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Bellator NYC: Sonnen vs. Silva/Bellator 180: Davis vs. Bader staff picks and predictions

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Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s big Bellator MMA card at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for Saturday night’s Bellator MMA show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. We’re split on who will win the main event between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva. Most of us are going with Matt Mitrione to stop Fedor Emelianenko in the co-main event. That is sad. No one is picking Brent Primus to upset Michael Chandler in the lightweight title bout, but most of us have Lorenz Larkin beating Douglas Lima to become Bellator’s new welterweight champion. There’s a slight lean towards Ryan Bader to defeat Phil Davis and capture light heavyweight gold on the Spike portion of this card.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he's going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva

Mookie Alexander: There is utterly no way to properly analyze this fight, and since these picks do not count in BE’s staff standings, I will not attempt to give this main event any sort of serious technical breakdown. All I’ll say is that Wanderlei Silva by guillotine is something you should look into betting. Other than that, let’s go with Chael Sonnen by crowd-angering unanimous decision.

Ram Gilboa: This is going to come down to Silva’s knees and Sonnen’s knees; Silva’s knee strikes, or Sonnen’s knee ligaments. Can Silva still kick effectively going on 41, more than 4 years removed from his last fight? Can Sonnen still wrestle nonstop at 40, at least against a mostly stand-up guy?

I certainly don’t know. I wouldn’t bet money on this fight. Wanderlei Silva by TKO, round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: Let’s put this into perspective. Bellator wants as big a number as possible on this product, which is the only reason Sonnen is on it. Sonnen got washed badly in his last bout, and the only credible opponent for him is a guy that he can talk tons of trash about and who he can feasibly style on - that’s why Wanderlei is on it. If we’re being as realistic and/or cynical as we can be here, that’s the only reason this fight is at the top of this card. Truth be told, that’s totally fine as long as we’re honest and upfront about these facts. That all leads to another relevant and somewhat inconvenient fact: we’ve seen this fight before. Guys, what makes anyone think this fight will be any different than what we saw on TUF Brazil? PEDs or not, Sonnen’s takedown game is still solid, especially against a guy whose wrestling isn’t. Chael Sonnen beats him up the way he was doing against Anderson Silva, except he finishes the job this time. Chael Sonnen by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Chael is damaged goods. I know, I know: it's Bellator! But he's broken in a different way to the dinosaurs they normally bring in. They're physically ruined, but it's become increasingly apparent that he's mentally destroyed. I picked him over Tito, and I would have picked him over Wandy back in the TUF house... but these were bad picks, because Chael is not there any more. Anderson and Jones permanently shattered him. His one singular moment in the last however many years was the Shogun win, and even in retrospect it's easy to see how that fits in with who Chael is now: he gets in there, he tries one piece of offense, and if it doesn't work he instantly, and I mean instantly folds. That it actually worked once probably tricked a fair few of us (and perhaps Chael himself) into thinking that he could still compete, but if that guillotine had failed I reckon he would have been tapping to strikes within a round. Old, plastic surgeried Wanderlei looks like a Mortal Kombat Baraka doll which someone held next to a flame for too long, but literally all he has to do is survive one burst from a fighter who was never the most devastating offensive threat. Wanderlei Silva by TKO, round 1.

Zane Simon: Phil has my read on this nailed. Wandy by TKO, Round 1.

Beau Dure: Is a double KO an option? Chael Sonnen by unanimous decision.

Staff picking Sonnen: Victor, Eddie, Mookie, Stephie, Beau
Staff picking Silva: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Phil, Zane

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione

Mookie Alexander: The fight is over if Fedor does as much as get the fight to the ground. I’m not sure he’s really committed to that. He also still has the power to stop Mitrione, who was tantalizingly close to losing to Carl Seumanutafa in his Bellator debut. Then there’s the other side … Fedor’s chin is looking gone and Mitrione is pretty damn powerful. He’s also light on his feet and can probably blitz Fedor in the early stages. I think that’s what happens. Matt MItrione by TKO, round 1.

Victor Rodriguez: It kind of says something that this fight is far more compelling than it would have been say, five years ago. Matt can be knocked out, and if Carl Seumanutafa can find that chin and rock him, so can Fedor. Then again, if Fabio Maldonado can find Fedor’s chin, so can Mitrione. Mitrione’s got the speed advantage despite his size. Neither fighter is going to go the conventional wrestling route, so this will most likely be a stand-up affair for the greater part. Considering this, I have to go with the bigger, faster fighter. Fedor won't be able to keep up if Mitrione blitzes and overwhelms him. Barring some wild slugfest where Fedor catches him on an odd and improbably shot, Mitrione ruins his summer. Matt Mitrione by TKO.

