Bellator 259 goes down this Friday and, all things considered, it’s a pretty stacked card. The main event features Leslie Smith (12-8, 1 draw) in a rematch five years in the making, as she challenges former Strikeforce, Invicta, and UFC champ Cris Cyborg (23-2). This time around, it’s for the Bellator title, with Smith sitting at 4-1 since her first encounter against the legendary champion.
While Smith earned wins over Irene Aldana, Amanda Lemos, Sinead Kavanaugh and Amanda Bell, in the last few years, Cyborg capitalized on an immediate Bellator title shot against Julia Budd to capture her latest belt. She then defended the title successfully against the sole woman to defeat Smith in the aforementioned stretch, Arlene Blencowe.
Former bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell will also be in action. He’s in the co-main event slot against Leandro Higo. Like Cyborg vs. Smith 2, this fight is a rematch of their 2018 tilt, which ended with Caldwell submitting Higo in the very first round. Caldwell ended up losing back-to-back bouts with Kyoji Horiguchi, but rebounded wins over Henry Corrales and Adam Borics in the opening rounds of Bellator’s featherweight Grand Prix, before losing to A.J. McKee in the semifinals. Higo followed up his loss to Caldwell with another loss against Aaron Pico, followed by back to back wins against Shawn Bunch and Ricky Bandejas.
Remember Fabian Edwards? The middleweight brother of Leon Edwards? He kicked off his Bellator run with four straight wins including this nasty finish in his hometown of Birmingham. His record now stands at 9-1 after a split decision loss to Dutch prospect Costello Van Steenis, but he’s hoping to bounce back hard against former Contender Series participant (and main squeeze of former UFC fighter Paige Van Zant) Austin Vanderford. Vanderford’s record remains at a perfect 10-0—behind a composed and somewhat conservative striking arsenal, coupled with a textbook submission game and improved wrestling.
One of the absolute best lightweights fans probably aren’t familiar with is also competing on the undercard this week. Alexander Shabily (19-3) makes his stateside and Bellator debut against England’s Alfie Davis (14-3). What makes him so special? Here’s his highlight reel. One of his few losses was a spirited decision against another extraordinary talent in Eduard Vartanyan, in a crushing split decision. It’s a harsh welcome, with Davis on a four fight win streak in this current Bellator run (not including a one-off for the promotion in 2017). A former UCMMA lightweight champ, he’s got sharp knees, excellent kicks, great defensive instincts and great cardio.
Brett Johns (17-2) left the UFC for bigger paydays in Bellator, and here he tries to make it three straight as he makes his Bellator debut against gritty wrestler and former Contender Series talent Danny Sabatello (10-1).
Bellator mainstay Saad Awad (23-13) meets submission menace Nate Andrews (13-3), and wrestling phenom Tyree Fortune (5-0) & Grant Neal (5-0) have a duel to see who avoids taking their first pro loss. Brazil’s Maycon Mendonça (11-4) returns to action against Jaleel Willis (14-2), and Taekwondo heartbreaker Valerie Loureda (3-0) meets Hannah Guy (2-1).
Submission ace Aviv Gozali (5-0) returns at lightweight against Sean Felton (5-2, 1 draw), while England’s Leah McCourt (4-1) aims to make it five in a row against Janay Harding (6-4).
You can watch the ceremonial weigh-ins here:
Weigh-in results are as follows:
Cris Cyborg (144.6) vs. Leslie Smith (143.6) - Bellator featherweight title bout
Darrion Caldwell (135.6) vs. Leandro Higo (137.5)** - Bantamweight
Christian Edwards (202.7) vs. Ben Parrish (205.3) - Light heavyweight
Austin Vanderford (185.3) vs. Fabian Edwards (185.5) - Middleweight
Jaleel Willis (170.3) vs. Maycon Mendoca (170.9) - Welterweight
Valerie Loureda (125.8) vs. Hannah Guy (125.2) - Flyweight
Alexander Shabliy (154.8) vs. Alfie Davis (155.1) - Lightweight
Saad Awad (155.1) vs. Nate Andrews (155.7) - Lightweight
Leah McCourt (149.4)** vs. Janay Harding (145.1) - Featherweight
Davion Franklin (264.8) vs. Tyler King (246.3) - Heavyweight
Aviv Gozali (155.7) vs. Sean Felton (154.3) - Lightweight
Grant Neal (204.4) vs. Tyree Fortune (205.3) - Light heavyweight
Sumiko Inaba (125.5) vs. Kristina Katsikis (125.8) - Flyweight
**McCourt and Higo both missed weight.
Prelims for Bellator 259 start at 5:30pm EST, with the main card starting at 9:00pm exclusively on Showtime.