What to Watch For: Bellator 181

By Brian Knapp Jul 11, 2017

Derek Campos has a score to settle with Brandon Girtz, and Bellator MMA has provided them with the platform.

The two lightweight rivals will meet for the third time in the Bellator 181 main event on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Each man holds a decisive victory over the other: Girtz knocked out the Mohler MMA representative in 37 seconds in November 2015, avenging a unanimous decision loss to Campos two years prior. The Girtz-Campos rubber match highlights a four-fight main card airing live on Spike at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.

Girtz was a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Minnesota State University, a Division II school in Mankato, Minnesota. The 32-year-old last appeared at Bellator 174 on March 3, when he moved up to 170 pounds and wound up on the wrong side of a three-round unanimous verdict against >Fernando Gonzalez. Girtz has compiled a 6-4 record since arriving in Bellator in November 2012, his stay highlighted by wins over Michel Quinones, Melvin Guillard and Poppies Martinez.

A former King of the Cage champion, Campos has rattled off three consecutive victories -- a burst of success that was ignited by a scintillating knockout of the aforementioned Guillard in February 2016. The Lubbock, Texas, native owns other notable wins over Cody Pfister, Derek Krantz, Estevan Payan and Derek Anderson. Campos, 29, has 10 finishes to his credit, five by submission and five more by knockout or technical knockout.

Bad Company

Joe Warren has been a consummate company man.

The self-professed “Baddest Man on the Planet” makes his 18th appearance under the Bellator banner when he takes on once-beaten prospect Steve Garcia in a three-round bantamweight showcase. A former two-division Bellator champion, Warren finds himself on the rebound following a majority decision defeat to Eduardo Dantas in December. The 40-year-old Grand Rapids, Michigan, native has alternated wins and losses in each of his past five outings, with victories Sirwan Kakai and L.C. Davis offset by setbacks against Dantas, Darrion Caldwell and Marcos Galvao. Warren was an NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Michigan and a Greco-Roman gold medalist at the 2006 FILA Wrestling World Championships.

Garcia, who operates out of Luttrell’s MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last competed at Bellator 162 in October, when he improved to 7-1 with a unanimous decision over Ronnie Lawrence.

On the Precipice

John Salter recognizes a window of opportunity when he sees it.

The 32-year-old Gardendale, Alabama, native looks to continue his unlikely climb on the Bellator middleweight ladder when he collides with “The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner Kendall Grove in a three-round battle at 185 pounds. Salter will carry a career-best five-fight winning streak into the cage -- a run that includes victories over Dustin Jacoby, Brandon Halsey and Claudio Annicchiarico in Bellator. He has not tasted defeat in more than five years. Salter won a national championship as a collegiate wrestler at Lindenwood University, an NAIA school in St. Louis.

Grove appears to have crossed over into journeyman territory but nevertheless remains a viable name in the middleweight division. The 6-foot-6 Hawaiian last fought at Bellator 162, where his modest two-fight winning streak was snapped in a technical knockout loss to Alexander Shlemenko on Oct. 21.

Fast Riser

Emily Ducote has begun her ascent at 125 pounds.

The Oklahoma-based “Gordinha” has won five of her past six bouts entering her high-stakes showdown with short-notice replacement Jessica Middleton. Ducote rebounded from a unanimous decision loss to Ilima-Lei Macfarlane with a first-round submission against Katy Collins at Bellator 174 on March 3. Collins succumbed to a rear-naked choke 4:53 into Round 1. Ducote, 23, also holds Bellator MMA victories over Kenya Miranda da Silva and Bruna Vargas.

A fill-in for the injured Valerie Letourneau, Middleton has gone 2-1 since arriving on the professional scene a little less than a year ago. She has not competed since she tapped to a Macfarlane armbar at Bellator 178 on April 21.

Smooth Transition

All has gone according to plan for Rafael Lovato Jr. thus far.

The decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt -- he has won multiple world championships -- and former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder stakes a perfect 5-0 record against Mike Rhodes in a pivotal undercard scrap at 185 pounds. Lavato made his organizational debut at Bellator 174 in March and needed just 13 seconds to dispose of Charles Hackman with knees and punches. The 34-year-old Saulo Ribeiro protégé has finished all five of his opponents since making the transition to MMA in 2014.

After a failed three-fight stay in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Rhodes has returned to the form that once made him one of the sport’s top prospects. The Roufusport standout has rattled off four straight victories, three of them finishes, and laid claim to Victory Fighting Championship gold with a guillotine choke submission on Rakim Cleveland in June 2016.
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