I’m sorry I haven’t been around much. I’m sorry I’ve been neglecting you lately. It’s not you; it’s me. Sometimes I have to (reluctantly) act like a responsible adult and take care of certain aspects of my life first.
But, it’s a great weekend for a comeback as we have a loaded weekend of fights from all around the world. The action kicks off Friday, with a tripleheader nightcap headlined by LFA 60, Bellator 215 and Invicta 34. On Saturday, start your morning with ONE: Clash of Legends followed by a two-piece afternoon delight in ACA 92 and Cage Warriors 101 topped off with the second Bellator card of the weekend, Bellator 216 later in the night.
The grand finale of the weekend happens on a rare Sunday, as the first-ever “UFC on ESPN” takes place live from Phoenix, Arizona headlined by a massive heavyweight bout.
You all know why I’m here. Let’s get down to business and take a look at the three best fights this weekend!
It’s is only the second time this list has featured honorable mentions. There are so many fighters putting it on the line this weekend that I could not stick to highlighting six.
Alex Caceres vs. Kron Gracie (UFC on ESPN 1): No shade to Caceres, but the hype is around the debut of yet another Gracie in the UFC. The BJJ wizard Kron looks to pick up the first Gracie win in the UFC since Royce in the ’90s.
Vanessa Porto vs. Pearl Gonzalez (Invicta 34): The vacant Invicta Flyweight Championship is on the line as Vanessa Porto takes on Pearl Gonzalez. Porto, who has fought a “who’s who” of fighters, is in arguably the best form of her career. She faces Gonzalez who looks to continue her redemption tour after a failed UFC run and capture a major MMA title. Great fight.
Erick Silva vs. Yaroslav Amosov (Bellator 216): Amosov, the 20-0 highly touted Ukranian, will get another stiff test on Saturday. He takes on the once highly touted Erick Silva, who is looking for some redemption of his own. The Brazilian lives and dies by the sword so you can expect an exciting fight between these men.
Vitaly Minakov vs. Cheick Kongo 2 (Bellator 216): The undefeated Minakov returns to the lands that he once ruled with an iron fist. After years of picking up wins elsewhere, he returns to Bellator to face a familiar foe who has been on an absolute tear at the young age of 43. The winner will almost certainly receive a Bellator Heavyweight Championship fight.
Roy Nelson vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović 2
Bellator 216 – Saturday, February 16
The third best fight of the weekend features a rematch between two men with a combined age of 66 years. Ya gotta love heavyweight MMA.
The legendary Croatian Mirko “Cro Cop” makes his Bellator debut riding a 9-fight win streak dating back to 2014. At 44-years-old he is on one of his best runs since his days in PRIDE.
His opponent, “Big Country” Roy Nelson is only 3-7 in that same time frame, but owns a win over “Cro Cop” and still possesses the vicious one-punch power that made him famous.
Bellator doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to rematches between guys in their 40’s (or older), but this one is different. Neither man looks to need retirement, and a rematch between them is perfectly timed and will have a legitimate impact on the landscape of the division.
“Cro Cop” may have found the fountain of youth. He’s been on an absolute tear in recent years and looks to have put his disappointing UFC run in the rear-view. Most recently, the Croatian won the RIZIN Open-Weight Grand Prix, finishing all of his opponents in his path. It’s hard to describe how “Cro Cop” has changed as a fighter. His vicious kickboxing that made him a fan favorite is still on full display, but it seems like he has a renewed fire lit under him. If you compare his recent fights with some of his UFC fights, it’s surprising to learn that the man fighting in the UFC wasn’t the 44-year old version. The man who famously declared “right kick hospital, left kick cemetery” is back to being the cold-blooded killer that he was as a younger man. A win on Saturday could bring him one more win away from a Bellator Heavyweight Championship fight.
It will be interesting to see if Nelson can implement the ground game as he did against “Cro Cop” in their first bout. At the time, Nelson broke the mold of his usual fighting style by taking the Croatian down and eventually finishing him with ground and pound in the third round. At the time, Nelson was more known for being the guy who would circle his opponent, absorbing damage to be able to land his fight-ending overhand. He has implemented his ground game more with age and would be wise to try and attempt the same on Saturday. While Nelson was never known for his speed, father time has certainly taken a step or two away from him, and his once legendary chin isn’t what it once was. The idea of Nelson absorbing damage from Mirko to land his knockout blow isn’t feasible. “Big Country” will look to mix in the threat of the takedown and pressure against the fence to eventually open up the “Croatian” for a fight ender.
