What to Watch For: Bellator 176

By Brian Knapp Apr 4, 2017

They were the participants in one of the most forgettable fights of 2016. Consider this their do-over.

Rafael Carvalho will defend the Bellator MMA middleweight championship against Dutch knockout artist Melvin Manhoef in the Bellator 176 headliner on Saturday at Pala Alpitour in Torino, Italy. Their rematch -- Carvalho won the first meeting between the two by split decision on May 20 -- will highlight a four-fight main card that airs on Spike TV at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT (latest odds).

Carvalho will enter the cage with the wind of a 13-fight winning streak in his sails. The 30-year-old Brazilian boasts a perfect 4-0 record in Bellator, wins against Brian Rogers, Joe Schilling and Brandon Halsey preceding his five-round Bellator 155 triumph over Manhoef. Carvalho has secured 10 of his 13 professional victories by knockout or technical knockout, five of them inside the first round.

Manhoef, 40, has a vast reservoir of big-fight experience upon which to draw, his MMA career stretching back more than two decades. The former Cage Rage champion owns wins over Denis Kang, Kazuo Misaki, Mark Hunt, Kazushi Sakuraba and Evangelista Santos (twice). Manhoef wields one of the highest knockout rates in the sport, having delivered 28 of his 30 victories by KO or TKO. He has 17-, 18-, 35-, 37-, 46-, 50-, 51-, 60-, 64- and 90-second finishes on his resume.

With the Carvalho-Manhoef title clash as the centerpiece, here is what to watch for at Bellator 176:

Star Search

Anastasia Yankova wants to prove herself more than just a pretty face.

The undefeated Russian prospect will put her perfect 4-0 record on the line when she confronts Greek teenager Elina Kallionidou in the co-main event. Yankova, who has spent time training at the powerhouse American Kickboxing Academy camp, has netted three of her four wins by submission. The 26-year-old last appeared at Bellator 161 on Sept. 16, when she claimed a three-round split decision from Veta Arteaga at the HEB Center in Cedar Park, Texas.

Kallionidou, 18, made her promotional debut at Bellator 169 in December and suffered her first pro defeat in a unanimous decision loss to SBG Ireland export Sinead Kavinagh.

Question of Resilience

Djamil Chan’s talents are undeniable.

However, “The Ultimate Fighter 22” alum finds himself on the rebound following a decision defeat to Brandon Girtz, as he zeroes in on Valeriu Mircea in a lightweight showcase. The loss to Girtz was Chan’s first in nearly four years and snapped a seven-fight winning streak for the 26-year-old Dutch striker. He has already captured titles in the German MMA Championship and Respect Fighting Championship organizations. Nine of Chan’s 12 victories have resulted in knockouts.

Mircea, 23, made his first appearance under the Bellator MMA banner on Dec. 10, when he submitted to a first-round triangle choke from Goiti Yamauchi. He has gone the distance just twice in 17 pro bouts.

New Blood

Romania may not be known as a mixed martial arts hotbed, but Mihail Nica could soon alter those perceptions.

The undefeated Miura Dojo rep will set foot in the Bellator cage for the first time when he takes on short-notice fill-in Samba Coulibaly in a featured lightweight scrap. Nica has finished all five of his opponents, four of them in the first round. He last fought at a regional event in Italy on Oct. 29, as he disposed of Aldo Cirillo with punches in a little more than four minutes.

A replacement for Carrington Banks, Coulibaly owns an 8-1 record across his past nine appearances. The Frenchman has secured six of his 12 career victories by submission: one by triangle choke, one by triangle armbar, one by heel hook, one by rear-naked choke, one by kimura and one by armbar.
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