Photo Credit: Bellator
Bellator has a knack for putting together cards with controversy deeply seeded in their matchups. With the Daley v. Uhrich headliner, Bellator 148 continues their storied tradition. Daley can knock out anyone at any time, but is a 1-2 (in Bellator) Uhrich a real matchup? Honeycutt v. Bradley is a rematch after a premature stoppage. If their stylistic similarities weren’t enough to entice, Honeycutt is still undefeated and that always raises the fury and the stakes of a bout. Tony Johnson takes on Raphael Butler, and both heavyweights are known for their violent striking, but there are lingering questions about Johnson’s weight management. And rounding out the main card are Freire and Ryan Couture. Both Lightweights can end a fight, Freire with his explosive hands and Couture with grappling (Ryan’s last four wins have all come by rear naked choke submissions).
CARD BREAKDOWN AND WHERE TO WATCH
- Main Card (Spike) 9EST, 8CST
- Welterweight Paul Daley vs. Andy Uhrich
- Welterweight Paul Bradley vs. Chris Honeycutt
- Lightweight Patricky Freire vs. Ryan Couture
- Heavyweight Raphael Butler vs. Tony Johnson
- Preliminary Card (Spike.com)
- Women's Flyweight Ilima MacFarlane vs. Amber Tackett
- Heavyweight Javy Ayala vs. Carl Seumanutafa
- Featherweight Art Arcienega vs. Justin Smiley
- Bantamweight Paul Ruiz vs. Josh San Diego
- Flyweight Matt Perez vs. Eugene Cancino
- Featherweight Nick Bustamante vs. Te Edwards
- Light Heavyweight John Paul Elias vs. DeMarco Villalona
- Light Heavyweight Jermaine McDermott vs. Eric Huggins
MAIN CARD PREDICTIONS
Heavyweight Raphael Butler vs. Tony Johnson
The heavyweight division in Bellator is in shambles. Marquee matchups are almost non-existent and there is a lack of upcoming talent that is a major concern for the division. And while that could taint the excitement of Raphael Butler vs. Tony Johnson, this fight carries two of the heavyweight hopefuls and one major comeback.
Raphael Butler has good hands and excellent power, born of his time as a professional boxer. There is a tendency to look retroactively at fighters who have transitioned from a focused fight career, be it boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, or muay thai, and try to do “fight math” focused on MMA skill. But because of the amalgamation of skills and the unique test of a cage fight, there exists no transitive property of talent. This is especially true for Raphael Butler. The heavyweight’s boxing career (35-12, 28 KOs) can best be described as lackluster. A promising fighter, with heavy power and moderate work rate, Butler’s career hit the skids after losing to “Fast” Eddie Chambers for the USBA Heavyweight title. But since coming to MMA, Butler is 9-1 with a handful of KO victories. Look for him to keep the fight standing and blast, but don’t be surprised if he works a submission. His last fight, Bellator 134 against Diekmann, was finished with a standing guillotine because of an over caution of his striking ability.
Tony Johnson’s body won’t be featured on any magazine covers. At 264 pounds, the former King of the Cage Champ doesn’t cut a slim figure. But for the big man, his weight is a minor miracle. Fighting against the scale is tricky for any fighter, but Tony Johnson (who ballooned up to 320) is on the extreme end of the scale. Now that his weight is under control, Johnson will look to put down Butler and start his resurgence in earnest. Two major factors in Johnson’s game are his pedigree in the fights he has under his belt and wrestling. Johnson, despite fighting since 2008, is only 9-2 in MMA (for the aforementioned weight issues and proclivity towards longer layoffs between fights). However, despite having less than a dozen fights, the big man has squared off against some greats. Daniel Cormier outwrestled Johnson early in both men’s career (2010), but three years later Johnson took down big Tim Silvia in three rounds. That kind of talent, and the experience of a win and a loss against the pressure that comes with those bouts will work in Johnson’s favor. The second major aspect of TJ’s fight advantage is his wrestling. The big man was an NCAA D1 wrestler and football player and has been wrestling since he was four years old. Application of force and comfort in the grappling portion of the bout will be no problem for Johnson.
Prediction: Johnson by TKO. Second Round
Lightweight Patricky Freire vs. Ryan Couture
There is no way not to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room, or 228-pound gorilla as it were, when it comes to this fight. Ryan Couture is Randy Couture’s son and protégé. With the falling out between his father and the UFC with him at the heart of the matter, Ryan may always live in his father’s shadow. But make no mistake about the lightweight progeny: he can fight.