Ram Gilboa: I can’t yet pick a guy nicknamed meathead over Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor Emelianenko by TKO, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: Matt Mitrione is never going to be a top-level fighter. He's prone to gigantic brain-farts, and is a diabolically bad mat grappler. That said, Fedor looks like an all-offense, no-defense fighter these days. My pet theory is that no-one really spars with him properly because they're scared of making him look bad, so that actually getting punched is a shock to him. I don't really expect much, Mitrione starts quickly, is relatively light on his feet and hits hard. Matt Mitrione by TKO, round 1.

Zane Simon: I get the feeling this is going to be so fast and violent that we’re all going to be left a little more shocked than we should be, and Fedor is going to be left getting up of the canvas. And then we’ll all be sad. Matt Mitrione by KO, Round 1.

Beau Dure: Father Time always wins. Matt Mitrione by KO, round 1.

Staff picking Fedor: Ram, Eddie
Staff picking Mitrione: Bissell, Nick, Victor, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Beau

Douglas Lima vs. Lorenz Larkin

Mookie Alexander: This is the real main event. Legs will be kicked and they will be kicked hard. Larkin’s move down to 170 has been utterly sensational. The UFC will regret not re-signing him. Lima has devastating power and Larkin has been chin-checked more than Douglas has, so the champion definitely has a good chance of stopping “Da Monsoon.” I don’t think he has the takedown game to put Larkin on his back, so it’s going to be a shootout, and Larkin not only throws more (which used to be a problem for him), but he’s got speed to go with power. I’m thinking this is going to be one of the best fights of 2017 and we’ll all be grateful to have watched it, because the card will probably go downhill from there. Lorenz Larkin by TKO, round 4.

Victor Rodriguez: This is the real meat and potatoes of this card. Lima hits hard and uses his reach well, but Larkin’s evolution has been absolutely splendid. He dismantled Magny with precision and technique, and he’s cleaned up some defensive habits. I expect it to be competitive and close with a steady pace, and Larkin fighting smart but eating some shots from Lima down the middle. Lima’s gas tank may be an issue, but his size and strength will make up for it in the first two rounds. After that, it’s a coin toss. I’ll go with the fighter with more consistent output and steady improvement. Lorenz Larkin by decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Easily, obviously the fight of the card. Both phenomenally talented fighters with a small reputation for inconsistency which they've both shed in recent years. Lima is much more the Muay Thai stylist, and his ability to throw leg kicks as counters to punches presents an interesting puzzle for Larkin, who's never been all that great at dealing with them... but he's also a pretty cripplingly powerful leg kicker himself. The unsung story of that Magny fight was how he had Magny on a busted wheel almost immediately. Neither man has phenomenal cage craft, tending to get backed into the fence, so who takes control there is an interesting one (I suspect Lima). Like Vic said, though, the main difference between these two is just output. Larkin simply throws a lot more- Daley pushed a heavy pace against Lima, who then slowed the fight with takedowns, but I do not think he can hit takedowns on Larkin. No real confidence in this pick, but Lorenz Larkin by TKO round 3.

Zane Simon: I’m just not convinced that Lima can catch up to Larkin’s speed enough to slow down his output. The guys that have really beat Larkin have either gone after him with wrestling, or had a lot of hand speed and boxing craft that Larkin wasn’t capable of dealing with. Lima has a good well rounded power striking game, but I just don’t think it’s enough in any one area to make up the difference. If this is a range striking battle of varied kickboxing exchanges, I think Larkin wins those consistently. Lorenz Larkin by decision.

Beau Dure: I can’t pick against my fellow north Georgian. Except when he’s fighting Larkin. Lorenz Larkin by TKO, round 3

Staff picking Lima: Ram, Eddie, Stephie
Staff picking Larkin: Bissell, Nick, Victor, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Beau

Michael Chandler vs. Brent Primus

Mookie Alexander: Primus is good and getting better, and isn’t going to be a pushover when it comes to the ground game, but Chandler is still a guy whom I think is a cut above everyone on the current Bellator lightweight roster. That said, those Will Brooks losses are looking worse in hindsight right now. I believe Chandler will hurt Primus with the right hand and pounce on Primus for the rear-naked choke finish. Michael Chandler by submission, round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: Don’t sleep on Brent Primus. The dude is good. Really good. I’m worried that he might be biting on a bit more than he can chew here. Chandler can take a shot, and his striking is way more composed. His wrestling is world-class and his training under Neil Melanson may not have netted him a ton of submission victories, but it gives him a slew of threats to keep in his back pocket. Michael Chandler by TKO.

