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Bellator Preview: Five fights you need to see before Shamrock vs. Gracie III

Get ready for the Bellator 149 main event with these five fights featuring Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock.

Holly Stein/Getty Images

Tonight, it's the throwback fight to end all throwback fights, as Bellator presents Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie III. The rivalry that started in 1993 finally sees its rubber match in this true legends battle. To get you ready for the fight, we've prepared this quick guide for you - the Five Fights you need to see before Shamrock vs. Gracie III. Watch these five and you'll be ready to analyze all the action tonight. Most of these fights are available at UFC Fight Pass, and when available, a YouTube embed is included here (sometimes not of the highest quality).

1. ROYCE GRACIE vs. KEN SHAMROCK I, UFC 1

For Royce and his team, a repeat of these two men's first encounter is pretty much the ideal scenario Friday night. Royce charges in, the fight goes to the mat, they grapple, and Gracie shows that he is the superior grappler by choking Shamrock out (though not without Shamrock seemingly trying a phantom tap). Really, that's the blueprint for every classic Royce Gracie performance, and while those usually came against outmatched opponents, here it was against someone who knew his way around the submission game - but the end result was the same. I doubt things will exactly play out like this now - for one, don't expect Royce to explode on a takedown like that. At the same time, I'm not sure that Shamrock ever truly improved his MMA game from this stage in his career, so it's entirely possible he again thinks he can grapple with Gracie, and that he's again proven wrong.

2. ROYCE GRACIE vs. KAZUSHI SAKURABA, K-1 DYNAMITE!! USA

Here's path #2 to a Gracie win - the super rare Royce Gracie decision victory. (And before you get concerned, no this is not the famous 90 minute match, this is the 2007 rematch - but you totally should watch the 90 minute match because it's amazing.) Because Gracie liked to set his own rules and never believed in judging, this is one of only two decision wins in his entire career. It's also, despite being 9 years old, his most recent fight. It's not a terrifically exciting fight, but it is an aging Gracie doing enough to grind out a decision win over a massively faded former foe. The relevance to tonight's fight is obvious, and if we're going to see Royce's hand raised in the Bellator cage, my suspicion is that the fight will look quite a bit like this one.

3. KEN SHAMROCK vs. KIMO LEOPOLDO, UFC 8

On the other end of the spectrum, here is the best case scenario for Team Shamrock Friday night. Here, he is at the peak of his skill in MMA, outworking and dominating Kimo in all aspects of the game before finishing his worn down opponent off. This really is vintage Ken Shamrock, and it's the man his fans most want to see in there once again. There's just one problem with that...

4. KEN SHAMROCK vs. KIMBO SLICE,  BELLATOR 138

...The Kimo fight was 20 years ago. Chances of Shamrock turning in a performance like that once again are slim to none. Instead, we need to focus on what we have seen from The World's Most Dangerous Man lately, and that's not pretty. He went 1-2 in 2010 including a very sad and violent loss to Pedro Rizzo, retired for 5 years, then returned last year for this fight. What you see here is a once acclaimed grappler shooting a terrible takedown (which none the less works, because Kimbo), then getting perfect position on a choke on Kimbo Slice of all people, but still not being able to finish. From there, he's completely gassed and defenseless, and Kimbo has no problem ending it. Certainly Royce is not going to throw punches like Kimbo here, but this fight is a good indication of where Ken stands in 2016. One other note - prior to the takedown, Shamrock grabs a body clinch and throws knees. This is a pretty common position for him in what passes for recent fights, and one I fully expect to see here.

5. ROYCE GRACIE vs. KEN SHAMROCK II, UFC 5

If you're either Royce Gracie or a fan watching at home, this is pretty much the worst possible outcome. It's also, in my opinion, one of the most likely. Gracie vs. Shamrock II is widely considered one of the worst fights in MMA history, so buyer beware if you watch. Those who have never watched much from this era will be particularly bored. For 30 minutes, Shamrock maintains top control and takes minimal risks while applying slight ground and pound. And for 30 minutes, Gracie waits patiently for an opening that never comes. In both men's defense, those strategies are understandable. At the previous UFC, Dan Severn had done much the same thing to Royce for 15 minutes, but then he got just the tiniest bit reckless going for a finish and Gracie triangled him in what was the greatest UFC fight ever at that early stage. Here, Shamrock is desperately trying to avoid that same fate, while Gracie waits for it. The result is a game of chicken that ends in a stalemate. Officially, it's a draw as there were no judges back then, but if there were, this would be a clear Shamrock win. And as I said, it is entirely possible that a repeat of this is what we get in Bellator. I don't see either man being able to go hard for 15 minutes, and for the larger Shamrock, this is a pretty clear path to victory. But for the sake of our viewing enjoyment, let's hope I'm wrong.

Join us here at Bloody Elbow tonight for Bellator 149: Shamrock vs. Gracie live fight night coverage.

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