BELLATOR 151 PREVIEW, CARD BREAKDOWN, AND PREDICTIONS

Photo Credit: Bellator

This is the return to form we’ve all been waiting for. The main card is quality all the way through. A battle of upstarts in Joe Taimanglo and Sirwan Kakai, representing Guam and Sweden, respectively. A jiu jitsu showdown in Yamauchi and Bubba Jenkins (who desperately needs to keep this standing). A drop-in debut by Gilbert Smith against a resurgent Fernando Gonzalez. And a wrestling super fight against the top bantamweight contenders in Warren v. Caldwell. Oh, and there’s a Gracie on the undercard. Neiman Gracie will look for his fourth straight submission win. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

CARD BREAKDOWN AND WHERE TO WATCH

Main Card (Spike) 9EST, 8CST

Bantamweight Joe Warren vs. Darrion Caldwell                                          

Welterweight Fernando Gonzalez vs. Gilbert Smith                                    

Featherweight Goiti Yamauchi vs. Bubba Jenkins                                       

Bantamweight Joe Taimanglo vs. Sirwan Kakai        

Preliminary Card (Spike.com)

Featherweight Chris Jones vs. Ray Wood                                         

Bantamweight Steve Garcia vs. Ricky Turcios                                             

Welterweight  Justin Patterson vs. Chance Rencountre                                            

Featherweight Treston Thomison vs. Aaron Roberson                                             

Welterweight  Neiman Gracie vs. Roger Carroll                                          

Middleweight Derek Palmer vs. Jermayne Barnes                                       

Featherweight Shane Peterson vs. Stephen Banaszak           

 

 

MAIN CARD PREDICTIONS

 

Bantamweight Joe Taimanglo vs. Sirwan Kakai

At 135 pounds, Joe Taimanglo (21-6-1) and Sirwan Kakai (12-3) may be one of the more exciting fights on the card, if only because Kakai has something to prove and Taimanglo seems to be on the rise.

Sirwan Kakai is a twenty-six-year-old Swedish fighter who seemed primed to make a stab at the UFC. Signed in 2015, his first fight was against Danny Martinez and while it did have to be decided by judges, it was still a rapid win for the Swede. Less than two months later, the UFC saddled Kakai back up for a bout with Frankie Saenz on the Teixeira/St. Preux card. A split decision and firm handshake later, Sirwan Kakai was cut at 1-1. Both sides probably have equal reasoning around the fairness of that decision. For the UFC’s part, their large stable of fighters and abundance of talent makes the early fights extremely cutthroat. And for Kakai, splitting a decision in his second fight in the promotion and then being released must seem incredibly unfair. With that vengeance in mind, and great deal of talent, Kakai will look to make a statement against Taimanglo. Of his twelve wins, the Swede has only twice gone to a decision. The rest of his wins come from TKO or some kind of choke, so look for him to attack Taimanglo. Fighting out of a ATT, Kakai will be well conditioned and looking to rely on his wrestling and height advantage.

Joe Taimanglo is a former Pacific Xtreme Combat featherweight champion and one helluva grappler. With eleven of his twenty-one wins coming from submission, there were early questions about his ability to bring that asset from PXC into Bellator, but his North-South Choke on Ronnie Rogers at Bellator 94 quieted those criticisms. Since then, the Guamanian (full disclosure: I had to google that) has amassed a record of 4-2, splitting decision wins and losses until Bellator 137. With striking always being Taimanglo’s biggest question mark, the Guamanian knocked out Antonio Duarte with an anchor punch. If that term doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because the technique requires a perfectly time sidestep, low hands, and a looping punch against a charging opponent. For boxing fans, think the Ali versus Sonny Liston rematch in ’65. For MMA purists, imagine the Anderson Silva/Forrest Griffin fight. Taimanglo’s striking isn’t near either of those great’s level, but when a fighter starts finishing fights in ways that only giants of the sport have, you’ve to tip your cap at their improvement.

Barring another Ali-esque finish, Kakai wins a decision, 3rd Round.

 

Featherweight Goiti Yamauchi vs. Bubba Jenkins             

Admitting my own bias towards jiu jitsu, this is the fight I am most excited for. Goiti Yamauchi and Bubba Jenkins both deserve title shots at featherweight. At 19-2 and 10-2 respectively, neither man has lost in over a year and both have the technical ability to be champion.

Goiti Yamauchi is a great jiu jitsu practitioner. 5-1 since joining the promotion, Yamauchi has only lost to Will Martinez (at Bellator 110). In that same span he has finished three fights with a submission, moreover with the same submission (the rear naked choke). Of all his wins, fifteen of the nineteen are by submission, an astounding rate by any measure. Yamauchi will look to the ground, even if he goes on his back. With one title shot already squandered due to injury, Yamauchi will be motivated and looking for a highlight real finish (another rear naked choke?) to cement his deserved title shot.

