The second quarterfinal match-up in the inaugural Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix took place Friday night in Connecticut. Tournament favorite Matt Mitrione exacted revenge on Roy Nelson. ‘Meathead’ progressed to the semi-finals with a majority decision victory, but have his and Chael Sonnen’s somewhat lackluster performances thus far installed Ryan Bader as the new best bet to take the Grand Prix title?
Sonnen, of course, also won a decision in his quarter final contest with Quinton ‘Rampage Jackson‘ last month. However, he didn’t really look like a threat to the other bigger men in the tournament. The outspoken 40-year-old showed some interesting wrinkles to his game as he surprisingly chose to strike with ‘Rampage’ early on. Then, later on, Sonnen implemented his suffocating wrestling to grind out the victory.
Mitrione vs. Nelson
Mitrione, on the other hand, claimed his decision win based entirely on the strength of his stand-up. ‘Big Country’ was able to land takedowns in all three rounds, but it was Mitrione’s accurate and busy striking that impressed two of the three judges. The ease with which Nelson got Mitrione to the canvas has to be a concern for ‘Meathead.’ He will be facing a skilled wrestler next no matter who wins the Bader vs. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal match-up. However, he will have confidence in his heavy hands and unique movement to carry him to the final.
As alluded to earlier, Mitrione came into the Bellator Grand Prix as the bookies favorite to win the tournament. Mitrione, 39, appears to be at his fighting peak. He has made a successful transition to Bellator, going 4-0 with three knockouts, since leaving the UFC. Indeed, arguably his two finest victories have come in his last two fights: wins over Nelson and fellow Grand Prix participant Fedor Emelianenko. Mitrione could be forgiven for lamenting his side of the tournament bracket, however. While Sonnen patiently awaits the winner of Fedor vs. Frank Mir, Mitrione must prepare for either the Bellator light heavyweight champion Bader or the talented, if inconsistent, King Mo.
Bader’s Odds of Winning
The inference is that Bader and Mo are seemingly in their primes, whereas Fedor and Mir are most certainly not. Mitrione also already has a win over Fedor to reassure him. And with neither Mitrione or Sonnen looking like killers in their quarter final contests, has Bader now moved into the position of favorite?
Bader, at 34, is the youngest man in the field, and also the most in-form. He’s currently riding a four-fight win-streak since being flatlined by Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson in early 2016. He’s showcased his power with stoppages of Ilir Latifi, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Linton Vassell. He also bested Phil Davis for the second time last summer when he became light heavyweight champ.
The knock on Bader in this tournament is, of course, the fact that he has never competed at heavyweight. He will have to beat bigger men than he’s experienced before. It’s questionable whether his chin will hold up to the firepower of a Mitrione or Fedor. His wrestling, though, will be key, especially given how little effort it took Nelson to put Mitrione on his butt.
Sonnen obviously showed that his wrestling is of a high-calibre against ‘Rampage’. But Bader’s own grappling nullifies that threat, and there’s no question that Bader has the advantage on the feet in a potential final meeting with ‘The American Gangster.’
Now, this is all being written on the assumption that Bader defeats King Mo in May. But honestly, it will be very surprising if Lawal picks up the ‘W.’
So with Mitrione and Sonnen producing lukewarm displays in the Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix so far, it appears that the path may have cleared for Ryan Bader to become Bellator’s first concurrent champion… the champ champ if you will.
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