Bellator MMA will soon see some of the returns from the substantial investment it made in Benson Henderson.
The former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder will challenge Andrey Koreshkov for his welterweight crown in the Bellator 153 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. A victory there would make Henderson the first fighter to win titles in Bellator, the UFC and the WEC.
Henderson will enter the cage on the strength of back-to-back victories. The MMA Lab rep last competed at a UFC Fight Night event on Nov. 28, when he was awarded a split decision over American Top Team’s Jorge Masvidal at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul. Henderson, 32, carries with him one of the sport’s most impressive resumes, with wins over Frankie Edgar (twice), Donald Cerrone (twice), Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson and Nate Diaz. He was a two-time NAIA All-American wrestler at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, and holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and taekwondo.
Lost in the hoopla surrounding Henderson’s organizational debut, Koreshkov has become one of Bellator’s most consistent performers. A protégé of former Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, the 25-year-old has rattled off five consecutive victories since his technical knockout loss to Ben Askren a little less than three years ago. Koreshkov has won two Bellator tournaments at 170 pounds -- Season 7 and Season 10 -- and sports 13 finishes among his 18 professional wins.
With the Koreshkov-Henderson title fight as the centerpiece, here is what to watch for at Bellator 153:
Still Bullish on ‘Pitbull’
Patricio Freire has a one-track mind.
On a quest to regain the featherweight championship that was once his, “Pitbull” runs into Henry Corrales in the co-main event. Freire had a seven-fight winning streak snapped at Bellator 145 in November, when he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against rival Daniel Straus. The Brazilian has proven an equal-opportunity finisher, with nine wins by submission and nine more by knockout or technical knockout. Freire’s list of victims includes Straus, Daniel Weichel, Diego Nunes and Georgi Karakhanyan.
A replacement for the injured John Teixeira da Conceicao, Corrales started his career 12-0 but has since dropped back-to-back bouts to Straus and Emmanuel Sanchez.
No one talks about Brent Primus, but perhaps they should.
Emerging as a potential dark horse in Bellator’s lightweight division, the undefeated Primus with put his perfect record in the line against Gleristone Santos in a featured clash at 155 pounds. The 31-year-old Sports Lab product put away his first five opponents inside one round, four of them by rear-naked choke, before earning a split verdict over Derek Anderson at Bellator 141 in August. Primus has gone 4-0 since arriving in Bellator in 2013, though this will be his first main-card assignment.
A former Bitetti Combat champion, Santos has gone 16-2 across his past 10 appearances, losing only to the aforementioned da Conceciao and Carlo Prater.
Michael Page likes to put on a show.
Unscathed through nine pro outings, the London Shootfighters export will lock horns with Jeremie Holloway in a three-round welterweight showcase. Page has finished eight of his nine foes, many of them in spectacular fashion. The 29-year-old last fought at Bellator 144 on Oct. 23, when he disposed of Charlie Ontiveros with first-round elbows. “Venom” kicked off his run in Bellator with a 10-second knockout against Ryan Sanders in March 2013.
Holloway made his Bellator debut in October and it did not go well, as he submitted to a second-round Achilles lock from Matt Secor.
A History of Violence
Violence tends to follow Brennan Ward wherever he goes, as evidenced by the fact that he has gone the distance only once in his 16-fight career.
Ward returns to the cage following a pit stop in the Rizin Fighting Federation, as he collides with well-traveled Strikeforce, Sengoku and Pride Fighting Championships veteran Evangelista Santos. Based in New London, Connecticut, the 27-year-old has momentum on his side, with wins in each of his last four fights. Ward last appeared on New Year’s Eve in Saitama, Japan, where he took care of Ken Hasegawa with a second-round rear-naked choke. He has compiled an 8-3 record in Bellator.
Santos, 38, has seen his better days, as age and mileage have begun to conspire against him. “Cyborg” last competed under the Legacy Fighting Championship banner in January, when he claimed a unanimous decision over Artenas Young.