Maybe it’s true that misery loves company. Just one day after a 15-second “No Contest” headliner tarnished an underwhelming Bellator 215 card, the can’t-miss Bellator “Fight of the Year” turned into an outright snoozer to cap an existentially dreary Bellator 216 offering featuring a succession of high-profile older fighters who looked grayer than ever.
The good news is that it wasn’t all bad news for Bellator in a weekend where Paul Daley became a wrestler and Sergei Kharitonov enjoyed a groin strike-induced hospital visit. Beyond the feature fight disappointments, there was some positive activity to take away from the undercard.
Let’s forget about the bad buzz and focus on the biggest positives to draw from Bellator 215 and Bellator 216.
Tyrell Fortune looks legit
Bellator’s investment in early-career amateur wrestling stars has begun to pay dividends, recently with Ed Ruth‘s inclusion in the Welterweight Grand Prix and now with the emergence of Tyrell Fortune as a legit all-around threat. Fortune spent most of his first five Bellator appearances putting men flat on the mat, just as you’d expect from a wrestler of his pedigree. The Grand Canyon University alum’s learning curve clearly accelerated heading into Bellator 216, as he made the transition from one-dimensional wrestler into a powerful striker versus Ryan Pokryfky. Pokryfky may not present the most threatening image, but he’s actually a sold regional heavyweight with wins over UFC vet Allen Crowder and hulking The Ultimate Fighter alum Josh Parisian. The undersized tough guy had no prayer in this one, though, as Fortune showed off a newly sharpened striking game to render Pokryfky helpless in under half-a-round.
Post-fight Tyrell Fortune decried his lack of main card placement, and after a performance like this you have to imagine that Bellator will want to get him in front of more eyeballs next time out. A nice next step up the ladder could be a main card prospect-versus-prospect clash with Steve Mowry (6-0), who overcame serious adversity at Bellator 215 to choke out debuting Darion Abbey. The winner of that one (likely Fortune) would be in perfect position to jump in the fray and make a mark at the top of Bellator’s rapidly aging heavyweight division.
👊💥Tyrell Fortune with the dynamite W at #Bellator216 tonight!
— Bellator MMA (@BellatorMMA) February 17, 2019
Yaroslav Amosov has undefeated mojo
When Yaroslav Amosov put his undefeated record on the line at Bellator 216 against perennial UFC combatant Erick Silva, the 25-year-old Ukrainian stepped in with relatively little hype for a man with a perfect 20 wins in 20 fights. To be fair, Amosov isn’t the kind of next-level athlete that tends to catch the eye of the Bellator brass. Rather, he’s a skilled and patient fighter who has a track record of using well-rounded technique to handle more athletic opponents like KSW champ Roberto Soldic.
After his clearcut win over Silva, maybe Bellator will start to come around and realize that a man who is 21-0 in pro MMA is a special commodity who should receive some marketing attention simply for his ability to win. Sure, Silva looked like a better athlete than Amosov in the first few minutes – that’s the Brazilian’s game. But “The Tiger” never came close to seriously damaging the durable Amosov before gassing out in the last minutes of the first round. From there Amosov wasn’t spectacular, but he got the job done to go 2-0 in Bellator including an impressive decision over Gerald Harris.
Look, I’m not saying Amosov is a future world champ, but at this point, he’s proven that he can consistently beat anyone put in front of him who isn’t at the top of world class. It’s certainly not hard to market a guy who’s 21-0; just put his top few highlight clips on loop, have Mauro Ranallo casually drop the names of other Eastern bloc fighters who earned massive streaks like Khabib, Vovchanchyn, and Fedor, and let fans’ imaginations do the rest. With a little bit of promotional effort Amosov may be able to earn a bit of the mystique afforded to those all-time greats; at the very least, the hype will make his opponent look like a million bucks when the Ukrainian finally does fall to a more athletic opponent.
Logan Storley, wrestling destroyer
South Dakota’s Logan Storley is another undefeated wrestler under Bellator contract who has thus far failed to capture the attention of the fight watching public. Storley’s wrestling-centric work has largely flown under the radar, including a three-round wipeout of SBG’s Ion Pascu at Bellator 215, but he’s produced lopsided results against a range of solid regional opponents. Now 10-0, the time is right for Storley to step up in class and see how well his wrestling game fares against the sharks in the deep end of Bellator’s welterweight pool.
While Just Bleed fans may wag a finger at Storley for relying on his smothering grappling, I find it hard to blame the man for using his core skillset to defeat more-experienced, winning opposition. Oftentimes a top wrestler simply needs an elite opponent who can push him & help reveal the type of fighter he truly is. With the likes of Ed Ruth, Neiman Gracie, “Mr. Paige VanZant” Austin Vanderford, and Amosov lurking in the Bellator 170 pound ranks, Storley should soon have the opportunity to show his wares against any number of interesting challengers who aren’t going to roll over at the first sign of an elite double-leg.
The Death of One-Fight Bellator Cards?
Understated Bellator boss Scott Coker was apologetic after the 15-second disaster that constituted the Bellator 215 main event:
That’s a first for me… sorry everyone.#Bellator215
— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) February 16, 2019
There’s no better teacher than first-hand experience, so maybe this doomed card (and weekend) will help convince Bellator to put renewed effort into building & promoting the kind of deeper, younger roster that you need to successfully run 20+ top level MMA shows year after year. Luckily for Bellator, many of the building blocks are there for North America’s #2 to start rebranding as a hotspot for young, elite martial artists and dispel the existing perception of Bellator as a resting place for big names whose UFC tenure has come to a close.