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Bellator 206 predictions

Gegard Mousasi vs. Rory MacDonald
Gegard Mousasi defends his middleweight title against welterweight champion Rory MacDonald at Bellator 206 on Saturday in San Jose, Calif.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Arguably the two best fighters outside of the UFC will collide on Saturday at Bellator 206.

Bellator has made it a goal over the last few years to sign major names to bolster its roster, while still developing its own homegrown talents, and the fruits of that plan will bloom on Saturday as former UFC stars-turned Bellator champions Gegard Mousasi and Rory MacDonald face off in a superfight main event backed up by the fourth meeting between legends Wanderlei Silva and Quinton Jackson.

However, the main card also features several fighters who rose up primarily through the Bellator ranks including former welterweight champions Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov, who meet in a trilogy bout to kick off the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix, as well as heavily hyped 22-year-old featherweight prospect Aaron Pico, and Muay Thai convert Keri Melendez.

Regardless of the outcomes, Bellator 206 promises to play a significant role in shaping the future of the promotion.

What: Bellator 206

Where: SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

When: Saturday, Sept. 29. The preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET and will stream live on MMA Fighting, and the six-fight DAZN-exclusive main card begins at 10 p.m. ET.

Gegard Mousasi vs. Rory MacDonald

For its first-ever champion vs. champion superfight, it’s hard to imagine Bellator finding two more evenly matched fighters.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Gegard Mousasi, an elite kickboxer, will have the advantage on the feet while Rory MacDonald, a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu with excellent takedowns, should have the edge in grappling. However, MacDonald is also renowned for his technical striking skills and Mousasi’s clinch work makes him a match for anyone in the grappling department, not to mention he will enter the cage Saturday as the larger fighter.

The good news for Mousasi is that MacDonald can be hit and he can be hurt. Douglas Lima chewed up the Canadian’s lead leg when they fought in January, and nobody will ever forget MacDonald’s bloodied visage during his war with Robbie Lawler at UFC 189. Mousasi is one of the middleweight division’s most prolific knockout artists and if he starts to land clean shots, MacDonald won’t be able to take too many of them. If MacDonald is hoping for a knockout of his own, it will have to be in the vein of his mentor Georges St-Pierre, who landed a perfectly timed left hook to drop Michael Bisping last November (which resulted in a submission win for “GSP”).

MacDonald will make use of his picturesque jab to keep Mousasi honest and he actually has the slightest of reach advantages in this matchup. If he can control the distance and occasionally meet Mousasi in the clinch to disrupt the rhythm of “The Dreamcatcher”, he could cause some frustration.

But both men are known for their exceptional mental fortitude, so it’s unlikely that either gets so thrown off that they make a dumb mistake; rather, we’ll probably see a couple of rounds of steady action, with Mousasi gradually breaking down MacDonald’s defenses, until he’s able to land one solid power shot and finish with strikes from there.

Pick: Mousasi

Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson

Unlike the main event, this one isn’t so hard to predict.

At 42 and 40, respectively, Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson are who they are: Two of MMA’s all-time great sluggers who will be looking to add to that legacy when they meet for a fourth time (Silva currently holds a 2-1 lead in the series, with all of their encounters ending by knockout). They’re both coming off of losses to Chael Sonnen that saw them spend much of their time on their backs, so fans can fully expect them to vent their frustrations on each other.

While it’s possible that this one opens with a flurry before their faulty gas tanks cause them to stumble to a dull decision, it’s a safe bet that either Silva or Jackson will land a kill shot at some point in round one. If not, whoever has the better cardio will pull ahead in the second period and find a finish later via ground and pound.

Either way, the odds favor Jackson so long as the extra poundage he’s bringing in doesn’t prove to be his undoing. He’s been the more active fighter, his chin is as sturdy as ever, and he’s still packing the kind of power that put Silva down in their last fight almost 10 years ago.