Phil Mackenzie: Chandler may never be the most technically beautiful, defensively clean fighter, but he knows how to get people who don't belong with him physically out of the cage fast. That... may not actually be Primus. He's a pretty overwhelming lightweight, and I can't help but think about the problems that Chandler had against Will Brooks' sheer size and physicality. On paper Chandler is still the better striker, with his straight right becoming particularly lethal in recent years, and is certainly the better technical wrestler too. Primus can start slow, and Chandler does not, so the champ may just melt him quickly... but this feels like it could actually turn into a surprisingly back-and-forth fight. Michael Chandler by... unanimous decision...?

Zane Simon: I feel like the real secret to beating Chandler is being able to stand in and box with him for extended periods and to make him work hard on the mat when he wants to change it up, whether that’s stuffing takedowns or just scrambling well. If you can do that, you may not stop him coming after you, but you can tire him enough to really open up some of the shallower parts of his technical game. While Primus can do the second part of that (at least scrambling-wise) I don’t think he can do near enough of the first. If Chandler is able to assert his striking game over and over, he’s gonna dominate. Michael Chandler by TKO, round 2.

Beau Dure: This fight might be shorter than a Les Claypool bass solo. Michael Chandler by TKO, round 1

Staff picking Chandler: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Victor, Eddie, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Beau
Staff picking Primus:

Aaron Pico vs. Zach Freeman

Mookie Alexander: Maybe it’s me, but perhaps Pico should’ve been given a boxing-style walkover opponent for his pro debut. Then again, they call him the “best prospect in MMA history” so that somewhat entails he’ll be ready for a title fight within a couple of years. I suppose he’ll win but it’s not like we haven’t seen Bellator prospects suffer big upsets before. Aaron Pico by KO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Hmmmm. I do not think this is good matchmaking? OK, Freeman is approximately 1 billion times less athletic than Pico. But he can fight everywhere, is pretty experienced, and while he's not durable, he's tough: he's not going to beat himself, or get scared if you hurt him. Pico is just an absolute unknown. He has talent for days, and he's training out of AKA, so he's going to have big gym experience... but he's never fought pro MMA before! You just don't know how he'll look. This feels a lot like picking Northcutt fights used to. Aaron Pico by KO, round 1

Zane Simon: I assume Pico will roll, but calling him the “best prospect in the history of MMA” seems like a stretch for a dude who has not fought even once. This will be his time to prove the doubters (me) wrong. Aaron Pico by KO, Round 1.

Victor Rodriguez: Given Pico’s base and the training crew behind him, I can’t go against that. Freeman’s a cool fighter, but he’s mostly a BJJ guy that’s started to flesh his game out but is mostly reliant on grappling with limited striking standing and on the ground. Aaron Pico by TKO.

Beau Dure: Bellator’s smart enough to give The New Prophet a winnable matchup. Aaron Pico by TKO, round 2

Staff picking Pico: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Eddie, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Victor, Stephie, Beau
Staff picking Freeman:

Phil Davis vs. Ryan Bader

Mookie Alexander: This fight wasn’t the first time and probably won’t be any more fun with two extra rounds. I guess Davis can win this with his steady dose of leg and body kicks, along with enough completed takedowns and meaningful top control time. He’s a very good grappler and we’ve seldom seen Bader have to work off of his back for an extended period of time. The problem with Davis is against guys who have better takedown defense, his MMA wrestling hasn’t been particularly impressive. Bader is the better, more powerful striker on paper, so he could take some ugly-as-hell round by landing more, even if it isn’t clean (Davis is hard to hit cleanly). BE moderator Ben Kohn, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re happy. Ryan Bader by split decision.

Phil Mackenzie: I know no-one cares, but I think Davis won the first fight and I quite enjoyed it to boot. Two well-matched, athletic and skilled fighters. In general Bader is the better boxer and has probably improved more than Davis, but Davis still proved that he has a few edges in kicking offense, better wrestling, and far superior durability. Body kicks and top ride are, I think, better attritional tools over 5 rounds than Bader's boxing. Should be very close again. Phil Davis by unanimous decision.

