Bellator kicks of 2021 with a card that could easily represent a changing of the guard. A surging heavyweight phenom in Valentin Moldavsky (11-1) finally gets a chance to fight for gold as he faces Ryan Bader (28-7). Bader’s stint in Bellator has led to some new highs as he was double champ at heavyweight and light heavyweight for a while, but this new crop of fighters might just have his number. With a loss to Vadim Nemkov, he lost the light heavyweight title, but returned to the win column against a very game Lyoto Machida only to suffer another loss against Corey Anderson.
Ever the potent wrestleboxer, Bader’s now facing a different challenge in a Sambo specialist that can wrestle, strike, and submit with the best of them. Moldavsky’s lone loss was to Iranian wrestling standout Amir Aliakbari back in 2016, and that was a split decision that could have gone his way. Bader has paths to victory here, keeping the midrange but minding his striking defense. His wrestling should serve him well and not having to worry about a weight cut might also let him be more loose. But Moldavsky looks like he’s just about to hit his peak and may catch him slipping.
Former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson (28-11) has had a rough time in Bellator thus far, but hopes to make a statement in staving off another hungry competitor in Islam Mamedov (20-1, 1 draw). Also a veteran, albeit a younger one by six years, Mamedov only lost his second pro bout way back in 2009, and that was to former Bellator standout Tiger Sarnavskiy. While undefeated in PFL, he never scored high enough to get to fight for the title, but his recent split decision over Brent Primus and his UAE Warriors win over Martun Mezhlumian were pretty impressive. Does Benson have enough in the tank to outwork Mamedov and get back in the win column? Or will Mamedov defeat another well-known fighter and former champ to advance in the lightweight division?
Henry Corrales (19-6) is still dangerous as ever with his pacing, striking and wrestling chops, and he’s got a lot on his plate against Tom Breese protégé Aiden Lee (10-5), who has half of his wins by rear naked choke. He also delivered this beauty. Former UFC fighter Enrique Barzola (16-5, 2 draws) gets to tangle against fellow hard-nosed wrestler and former champ Darrion Caldwell (14-5).
Sabah Homasi (15-10) might just be in another banger this time around, because he’s up agiainst Jaleel Willis (15-3). Also, Chris Gonzalez (6-1) meets longtime Bellator vet Saad Awad (24-13).
Finally, Ben Parrish (5-1) might be one of the most fun guys to come along in a while, and he’s in against 2-0 Sullivan Cauley.
Bellator prepared a special on Moldavsky as well, and it’s excellent as usual:
You can check out the weigh-ins right here:
Ryan Bader (232.2) vs.Valentin Moldavsky (234.4) – Bellator heavyweight championship
Benson Henderson (155.8) vs. Islam Mamedov (155.6) - Lightweight
Henry Corrales (145.8) vs. Aiden Lee (145.8) - Featherweight
Sabah Homasi (170.8) vs. Jaleel Willis (170.2) - Welterweight
Enrique Barzola (136) vs. Darrion Caldwell (135.8) - Bantamweight
Saad Awad (156) vs. Chris Gonzalez (155.6) - Lightweight
Duane Johnson (185.6) vs. Dalton Rosta (184.6) - Middleweight
Nikita Mikhailov (135.6) vs. Blaine Shutt (134) - Bantamweight
Lucas Brennan (145.4) vs. Benjamin Lugo (146) - Featherweight
Sullivan Cauley (205.8) vs. Ben Parrish (205.2) - Light heavyweight
** A scheduled bout between Fabricio Franco and Weber Almeida at featherweight was cancelled after Franco missed weight by over five pounds.
Bellator 273 takes place this Saturday night live from the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Prelims will be streaming online at 7:30pm EST, and the main card starting at 10:00pm exclusively on Showtime.