Pick: Jackson

Douglas Lima vs. Andrey Koreshkov

It speaks to the quality of the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix that this championship-level matchup is taking place in the first round.

Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov have fought twice, with each man scoring a convincing win over the other. At Bellator 140, Koreshkov mixed up his striking and grappling flawlessly to neutralize Lima and take a unanimous decision, racking up a pair of 50-45 scores in the process. He was faring well in their rematch at Bellator 164 too, but one undisciplined exchange ended with him eating a counter shot that turned his lights out. Regardless of what the scores may have been up to that point, it’s fair to say Lima owns the more definitive victory in this rivalry.

All of Lima’s Bellator losses have come as a result of being out-grappled, including his title fight loss to Rory MacDonald. He’s shown incremental improvements in his takedown defense with every fight, enough so that Koreshkov won’t be able to carelessly just shoot in or rest easy on the mat if the fight goes there. It will be key for him to be active early too, so as not to fall too far behind on the scorecards to the methodical Koreshkov.

How Koreshkov handles Lima’s leg kicks will be a key factor. If he can’t check them consistently, he has to at least threaten to time takedowns off of them, otherwise it’s Lima who will have the advantage in the later rounds.

If Lima can’t get the finish, look for this matchup to unfold as their first one did; perhaps closer, but still with Koreshkov scraping one out on the scorecards.

Pick: Koreshkov

Aaron Pico vs. Leandro Higo

Mega prospect Aaron Pico continues to be thrown into deep waters and he faces his most accomplished opponent yet in Leandro Higo, a disciple of the Pitbull Brothers who is not a newcomer to Bellator, unlike Pico’s first four opponents.

That said, it’s hard to imagine him giving Pico too much trouble unless Pico decides to suddenly turn this into a Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition. His concrete solid wrestling base will allow him to keep this fight standing and Higo simply doesn’t have the striking to match Pico’s ridiculous hand speed. Body shots have become one of Pico’s specialties and the fight will only become harder for Higo as he’s repeatedly cracked in the liver.

Higo will hang tough for as long as he can, but eventually Pico will drop him and then finish however he wants.

Pick: Pico

Keri Melendez vs. Dakota Zimmerman

If Bellator wants to showcase Keri Melendez’s striking skills, it picked the right woman in Dakota Zimmerman.

This will be Zimmerman’s first pro bout and in two amateur outings she showed a ton of grit, if not much else. It’s worth mentioning that her last fight was over two years ago, so it’s possible that she’s improved greatly since dropping a close unanimous decision in her last fight. Zimmerman’s first and second pro bouts were night and day, which is a good sign for her development.

Melendez’s is a polished Muay Thai striker, so a walk-forward fighter like Zimmerman is going to play right into her hands. And even if this goes to the ground, Melendez regularly rolls with a bevy of accomplished grapplers, including her husband Gilbert Melendez, Jake Shields, and the Diaz brothers. Suffice to say, she won’t be afraid to get her hands dirty on the canvas.

While Zimmerman will probably put in a respectable effort, this has “Melendez by KO” written all over it.

Pick: Melendez

Gaston Bolanos vs. Ysidro Gutierrez

Gaston Bolanos is an absolutely nasty striker who’s more well known for his kickboxing exploits in the Lion Fight promotion than his MMA career. Though that’s changing fast with the highlight reel of knockouts he’s starting to compile inside the cage.

This is actually an intriguing style test for Bolanos given that Ysidro Gutierrez has the makings of a classic grinder. He’s going to close in early and fast, and look to muck this one up to make Bolanos uncomfortable. His takedowns will need to be on point though, lest he get caught in Bolanos’s Thai clinch and end up on the receiving end of a flurry of knees.

Unfortunately for Gutierrez, he just doesn’t have the explosiveness needed to give Bolanos any serious problems. He’ll be forced to stand and trade with Bolanos, a scenario that can only end in him being left unconscious on the mat.

Pick: Bolanos

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