This was the opportunity for which Phil Davis was gunning when he parted ways with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and signed with Bellator MMA (online betting).
“Mr. Wonderful” will challenge unbeaten light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary for promotional gold at 205 pounds in the Bellator 163 headliner on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The rest of the five-fight main card features a women’s featherweight clash pitting former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen against Talita Nogueira, a heavyweight battle matching Sergei Kharitonov with Javy Ayala and a pair of welterweight tilts, as Brennan Ward meets Saad Awad and Paul Daley faces Derek Anderson.
Davis, 32, will enter the cage on the strength of a three-fight winning streak. The Alliance MMA rep last fought at Bellator 154 on May 14, when he captured a unanimous decision from Muhammed Lawal at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Victories over Alexander Gustafsson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Glover Teixeira and Lyoto Machida anchor his resume. Davis was a four-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Penn State University, where he won a national championship in 2008.
McGeary has been a revelation since he debuted with Bellator in 2013, going 8-0 with seven finishes. The 34-year-old Englishman last competed at Bellator 142 a little more than a year ago, when he submitted former UFC champion Tito Ortiz with an inverted triangle choke. McGeary holds the rank of brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under John Danaher and has put away five different opponents in 91 seconds or less.
With the McGeary-Davis showdown as the centerpiece, here is what to watch for at Bellator 163:
They tend not to fool around in the cage. As such, the encounter between Ward and Awad has violence written all over it.
Ward saw his four-fight winning streak grind to a halt at Bellator 153 on April 22, when he submitted to a heel hook from Evangelista Santos just 30 seconds into Round 1. The 28-year-old New London, Connecticut, native holds an 8-4 mark in Bellator and has become one of the organization’s mainstays in the welterweight and middleweight divisions. Ward was an NCAA All-American wrestler at Johnson & Wales University, a Division III institution in Providence, Rhode Island.
Awad, 33, operates out of the Millennia MMA camp, where he trains alongside Lorenz Larkin, former World Series of Fighting champion Georgi Karakhanyan and “The Ultimate Fighter 23” winner Tatiana Suarez. He has secured 15 of his 19 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, including his February 2013 upset of American Top Team’s Will Brooks.
Daley’s reputation precedes him.
Known for his mean left hook and surly disposition in the cage, Daley sports 28 knockouts among his 38 career wins. His list of victims includes onetime M-1 Global champion Daniel Weichel and fellow UFC veterans Duane Ludwig, John Alessio, Martin Kampmann and Scott Smith. Daley, 33, last fought at Bellator 158 on July 16, when he lost a three-round unanimous decision to Douglas Lima at the O2 Arena in London; the setback snapped his five-fight winning streak. The 33-year-old former Cage Rage titleholder has not suffered back-to-back defeats since losing to Nick Diaz and Tyron Woodley in consecutive appearances under the Strikeforce banner in 2011.
Anderson, 26, has gone 5-2 in Bellator and owns a pair of victories over two-time tournament finalist Patricky Freire. The Team Xplode MMA export has delivered 11 of his 14 wins by KO, TKO or submission.
Injuries and illness have kept Kharitonov out of the cage for more than a year.
The Pride Fighting Championships vet joins a heavyweight division on the uptick, as fighters like Cheick Kongo, Bobby Lashley and Matt Mitrione vie to fill the vacancy left by former champion Vitaly Minakov. Kharitonov will enter his organizational debut with the wind of a five-fight winning streak in his sails. The 36-year-old Russian brute last appeared at an M-1 Global event in July 2015, when he disposed of Kenny Garner with first-round punches. Kharitonov figures to move quickly on Bellator’s heavyweight ladder, as he already holds high-profile victories over Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Pedro Rizzo and Semmy Schilt.
Ayala, 28, would like nothing more than to spoil Kharitonov’s plans. He has registered four wins across his past six outings and has gone the distance only twice on his 14-fight career.
Bellator will unveil two of its most promising young talents on the undercard, as Ed Ruth locks horns with Mark Mangiardi and Tyrell Fortune squares off with Cody Miskell.
Ruth was a three-time NCAA wrestling champion at Penn State University, where he compiled a career record of 136-3. He ranks first on the school’s all-time list in winning percentage (.978), third in falls (46) and fifth in victories. Ruth has thrown out his mixed martial arts anchor at the star-studded Jackson-Wink MMA camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Fortune, meanwhile, won a Division II national title at Grand Canyon University in Arizona and a pair of junior college national championships at Clackamas Community College in Arizona. The 26-year-old heavyweight has linked arms with the Blackzilians, where he sharpens his skills alongside Anthony Johnson, Rashad Evans, Michael Johnson and others.