The historic University Park at Penn State will play host to tonight’s Bellator 186 card, as Ryan Bader looks to defend his recently acquired light heavyweight belt against a streaking Linton Vassell. Bellator MMA will crown its 1st ever flyweight champion in the co-main event, when Ilima-Lei MacFarlane squares off with Emily Ducote in a high stakes rematch. Bellator’s former 205 pound king, Phil Davis, returns to his old stomping grounds as Penn State’s own is set to face the undefeated Leonardo Leite. Another Nittany Lion will be returning to his alma mater, as 3 time national wrestling champion Ed Ruth is slated to tangle with the 11-5 UFC veteran Chris Dempsey.
Friday’s Bellator 186: Bader vs. Vassell main card will air live on Spike TV at 9:00 P.M. ET, with the prelims streaming online at 7:00 P.M. ET.
For an in-depth breakdown of each Bellator 186 main card bout, check out The MMA Vivisection with Bloody Elbow’s own Zane Simon, Victor Rodriguez, and Eddie Mercado. Stay glued to Bloody Elbow for all of your event coverage including play-by-play, results, highlights, and more!
Main Card: Spike TV 9:00 P.M. ET
Ryan Bader (23-5 MMA; 1-0 Bellator) vs. Linton Vassell (18-5-1 MMA; 7-2 Bellator): Light Heavyweight Title
Ryan Bader did a straight cannonball when he jumped from the UFC to the Bellator talent pool, when he took the title from Phil Davis via unanimous decision at Bellator 180 this past June. The current champ is on a 3-fight winning streak heading into Bellator 186, having scored a brutal one-knee KO of Ilir Latifi and a 3rd round TKO of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira before taking the title from Davis.
Quite a few advantages should be held by Bader as he faces Linton Vassell, including the wrestling edge, KO power, and of course his experience against a much higher level of opposition. Bader should be able to dictate where this fight takes place, as Vassell might struggle with getting Bader down to the ground, and if this is a kickboxing bout with small gloves, then we might see the champ retain his title.
Linton Vassell has won 3-straight since his lopsided decision loss to King Mo at Bellator 142. The Brit has earned unanimous decision wins over Emanuel Newton and Francis Carmont, respectively. And he recently submitted former light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary with an Arm Triangle at Bellator 179.
Vassell’s grappling game is his bread and butter. He owns 8 submission victories on his record, 6 by RNC. The standup game of Vassell lacks a bit of polish and fluidity, which got him into some trouble when he fought King Mo. The Englishmen does have some solid body kicks and does throw straight punches, but look for him to want to get this to the mat as soon as possible. Can Vassell get Bader to the ground, and if not, then what?
Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (6-0 MMA; 5-0 Bellator) vs. Emily Ducote (6-2 MMA; 4-1 Bellator) 2: (W) Flyweight Title
The first time these flyweights squared off was an entertaining affair at Bellator 167, not even a year ago; there were reversals and transitions throughout the bouts entirety. Ducote floored her foe right off the bat with a crisp right hand, but ultimately it was Macfarlane that used her grappling prowess to pick up the unanimous decision victory.
Since their initial meeting, Ducote has gone on to pick up back to back wins, including a 1st round sub of Katy Collins and a unanimous decision of Jessica Middleton. In both bouts, Ducote was successful in establishing her controlling grappling game, specifically her top control. Her M.O. thus far has been to throw her heavy right hand early, close the distance, and then utilize her collegiate wrestling chops to get the fight to the ground.
But getting to the ground is exactly where Macfarlane wants to be. Will Ducote come out with a different gameplan from the first meeting, and perhaps use her wrestling in reverse to force Macfarlane to stand with her and that damaging right hand? If so, she might find herself as Bellator’s first ever flyweight champion by the end of the night.
Since their initial meeting, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane ran right through Jessica Middleton. She put on a grappling clinic, picking up a gnarly 1st round armbar in just 2:15. She then went on to submit Brooke Mayo in a grappling match with an overtime triangle at EBI 12, this past summer.