Victor Rodriguez: I care, Phil. I care. I see Bader negating Phil’s odd wrestling unless it’s a wild scramble. Even then, Phil won’t show any wrinkles Bader hasn’t seen or won’t be ready for. Bader finds his chin and tests it, but Davis hangs on and keeps it close fighting smart and regaining the distance when things get too hairy. Ryan Bader by decision.

Zane Simon: I think Davis’ lack of shot takedowns will cost him here, as Bader should be more prepared to stay outside and turn this into a kickboxing battle. In that battle, I like Bader’s minute to minute, round to round, consistency more than I like Davis’ who seems to strike in reasonably technical fits and starts. Ryan Bader by decision.

Beau Dure: Bader will ask Davis if he wants to just wrestle. Davis will say yes. Bader will yell “Psych!” and knock him out. Ryan Bader by KO, round 2

Staff picking Davis: Ram, Phil, Eddie, Stephie
Staff picking Bader: Bissell, Nick, Victor, Zane, Mookie, Beau

James Gallagher vs. Chinzo Machida

Phil Mackenzie: Chinzo's been around for a bit as the infrequently-fighting pint-sized Patricky to Lyoto's Patricio: he might not be as clean or as athletic or as, y'know, good as his brother, but damn can he give you some good flying knee KOs when the mood strikes. Gallagher is a Euro grappler, thus a bit difficult to get a bead on, but he's aggressive and fairly athletic. Chinzo could conceivably just dunk him, but he's never exactly been bulletproof against grapplers and is literally twice as old as Gallagher. James Gallagher by submission, round 2.

Victor Rodriguez: While Lyoto’s style has largely been figured out, I have to wonder if that also applies to Chinzo. Gallagher moves well and takes certain risks, but they’re not stupid risks. He’s got a decent striking arsenal, but it doesn’t seem to me that his takedown game will work on Machida. Nor does it seem that he can resist falling for the patented Machida movement and feints paired with hand traps and bursts of offense. Gallagher will succeed early on, get a bead on Machida but be flustered by his shenanigans and lead to a less eventful fight than it should be. Gallagher does enough to earn a decision. James Gallagher by decision.

Ram Gilboa: Gallagher will be very good, but right now is still too young and far away from his prime. One of the areas he’ll hopefully improve even further is mixing up the striking with the takedowns. Right now, I think he’ll run into too many of Machida’s counters, and his takedown attempts will fall short. Chinzo Machida by TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Gallagher: Bissell, Victor, Eddie, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Beau
Staff picking Machida: Nick, Ram

Neiman Gracie vs. Dave Marfone

Victor Rodriguez: Marfone’s a pretty big dude and he hits hard, but his cardio appears suspect and Neiman’s takedown game is not the standard BJJ fare. Marfone could hurt him early, but Neiman drags him into deep water and works him over to a late submission. Neiman Gracie by rear naked choke, round 3.

Staff picking Gracie: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Victor, Eddie, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Beau
Staff picking Marfone:

Heather Hardy vs. Alice Yauger

Mookie Alexander: Eddie made me laugh. Heather Hardy by TKO, round 1.

Victor Rodriguez: We missed an opportunity to see Hardy on a bigger stage earlier this year when she was supposed to debut for Invicta, but now she gets more exposure here against an opponent that she is expected to beat somewhat comfortably. Curiously enough, Yauger has a boxing background herself. She’s just not on the same level and her phase shifting is kind of clunky. Heather Hardy by TKO.

Eddie Mercado: Holly Holm by Unanimous Decision.

Beau Dure: Heather Hardy is wearing glasses in her Sherdog photo. Mad respect. Heather Hardy by TKO

Staff picking Hardy: Bissell, Nick, Ram, Victor, Eddie, Phil, Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Beau
Staff picking Yauger:

Ryan Couture vs. Haim Gozali

Mookie Alexander: I’ve never seen Gozali fight, but I also have no good reason to actually pick Ryan Couture against anyone who isn’t a clear tomato can. Haim Gozali by submission, round 1.

Ram Gilboa: I’m biased here. Can say this: Renzo Gracie handed Haim Gozali his 4th dan this week; on the ground, I can see him holding a legit threat against even top guys - even at 44 years old. Gozali did mostly miss the world-level mma training Couture had access to all of his life, But since Couture is pretty much a fellow grappler - and since Gozali can hold his own while standing up, especially with kicks - and since I’m biased anyway, Haim Gozali by submission, round 2.

Staff picking Couture: Nick, Victor, Phil
Staff picking Gozali: Bissell, Ram, Eddie, Zane, Mookie, Stephie, Beau