Ryan Couture is 10-3 in MMA, 4-0 since falling out with the UFC. And five and a half years after his debut, he seems to have found his place in Bellator. Consecutive wins at Bellator 124 and 135, Ryan trains out of Xtreme Couture in Vegas and his fight game reflects that style. Gritty, heavily focused on conditioning and grappling, the lightweight is streaking through the division. While comparisons to his father fall apart quickly given the maturation of MMA as a sport and the obvious size difference, Couture also seems to struggle at the upper levels of competition. In his UFC tenure, Ryan fought Ross Pearson and Al Iaquinta, losing to both. There is a caveat in that both of his losses as they came early in his career. But as he continues to accelerate upward in the division, there are lingering questions to how high his ceiling can go.
Patricky Freire, younger brother of Patricio Freire the Bellator Featherweight champion, is a mercurial fighter. Amassing a 14-7 record, 7-6 in Bellator, Patricky is a hard fighter to gauge on any given night. When he shows up his explosiveness is only matched by the vicious tenacity with which he chases down opponents. He brutalized Toby Imada, Dave Rickels, and Derek Campos. But his most recent split decision loss to Derek Anderson was disappointing. Despite his obvious proclivity to stand and bang, the Brazilian “Pitbull” does hold a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. An asset he hasn’t utilized for a win since April of 2010.
Prediction: Couture by Decision.
Welterweight Paul Bradley vs. Chris Honeycutt
Chris Honeycutt and Paul Bradley are a unique situation in this card, and in fighting. A hyped initial meeting at Bellator 140 ended in the second round when the two men violently and inadvertently head-butted each other. The rematch was set in the immediate aftermath, and this weekend’s card will be the payoff that fans have been waiting over a year for.
Paul Bradley, former champion of Ring of Combat, was and is a world-class wrestler. Two-time all-American at Iowa, the man exploded into MMA with eleven straight wins. A hiccup against Mike Pierce and the now UFC Middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, Bradley entered the UFC 18-2. Quick losses to Raphael Natal and Mike Pierce (again) saw him released from that promotion. His entrance and subsequent fights in Bellator have been lackluster, but this fight against an unbeaten Honeycutt could be a major factor in catapulting his career back to the heights it once burned out upon. The biggest test, however, will be how Bradley responds to his wrestling being neutralized. His game is well-rounded (as evidenced by his equal split in victories between KOs, submissions, and decision victories) but the base with which his game is built is wrestling.
Chris Honeycutt is touted as the future of Bellator’s Lightweight division. Only twenty-seven years old and undefeated at 7-0, the matchmakers for the promotion have to be hoping that he comes away with a win that puts the original no contest deep into the rear view. But there is a question about what has changed in the last six months. Should Honeycutt try and utilize the same, albeit effective, game plan from the first fight, he may meet resistance from Bradley who has tape and experience against him now. Bradley has already come out and spoken on the changes he’s looking to make after the first fight, saying he will push the pressure and be wary of Honeycutt rushing in to make the bout a grappling exhibition.
Prediction: Honeycutt by head-butt in the second round. Or TKO. Probably TKO.
Welterweight Paul Daley vs. Andy Uhrich
There are very few fighters more exciting to watch than Paul Daley when he is focused and active in the ring. His left hand alone is infamous, and worthy of viewership. However, the actual matchup and the significance therein leaves something to be desired.
Andy Uhrich 11-5 in his MMA career, a record that should be noted spans over eight years. His tenure has seen only one marquee win, against Joe Williams at Bellator 73. Beyond that, Uhrich is a very hard fighter to gauge. His record reads as a who’s who of midlevel promotions, making it nigh impossible to find tape on him. Furthermore, his three fights in Bellator to this point left him 1-2. That said, his game seems to be well developed, if plodding, and he brings a certain gritty toughness as a result of his journeyman status. He appeared briefly on Bellator’s “Fight Master” series (a kind of promotional equivalency to the Ultimate Fighter) where he was sidelined fairly quickly by an eye injury. As an aside, I have serious concerns over his safety in this fight.
Paul Daley is a monster. 37-13, “Semtex” is notoriously violent with twenty-seven wins by knockout or technical knockout. He’s fast, he’s explosive, and his experience in striking is top level. Uhrich will most likely simply be fodder for one of Bellator’s main draws, a spectacle of violence that is reminiscent of the Pride days. However, Daley does have flaws. While he has a slew of amazing wins over world-class opponents (Martin Kampmann, Duane Ludwig, John Alessio), he has also faltered at the upper echelon (Jake Shields, Josh Koshcheck, Nick Diaz, Tyron Woodley). Can he climb back to the top of the division on the heels of his striking? Or is the 32-year-old collecting paychecks until he retires at the mid-tier? Don’t look for answers in this fight, but there’s blood in the water and Daley is absolutely a lurking monster waiting to strike.
Prediction: Daley by TKO. First Round.