The eyes of the mixed martial arts world turn to the Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday as Bellator 258 invades Uncasville, Connecticut, with a bantamweight title fight and the final quarterfinal pairing in the Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix.
Juan Archuleta will defend his newly acquired 135-pound title at the main event (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) against Sergio Pettis, while former two-time UFC title challenger Anthony “Rumble” Johnson makes his promotional debut, just not against the originally-desired opponent.
Let’s take a closer look at the biggest stories coming onto the map this weekend. (Bellator and CBS Sports are both owned by ViacomCBS)
Losing Rumble-Romero will not be easy
Bellator MMA president Scott Coker made headlines last December by signing a pair of big-named agents in the hard-hitting Johnson and timeless marvel Yoel Romero. Coker made an even bigger splash two months later when he not only announced that the former UFC stars would be taking part in the eight-man 205-pound tournament, but that they would face each other in the opening round. Just the thought of Rumble-Romero and the many unanswered questions surrounding the unique matchup created an incredible amount of intrigue from fans and media members of the two warriors themselves. This matchup was the match equivalent of lighting a pair of fireworks and placing them together inside a jar. Still, the MMA gods now did not choose the time when the 43-year-old Romero was forced to withdraw from the tournament last week after failing medical examinations before the match. Although the character of Romero’s subject has not been made public, Bellator officials insist he will still make his promotional debut in the coming months and that a fight against Johnson remains in the long-term plans. Still, it must be overlooked how much a match the cancellation of the match has on the general perception of the tournament given how star-studded it was per. Fortunately, Johnson remains on the map and meets replacement Jose Augusto (7-2), a 29-year-old member of Team Pitbull MMA, in the quarterfinal match.
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2. Johnson’s odds of winning the Grand Prix
That’s an interesting question, especially considering Johnson (along with Romero) opened up easily behind defending lightweight champion Vadim Nemkov as the tournament’s betting favorites. In theory, Johnson should have an easier obstacle to clear against the unusual Augusto to advance to a semifinal matchup against Nemkov. Still, it’s what we still do not know into Friday’s final quarterfinal match that makes it the most exciting. As a 37-year-old, Johnson has not fought for four years since a self-imposed retirement after his UFC title loss to Daniel Cormier in their rematch. Exercise camp photos have shown Johnson to be in remarkable physical she after ballooning up weight during his break. But aside from being a one-punch threat to anyone on the planet, the jury is still out on how much time away has affected Johnson, or whether he has improved some of the holes in his game. Augusto also brings a bit of the unknown with him. The Brazilian fighter has won five straight fights, including his Bellator debut last month when he sent Jonathan Wilson into the opening round. His skill and endurance are publicly guaranteed by stablemate and Bellator two-division champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, and his grpling abilities could pair well against Johnson’s weaknesses.
3. The main event flies far below the radar
The 33-year-old Archuleta is fresh out of his win over Patchy Mix to claim the vacant bantamweight title, and has given the campaign’s 135-pound division a shot in the arm. “The Spaniard” is 20-1 since 2015, with his only loss to Patricio “Pitbull” in the opening round of the Featherweight World Grand Prix in 2019. One can certainly expect action and a fast pace in any Archuleta match yet another pairing against it match-tested (and still somehow only 27-year-old), Pettis is among the best matches Bellator can make. Pettis, a UFC veteran, has been battling some of the biggest names at 125 pounds over the past decade, and Pears are on top at the right time in the middle of a three-fight winning streak. The younger brother of former UFC champion Anthony Pettis has so far looked impressive on two trips to the Bellator cage, and the fight against Archuleta remains a virtual choice from oddsmakers. One can expect the potential in a 25-minute pitching match as Pettis – who has victories over Chris Cariaso, John Moraga, Brandon Moreno and Joseph Benavidez – looks set to secure the biggest win of his career.
4. Patricky “Pitbull” can make things a lot more interesting at 155 pounds
The success of his younger brother Patricio, the face of the franchise for Bellator and its most winning warrior, could have overshadowed in recent years how good Patricky has become. As a 35-year-old, Freire has won five just below the Bellator banner (along with a 2-1 run in Rizin in 2019) and has told the public that he is ready for another shot at the campaign’s £ 155 title. The problem with that for Freire is that his brother is currently holding the lightweight crown, although Patricio said in February that he might be willing to leave the title (and go down to challenge for the bantamweight belt) provided Bellator gives Patricky a shot at to fight for the vacant crown. Freire will definitely have to defeat Peter Queally early on Friday as the fierce rivalry between Team Pitbull and SBG Ireland adds another chter. One thing to note, though, regarding Freire’s title hopes is that Coker said during last week’s virtual press conference that he does not rule out the Pitbull brothers’ willingness to potentially fight each other for the belt. Imagine that.
5. It is now or never for Michael Pages’ full potential to shine
From the moment he debuted with Bellator in 2013, it was undeniable that the hype surrounding the fighter was known by his double monikers of “Venom” and “MVP”. At 6-foot-3 with a fighting style straight out of a video game, Page was a fan-friendly warrior who constantly took chances while playing the role of clown prince to help solidify himself as a must-see competitor. But for every overall highlight page collected, he also turned frustratingly average performance toward mediocre competition. In his two biggest fights to date, he also failed to deliver his huge hype when he chose to fight passively amidst a chorus of boos in a decision victory over Paul Daley and when he was stopped in his lone pro defeat by the current welterweight champion Douglas Lima during their Grand Prix semifinal match 2019. Since those two matches, Page has reminded fans how much fun he can be in tearing off four straight wins, including three by knockout. But “MVP” will face his toughest test in a while as he faces criminally underrated Derek Anderson, who has won five out of six overall and two ever since moving up to 170 pounds. Page poorly pursues a rematch against Lima for the title, and he will have to prove against Anderson to get there that at the age of 34 there is still time for the “MVP” to balance sensationalism with the necessary focus to become a truly elite. fighter.