What made Strikeforce special was its women’s divisions and the way Scott Coker was able to promote them. His star from the Strikeforce days, Cris Cyborg, has pivoted over to Bellator with him, and headlines Bellator 271 this Friday in defense of her featherweight title against Sinead Kavanagh.
Bellator 271 Preview
Since joining Bellator, Cyborg has been 3-0 with three finishes since coming over to the promotion and won the women’s featherweight belt in her first fight against Julia Budd. She steamrolled her way through that matchup, then stopped Arlene Blencowe at Bellator 249, and battered Leslie Smith all the way to a fifth-round stoppage at Bellator 259.
What has given Cyborg any amount of trouble in the past is strong, durable fighters with strong hands. In steps her opponent on Friday in Sinead Kavanagh. Kavanagh is 4-4 in her Bellator career, but in her losses, she hasn’t been stopped outside of a cut. She is everything that can create issues for Cyborg and that is not being talked about enough heading into Bellator 271.
The rest of this main card is very interesting as well, as the surging heavyweight version of Linton Vassell has won two in a row and maybe contending for a title shot with a win. Aaron Pico, who seems to be finally getting comfortable in his MMA career, looks for his fifth straight win, and at 25 years old, he has a ton of time left to build his career up. Then to top it all off we have seventh-ranked heavyweight Steve Mowry, who looks for his 10th straight finish to start his MMA career.
Main Event: Cris Cyborg vs. Sinead Kavanagh
Cris Cyborg has been utterly dominant since joining the Bellator promotion, but has it been close to what we are used to seeing from one of the greatest of all time?
Before the Leslie Smith fight, it seemed shaky. After the knockout loss to Amanda Nunes, she won a decision against Felicia Spencer, which is a fight that in the past she would have steamrolled through. Her next two fights would be her first two in Bellator over Julia Budd and Arlene Blencowe, as previously mentioned. While those fights were both stoppages, they left more to be desired. The Budd win was impressive, but it was not that classic Cyborg performance, not the impressive finish but the one where she seemed like she was in a different class than her peers.
The Leslie Smith win was the old Cyborg: that was the stalking version and the glimpse of the scary version from Strikeforce and the face of women’s MMA. That version has to come out on Friday against Kavanagh.
Kavanagh hasn’t gotten the respect she deserves with this coming fight. She has won two in a row, fought in the top levels of MMA her entire career in both BAMMA and Bellator, and has shown the ability to get a knockout at any time. Cyborg has shown to have a strong chin her entire career, minus the Amanda Nunes fight, but she is getting older and Father Time is undefeated.
Co-Main Event: Heavyweight Contender Fight
Former two-time light heavyweight title challenger and current sixth-ranked Linton Vassell faces off against the man ahead of him in the rankings at five in Tyrell Fortune. Vassell has won his last two matchups at heavyweight, by getting stoppage wins over Ronny Markes and Sergei Kharitonov to put him in a good position of a very interesting division in Bellator.
Fortune is on a winning streak of his own at three in a row after suffering a loss to recent Fedor Emelianenko victim Tim Johnson. His last win came over Matt Mitrione, which seems to finally have people talking about him as a serious contender in the division. Adding Linton Vassell to his resume would definitely fast-track him to a title shot just as it would for Vassell.
This fight will come down to whether Vassell can neutralize the takedown of Fortune, otherwise this may be a long night for the Brit. When it comes to Fortune, though, he needs to be wary of Vassell’s top-end striking, whether he is on the outside at range or if he is shooting for a takedown.
Prospects Look to Continue Their Rise
On two of the three remaining main card fights, Bellator has one prospect who has been around for a while now and a rising heavyweight contender who hasn’t heard the final bell in seven years.
Aaron Pico looks to continue his rise by earning a fifth straight win and break into the top five of the division with a win over Justin Gonzales. Since making the move to Jackson-Wink MMA, Pico seems to have found his complete game that so many people talked about before his pro debut at Bellator: NYC back in 2017. If he breaks into the top five of the featherweight division, though, Pico will start to face the real serious killers of that division. He faces an opponent in Gonzales who is an undefeated former LFA featherweight champion and winner on Dana White’s Contender Series, and “J-Train” will be looking to play spoiler.
Pivoting over to the man who will be fighting in his new adopted home state after leaving the confines of Butler, Pennsylvania. Steve Mowry is ranked seventh in the heavyweight division and is 9-0 with nine finishes, and thus is starting to get some serious eyeballs on him. Mowry will face unranked and Bellator debutant Rakim Cleveland which has Mowry the favorite with a -650 betting odds. Mowry has the look, six-foot-eight with a 79-inch reach, and the resume, all wins by knockout, to be a serious heavyweight star for the promotion. Fights like this with PFL veteran Cleveland and beyond will be pivotal to his continued development but if they handle this right they may have a new face of their heavyweight division.
All of the action begins live on Friday from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Miami, with the preliminary card kicking off at 7pm ET/4pm PT on YouTube followed by the main card at 10pm ET/7pm PT on Showtime.
Featured Image courtesy of Bellator MMA