Leandro Higo chose to jump right into the fire.
In his first appearance under the Bellator MMA banner, the Pitbull Brothers prospect will challenge bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas in the Bellator 177 headliner on Friday at the Budapest Sports Arena in Budapest, Hungary. Their five-round clash anchors a four-fight main card scheduled to air on Spike TV via tape delay (9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT).
A replacement for the injured Darrion Caldwell, Higo will enter his organizational debut on the strength of an eight-fight winning streak. The 28-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has already captured titles in the Resurrection Fighting Alliance and Legacy Fighting Alliance promotions, while securing 10 of his 17 career victories by submission and three more by knockout or technical knockout. Higo last competed at Legacy Fighting Alliance 1 in January, when he took a five-round unanimous decision from Steven Peterson.
Dantas, 28, has compiled a 9-1 record since arriving in Bellator in 2011 and finds himself in the midst of a second title reign at 135 pounds. The Nova Uniao export last appeared at Bellator 166 on Dec. 2, when he was awarded a majority decision over Joe Warren, avenged an October 2014 defeat to the NCAA All-American and retained his championship at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Wins over Shinichi Kojima, Wilson Reis, Hiromasa Ogikubo, Zach Makovsky and Marcos Galvao (twice) anchor the stellar Dantas resume.
With the Dantas-Higo showdown as the centerpiece, here is what to watch for at Bellator 177:
A shot at the Bellator featherweight championship could be up for grabs in the co-main event, as Daniel Weichel squares off with the once-beaten John Teixeira da Conceicao.
Weichel, 32, has rattled off three consecutive victories since being knocked out by Patricio Freire a little less than two years ago. The former M-1 Global champion operates out of the Team MMA Spirit outfit in his native Germany and holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, with 22 of his 38 professional victories coming by submission. Weichel won the Bellator Season 10 featherweight tournament in 2014, defeating Scott Cleve, Matt Bessette and Desmond Green in succession.
On a six-fight winning streak, Teixeira appeared on Season 1 of “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” and has gone 9-0-1 since being cut by the Ultimate Fighting Championship following a split decision loss to Hugo Viana at UFC 147 some five years ago. The 30-year-old Nova Uniao rep has won all four of his fights under the Bellator flag, including a unanimous decision over former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Justin Lawrence in December.
Lena Ovchynnikova wants to build some momentum inside Bellator’s fledgling women’s flyweight division, where Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, Anastasia Yankova, Keri Anne Taylor-Melendez and others have already begun to make waves.
Ovchynnikova, 29, lost her promotional debut to Rebecca Ruth a year ago but rebounded to take a unanimous decision from Cage Warriors Fighting Championship alum Karla Benitez at Bellator 164 in November. The Ukrainian has delivered eight of her 11 wins by submission: six via armbar, one via guillotine choke and one via rear-naked choke. Ovchynnikova kicked off her professional MMA career with eight straight victories but has compiled a disappointing 3-4 mark across her past seven outings.
In her path stands “The Ultimate Fighter 23” qualifier Helen Harper. The 29-year-old Brit has gotten off to a 4-1 start, a technical knockout loss to current UFC strawweight Cortney Casey the lone setback. Harper has not competed since she posted a unanimous decision over Sofie Langsford at a regional event in May 2015.
The sting of defeat remains foreign to Adam Borics, and he undoubtedly hopes to keep it that way.
Borics, 23, will put his unbeaten record on the line when he flies the Bellator banner for the first time against Anthony Taylor in a three-round featherweight showcase. The Hungarian prospect improved to 5-0 on March 18, when he submitted Manuel Bilic with a second-round triangle choke at a Final Fight Championship event in Austria.
In his brief three-fight stint with Bellator, Taylor has sandwiched rear-naked choke submission defeats to Adin Duenas and SBG Ireland standout James Gallagher around a 27-second technical knockout victory over Victor Jones.