There's no title on the line, nor is Friday's fight night a tent-pole event. Yet, Bellator is putting five bouts on the main card as opposed to the customary four. The card is headlined by a battle between an aging Dutch kickboxer in Melvin Manhoef and Hisaki Kato, a fighter who most recently scored a shocking upset of Joe Schilling in June. Long-time prospect Bubba Jenkins also returns as does UFC veteran Houston Alexander.
What: Bellator 146: Kato vs. Manhoef
Where: WinStar World Casino and Resort, Thackerville, OK.
When: Friday, the preliminary card starts at 7 p.m. ET on MMA Fighting. The five-fight main card starts on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
It's hard to know what to expect here. Manhoef's chin is badly deteriorated. There's a question of whether he should still be licensed to compete, but his power - while not at its all-time best - is still quite formidable. Kato isn't the striker Manhoef is in the technical sense, but maybe he doesn't have to be. If he can land any sort of decent shot, he's got a fighting chance. Kato also has enough patience and skills to take the fight to the floor should he elect to do so. Manhoef can still decapitate him on the right now, but those are getting fewer and further between which each passing year.
Bubba Jenkins vs. Jordan Parsons
I might be really underselling Jenkins progress. Maybe I'm overselling Parsons' ability. I don't have a strong conviction here, but there is a compelling argument to be made Parsons can either stuff the takedown, get up or put Jenkins long enough on the defensive to take the win. Parsons has more abilities in more areas even if he can't match Jenkins' wrestling or athleticism. If Parsons wins, it won't be a streamroll to the finish line, but he has what it takes to shut Jenkins down long enough to reverse fortunes.
Rainey likes to bully opposition backwards, especially against the fence where he can upload with his favorite uppercut and knee combo. For my tastes, though, Njokuani has better movement and angles. My guess is that's going to make a big difference early and often. Rainey's game and rangy, but probably a step below Njokuani when it comes to the sophistication of his striking.
The two wrestle-boxers have similar styles, but while they don't fight identically, their offenses are composed similarly. That means it's more of a question of who can pull that style off the best. For me, that's Girtz. His ability to quick strike (from the southpaw position, no less) and immediately close the distance means he's the likeliest to initiate scrambles. The person first to initiate the scramble often wins. I worry Girtz could fade over the stretch if it goes long, but not enough to change my pick.
Alexander is going to be the harder hitter, which makes the central question here whether that's enough. Viana has good takedown defense and an active guard, but only cage-stalling takedowns and not much willingness to initiate even those. He also prefers to compete in boxing range, something that's accommodating of Alexander's style. But Viana should be able to get Alexander wants if he absolutely has to. He also has better hand speed and some striking defense. A big KO win for Alexander is not out of the realm of very real possibility, but Viana has more ways to win.