As a member of Team Hurricane Awesome, Macfarlane trains day in and day out with UFC veteran Liz Carmouche, which is exactly the sort of talent a fighter would want around while making a run at a title. If Ducote is willing to grapple, then there is a great chance of this fight looking an awful lot like their 1st meeting, which would be a great thing for Macfarlane. Will MacFarlane produce a repeat performance to best Ducote and become Bellator’s inaugural flyweight champ?
Saad Awad (20-9; 8-6 Bellator) vs. Zach Freeman (9-2 MMA; 1-0 Bellator): Lightweight
Saad Awad is a savvy Bellator vet that has been around the block a time or two, scrapping with top talents such as Patricky Freire, Brennan Ward, and even Will Brooks twice. After suffering a brutal KO loss to the aforementioned Ward at Bellator 163, Awad used his top control coupled with some ground and pound to bounce back into the win column, defeating Ryan Quinn via unanimous decision this past April, at Bellator 178. In the past decade, Awad has really only lost to really talented fighters, so this match should tell us a whole bunch about Zach Freeman.
Zach Freeman shocked the world with his 24 second club and sub of hyped up prospect Aaron Pico, at Bellator 180 this past June. Freeman is now pitted against a Bellator veteran in Saad Awad, who has been in there with some of the promotions toughest talents. Freeman favors his submissions, with 6 chokes on his record, but also showed that he has power in his hands when he dropped Pico with a well placed uppercut. Freeman should have his hands full here, but we will find out if he is for real. Or did he just dust a noob making his pro debut?
Phil Davis (17-4 MMA; 4-1 Bellator) vs. Leonardo Leite (10-0 MMA; Bellator Debut): Light Heavyweight
Phil Davis returns to action after dropping his light heavyweight title to Ryan Bader at Bellator 180 this past June. Standing across from Davis will be an undefeated fighter in Leonardo Leite. Leite possesses world class grappling credentials in both Judo and Jiu-Jitsu.
NCAA wrestling pedigree aside, Davis holds a few advantages in this one. Athleticism, experience, and level of opposition are all in his favor. Davis has never been finished in a professional bout, and has really only lost to heavy handed opponents who could stuff the takedown, and Leite doesn’t quite fit that mold. The argument could be made that this is a considerable step down in competition, but Davis would be wise to not overlook the grappling savvy Leite here.
Leonardo Leite is making his Bellator debut in style, as his initiation comes by way of the former light heavyweight champion, Phil Davis. Leite was a 3 time world Judo champion and a 4 time world BJJ champion, so Davis isn’t the only accredited grappler in this encounter. Leite really has nothing to lose here, besides an undefeated record, so expect him to leave it all in the cage. Plus, is losing to Phil Davis in your first MMA big stage appearance that big of a deal? Not at all. But still, look for Leite to make the most of this massive opportunity.
Ed Ruth (3-0 MMA; 3-0 Bellator) vs. Chris Dempsey (11-5 MMA; Bellator Debut): Middleweight
Three time NCAA champion Ed Ruth is slated to take a step up in competition as he squares off with UFC vet Chris Dempsey. This seems to be the perfect matchup for the 3-0 Ruth, as Dempsey has shown some durability issues in his past couple of fights, and hasn’t shown to be exceptionally dangerous on the feet.
Look for Ruth to make the most of this opportunity by working on his striking game, and falling back on his wrestling if need be. Being the better athlete should compensate for what Ruth lacks in pro MMA experience. Ruth is still very green, but don’t be surprised if the Penn State alumnus picks up his 4th professional win, despite facing a much more experienced opponent.
Chris Dempsey is making his Bellator debut following a 1-4 rough patch, including a 1-3 skid inside of the UFC. Of those 4 loses, Dempsey was finished in the 1st round each time out, and the lone win was a split decision over Eddie Gordon at UFC on FOX 15 back in April of 2015.
Okay, so Dempsey doesn’t exactly have a lot going for him, but one thing that he does bring to the table is experience. With over 4 times as many pro fights under his belt, plus having fought against better opposition in the UFC, Dempsey has some veteran savvy that could potentially derail the hype train of the inexperienced Ruth, maybe.