Standing in Yamauchi way is Bubba Jenkins. For the greatness of Yamauchi BJJ, Jenkins can counter with championship level wrestling, winning the NCAA D1 championship for Arizona State in 2011. Furthermore, Jenkins may be the more well-rounded fighter. Yamauchi’s submissions may be impressive, but what happens if he can’t get the fight to the ground? Or is nullified by high level wrestling? Jenkins has an almost equal number of sub and knockout wins, but will look to keep this fight standing where he has the obvious edge. But should it go to the ground, there are still lingering questions after Jenkins fight with Georgi Karakhanyan. At Bellator 132, the two men met in a title shot eliminator. And at a minute forty-nine in the very first round, Karakhanyan stunned Jenkins with a guillotine choke. All due respect to Karakhanyan, Yamauchi’s BJJ is on a whole other level. Look for Jenkins to be aggressive but keep distance in his standup, and should he chose to take Yamauchi down, he’ll be hesitant to overcommit to a position or transition.

Yamauchi by Submission, 2nd Round.

 

Welterweight Fernando Gonzalez vs. Gilbert Smith               

A last second change, Gilbert Smith (12-4) will fight Fernando Gonzalez (24-13) in place of Michael Page. And whereas, Smith is coming in on short notice, his skillset makes him dangerous to an off-balance Gonzalez.

Gilbert Smith is, was, the RFA welterweight champion. But making his Bellator promotional debut has caused him to vacate that position, and in so doing returned him to the level of his once promise. Taking nothing away from RFA, if you’re wondering where you know the name Gilbert Smith from, he was a finalist on The Ultimate Fighter 17. A tough loss to the winner Bubba McDaniel by submission and the UFC gave him his walking papers. 7-2 since his departure, one belt on his mantle, and Gilbert Smith is looking to take Bellator by storm. Even if it is on short notice.

Fernando Gonzalez is two years Smith’s junior, thirty-two to thirty-four. But with thirty-seven fights to his name, a full camp behind him, and a four fight win streak in Bellator, Gonzalez may have the experience advantage. An up and down fighter, Gonzalez has pieced together a nice run of wins, landmarked by a first round TKO against Karo Parisyan and a guillotine submission of Curtis Millender last May. Minus his hiccup, or two, in testing positive for THC and marijuana metabolites, Gonzalez may have finally put his game together in time to make a run at the belt. But if he has an Achilles Heel, it has been his submission defense, a particularly poignant flaw against Smith. Either way, look for the winner of this fight to be chomping at the bit for the winner of Koreshkov/Benson Henderson on April 22nd.

 

Gilbert Smith by Submission, 3rd Round.

 

Bantamweight Joe Warren vs. Darrion Caldwell

This is the return of form we’ve all been waiting for from Bellator. Forget Dada 5000 and his heart attack, forget the knee that may have tarnished legends, this is quality MMA brought to us, for free, by Bellator. Joe Warren (13-4) and Darrion Caldwell (8-0) both have the ability to be world champions. Both men are world class wrestlers. And both realize that the winner of this fight deserves Galvao and the title shot.

Darrion Caldwell is young, distinguished, and undefeated. At 28 years old, Darrion Caldwell has already proved himself a force in Bellator and the bantamweight division. With impressive wins over Shawn Bunch, Joe Pingitore, and Lance Surma all by submission; and an utter dismantling of Rafael Silva, Caldwell is a force in the promotion. And wherein Joe Warren has almost always had the edge in wrestling, Caldwell brings high level ability to that venue as well. An All-American and National Champion out of NC State, Caldwell barely missed out on the 2012 Olympic team due to a string of injuries. This man is promising, explosive, and talented. A win here would cement his title shot and set the hype into orbit.

Joe Warren has the benefit and the detriment of age on Caldwell. Eleven years his senior, Warren may be a half-step slower, a hair-breadth less reactive, and suffered a dip after losing to Galvao at Bellator 135. But he’s also a man who knows what it’s like to compete and win at the highest level. Only when you compare him to an undefeated fighter does his record look sub-par, and a full trophy case probably subverts any sadness from those four losses. Warren has gold medals at: the US Championships in 2005, 2006, and 2007; the Pan American Cup in 2006, the World Cup in 2007, and was the World Champion Greco-Roman Gold Medalist in 2007 in Guangzhou. Should that not be impressive enough he also held belts at Bellator’s Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions. He is a winner, flat-out. But at 39, can he keep up with the new breed? Or was his loss to Galvao indicative of the beginning of the end?

The Upstart Joe Warren by Decision.

 

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