2016. Gracie holds a 1-0-1 advantage in the series between the two legends.
Shamrock, though three years older, figures to be the sharper man entering the cage. The 52-year-old Macon, Georgia, native returned to the cage for the first time in nearly five years in June, when he was on the receiving end of a first-round technical knockout from Kevin Ferguson, aka “Kimbo Slice.” Shamrock has lost eight of his past 10 bouts and has not recorded a victory since he took a unanimous decision from Johnathan Ivey in October 2010.
Gracie, meanwhile, has not fought since he got the best of Kazushi Sakuraba in their June 2007 rematch and then tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. The three-time UFC tournament winner started his career 11-0 but has gone 3-2-3 in eight appearances since. Two of those wins came against Nobuhiko Takada and the 500-pound Chad Rowan, fighters with a combined record of 2-10-2.
With the Shamrock-Gracie trilogy match on the marquee, here is what to watch for at Bellator 149:
Kings of the Street
In keeping with the train-wreck theme, Bellator matchmakers have paired Ferguson with fellow backyard brawler Dhafir Harris in the co-headliner. Grab the popcorn.
Ferguson made his promotional debut at Bellator 138 in June, when he survived a rear-naked choke scare before putting away Shamrock with punches at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The 42-year-old Bahamian-born heavyweight has compiled a 5-2 record as a professional mixed martial artist and a 7-0 mark as a pro boxer.
Harris, better known as “Dada 5000,” last competed at a Mixed Fighting Alliance event in 2011, when he needed less than a minute -- 50 seconds to be exact -- to stop Tim Papp with punches. His history with Ferguson dates back to their childhood, and Harris once served as his bodyguard. Therein lies the draw.
Emanuel Newton not long ago was the toast of Bellator’s light heavyweight division. However, a marijuana-related suspension sandwiched between losses to Liam McGeary and Phil Davis has resulted in a precipitous fall.
Newton will try to get back on track in a rematch with Linton Vassell, as he looks to snap his first multi-fight losing streak since 2009. The 32-year-old Inglewood, California, native last appeared on Sept. 19, when he submitted to a first-round kimura from Davis. Newton has not put a check in the win column since he tapped Vassell with a rear-naked choke in the fifth round of their Bellator 130 encounter more than a year ago. Victories over former Strikeforce champion Muhammed Lawal (twice), Joey Beltran and Ilir Latifi highlight his resume.
Vassell has posted 10 wins across his past 12 appearances, losing only to Lawal and Newton. The onetime Ultimate Challenge MMA champion sports 13 finishes among his 15 pro victories.
Perhaps the window of opportunity has finally closed on Melvin Guillard.
“The Young Assassin” had every intention of making a splash in his organizational debut on Aug. 28, only to be upended in a split decision defeat to Brandon Girtz at Bellator 141. Rapidly approaching his 33rd birthday, Guillard finds himself on a two-fight losing streak entering his main-card attraction with Derek Campos. Since emerging as an unlikely contender in the UFC’s lightweight division on the strength of a five-fight winning streak in 2011, the New Orleans native has gone just 3-7, with one no-contest.
Campos is also in a precarious position, having lost three of four. The 27-year-old Mohler MMA rep lasted just 37 seconds before succumbing to punches from Girtz at Bellator 146 on Nov. 20.
A Prospect’s Climb
Emmanuel Sanchez sees himself as a future title contender at 145 pounds. Time will tell if he can live up to such lofty self-imposed expectations.
The Roufusport prospect will return to the cage opposite resurgent former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder Daniel Pineda in a featured featherweight matchup. Sanchez, 25, has won eight of his last nine fights, a decision loss to former Bellator champion Pat Curran his only misstep. The Duke Roufus protégé took care of business at Bellator 145 on Nov. 6, when he eked out a split verdict over “The Ultimate Fighter 15” alum Justin Lawrence.
Pineda has responded to his 2014 release by the UFC with three consecutive submission finishes. The 30-year-old Texan last competed under the Legacy banner on April 3, when he put away Jonny Carson with a third-round kimura.