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Bellator 253: Caldwell vs McKee, Featherweight Tournament preview

Here’s everything you need to know about Bellator 253.

RIZIN.14 Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Bellator continues its run of very well-matched and intriguing events this week, bringing their packed featherweight tournament closer to the end.

So to that, we have Darrion Caldwell (14-3) meeting the sensational A.J. McKee (16-0), making for a dynamite matchup. After a decision in in the first round against Henry Corrales, Caldwell made a statement in his followup against Adam Borics with a rear naked choke.

McKee has been the most formidable homegrown talent Bellator has brought along and developed. He’s had increasingly challenging matchups but aced so many of them. The California native dispatched Georgi Karakhanyan in September of last year and followed up with an impressive submission win over veteran Derek Campos. His explosive striking and slick submission game will be a threat, but will he have enough to work against Caldwell’s excellent wrestling pedigree and rangy striking? Caldwell may have a bit of a speed disadvantage, which he could make up for in strength and control on the ground.

Co-main event honors go to former UFC champ Benson Henderson (28-9), with a quick turnaround after his recent knockout loss to Michael Chandler back in August. He’ll be up against Sanford MMA stud Jason Jackson (12-4), who currently holds back to back wins over Kiichi Kunimoto and Jordan Mein. Jackson’s kicking and come-forward pressure boxing should present some challenges, but he’ll also have to contend with Benson’s use of open space, savvy wrestling and flustering striking game.

Joey Davis (7-0) is another phenomenal wrestling prospect that Bellator has nurtured and brought along to great results. The still evolving prospect (and training partner of AJ McKee) has no shortage of exciting finishes and doesn’t rely exclusively on his grappling at all. But he’ll have those weapons in his back pocket if need be.

He’s going to need to be sure his defense his up to snuff, because he’s up against former LFA talent Bobby Lee (12-4). Two of his losses have come by submission, but his offensive grappling is very sound with most of his wins being by submission as well. His wrestling game is sneaky, and he can take a punch. His cardio also holds up pretty well, and should make for a very compelling matchup against Davis.

Former UFC and PFL fighter Jeremy Kennedy (15-2) is looking to rep Canada hard yet again when he meets New England standout Matt Bessette (24-9). Bessette returns to the Bellator fold for the first time since 2016, after another stint in his old stomping grounds of CES and a cup of coffee in the UFC (including Ultimate Fighter and Contender Series). While not always high-volume with his striking and sometimes iffish with defense, Bessette is a threat with both striking and his ground game. Kennedy’s ground control is his bread and butter, and his improved striking and good output make for a very judge-friendly style. Kennedy’s only losses have been to Brazilian phenom Luis Laurentino and current UFC champ Alex Volkanovski, so those are some really good losses to have on your record. This is yet another great pairing.

Keith Lee (7-3), brother of UFC’s Kevin Lee, will also be on this card taking on Roufusport gem Raufeon Stots (14-1). Lee is also still evolving as a prospect with his wrestling and striking, earning more confidence and ring time that have led to four straight wins. Stots has six consecutive wins, including his submission victory over grappling wildman Cass Bell. It’s a stiff test for Lee, but could also not be the easy showcase for Stots that some may think it to be at first glance.

Finally, New Zealand import Jay Jay Wilson (6-0) meets Sergio DeBari (5-1), while Kevin Ferguson Jr. (AKA Baby Slice, 3-2) faces striker Kaheem Murray (3-3). Former LFA fighters have a showdown in a Bellator cage as Mark Lemminger (11-2) meets Jaleel Willis (13-2).

Weigh-in video available here, or you can watch here:

Weigh-in results are as follows:

Darrion Caldwell (144.7) vs. A.J. McKee (144.8) – Featherweight tournament semifinal

Benson Henderson (170.0) vs. Jason Jackson (170.0) - Welterweight

Joey Davis (168.8) vs. Bobby Lee (170.0) - Welterweight

Keith Lee (136) vs. Raufeon Stots (135.2) - Bantamweight

Matt Bessette (145.6) vs. Jeremy Kennedy (145.5) - Featherweight

Mark Lemminger (170.5) vs. Jaleel Willis (170.0) - Welterweight

Sergio DeBari (144.7) vs. Jay Jay Wilson (145.7) - Featherweight

Kevin Ferguson Jr. (154.7) vs. Kaheem Murray (154.7) - Lightweight

Sullivan Cauley (205) vs. Jason Markland (204.2)

Bellator 253: Caldwell vs McKee starts at 5:30pm EST with the prelims on DAZN and Bellator’s YouTube channel, then the main card starts at 7:00pm EST on CBS Sports.