One of these heavyweight MMA staples will wake up on Sunday morning one step closer to winning a major MMA title in their 40’s. Have I told you how much I love this sport?
Michael Page vs. Paul Daley
Bellator 216, Saturday, February 16
My momma always told me that “hate” is a strong word. With that in mind, the two men in the Bellator 216 main event HATE each other.
Bellator 216 will finally provide fans with the long-awaited fight between Michael “Venom” Page and his loudest critic and fellow countryman, Paul “Semtex” Daley.
The 35-year-old, 58-fight veteran Daley will have to the opportunity to back-up what he’s been preaching for years: Michael “Venom” Page is an overrated product of hype. They call the man “Semtex” for a reason. Similar to a Semtex grenade, Daley will look to stick to you until he can explode with a knockout punch. The Britt has nearly three times as many KO/TKOs than “MVP” has fights. Daley will be at a sizable height disadvantage but has shown in the past that his traditional, pressure-heavy boxing is successful at negating the reach of taller opponents. Daley is as outspoken as any fighter we’ve seen in the sport whether it’s pre-fight trash talk or mid-fight profanity-laced rants about his disapproval of Jon Fitch’s wrestling-based attack.
Despite the bad blood, there are some similarities between the two. “MVP” shares the outspoken gene with Daley. Even with all the hype surrounding Page, no one believes in “MVP” more than “MVP and he will certainly let you know. The 31-year-old shares Daley’s love for striking and the knockout, but that’s where the similarities end. Page utilizes a very unique striking style. He stands sideways in a karate stance. He keeps his hands at his sides and relies on speed and reflex for both offense and defense. With 13 pro MMA fights to his name, all victories, that style has worked thus far. On Saturday, Page will have to implement it against the most decorated striker he’s faced.
The winner of this grudge match will receive bragging rights and a spot in the second round of the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix. Not only is this a must watch fight, but its a must weight weigh-in, a must watch staredown and a must-watch post-fight press conference. Bellator will need to beef up security when these two are in the same building.
Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez
UFC on ESPN 1 – Sunday, February 17
I almost didn’t include this fight out of fear that I would jinx the whole thing. Cain Velasquez returns to the octagon, and all we can do is pray that the MMA gods don’t smite us and take him away again.
The man that many still consider one of the best heavyweights of all time returns to the octagon after several bouts with various injuries. The “old” Cain was one of the most effective wrestle-boxers in this history of the UFC. Velasquez had bricks for hands matched with a high-level collegiate wrestling pedigree and a seemingly endless gas tank. He pushed a pace that was frankly stupid. It was a pace that the big men of the heavyweight division couldn’t even keep up with in their wildest daydreams. The two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion left some of the top names in the division gasping for air covered in their blood before the fight mercifully ended.
But Father Time is a son of a bitch, especially when he gets paired with the injury bug. At 36-years-old, with only four fights in almost six years, we cannot completely count on getting the “old” Cain back on Sunday, but man, it’s going to be nice to hear his name announced.
Welcome back, Cain. We’ve missed you. Now please fight this gigantic guy we call “The Predator.”
His foe for the evening comes in a Cameroonian mountain named Francis Ngannou.
There’s no mystery surrounding Ngannou’s game, and there aren’t words known to man that can properly capture the essence of the power he possesses. His triumphs come from the knockout, and his missteps have all stemmed from his inability to put his opponent away early. Despite his last fight ending with his hand raised, Ngannou will still need to answer the question of whether or not he has evolved from his failed title opportunity against Stipe Miocic. At his best, Velasquez provides a similar, yet more punishing style as Miocic. If Ngannou hasn’t formulated a backup plan when he can’t get the knockout, Velasquez will drag him into the deep water and drown him. If “The Predator” can remain in the fight long enough to consistently test the durability of Velasquez’s chin after a lay-off, the Cameroonian may vault his way back into title contention.
There is no question in my mind that the main event of UFC on ESPN 1 is the best fight to watch this weekend.
Enjoy it all, fight fans!
A 28-year-old MMA nut. Paralegal by trade, and heavyweight champion in my mind.