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Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida meet in the light heavyweight main event of Bellator 256 Friday in Uncasville, Conn.
Bellator MMA

Coming off of his first loss in almost five years, Ryan Bader is getting right back into the hunt for championship gold.

Bader’s quest to win another Bellator grand prix begins Friday when he takes on previous foe Lyoto Machida in the main event of Bellator 256. The two first crossed paths back on Aug. 4, 2012, at a UFC on FOX event in Los Angeles.

It was all Machida in the initial encounter as he befuddled Bader with his infamous karate style before landing a one-punch knockout in the second round. In the years since, both men have continued to find success in the cage, with Bader capturing Bellator gold at both heavyweight and light heavyweight, and Machida emerging as a contender at 185 pounds.

Their focus for the foreseeable future will be on the 205-pound division. Bader recently lost the light heavyweight title to Vadim Nemkov, while Machida has bounced between divisions while dropping consecutive split decisions to Phil Davis and Gegard Mousasi. A win for either man on Friday immediately places them in the final four of a tournament where the winner leaves as Bellator champion and with an extra $1,000,000 in their bank account. So who takes that first step back to contention, and who tumbles back down the ladder?

In other main card action, Liz Carmouche welcomes former Invicta FC champion Vanessa Porto to the Bellator cage in what could be a No. 1 flyweight contender bout, featherweights Adam Borics and Jeremy Kennedy face off, Cat Zingano goes for her second Bellator win when she meets Olivia Parker in a featherweight bout, and lightweight veteran Goiti Yamauchi fights Dan Moret.

What: Bellator 256

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

When: Friday, April 9. Preliminaries begin at 6 p.m. ET on MMA Fighting (un-aired prelims will take place after the main event). The five-fight main card airs at 9 p.m on Showtime. The main card will also be available for free on YouTube outside of the U.S. (may be geo-blocked in some regions).


Ryan Bader vs. Lyoto Machida

Ryan Bader seems like the obvious pick here, but it’s hard to shake the images from that first fight. When they fought in 2012, Bader had nothing for Lyoto Machida. “The Dragon” was in his prime, and even though his karate style had been figured out by a handful of opponents, Bader certainly wasn’t one of them. He fruitlessly searched for an opening to engage with Machida while being outpointed in round one and when he couldn’t find it, he rushed in in round two and got clocked.

That was a long time ago.

Machida turns 43 in May, and it’s inarguable that he’s lost a step. The deceptive explosiveness that was such a key factor in making his unique style work only exists in flashes now, and his reactions are a tick slower than they used to be. Machida’s bouts have been an increasingly risky high-wire act for the latter half of his career, and while he still has great defense, it’s his lack of offensive output that is costing him wins.

It’s not just a matter of Machida slowing down either. Bader is a more complete and confident fighter than in their first meeting. He always had KO power, but he’s much better at setting up his big shots now and not just relying on a bomb right hand to land. He has that too, of course, and it’s a weapon that will keep Machida honest.

The rematch should go much better for Bader, and while I’m not sure he returns the favor by finishing Machida, I see him winning a decision in a competitive fight.

Pick: Bader

Liz Carmouche vs. Vanessa Porto

It’s a shame that Liz Carmouche is going to have to live with the blemish of a tentative performance against UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko for the rest of her career, because outside of that fight, she’s always been a reliably game competitor. She had a nice bounce-back outing against DeAnna Bennett and now finds herself once again facing a top flyweight in Invicta FC standout Vanessa Porto.

This could be an absolute dogfight. Both women enjoy getting down and dirty, which means the grappling exchanges won’t simply be decided by who gets the takedown first. Porto is a major threat off of her back, while Carmouche is one of the strongest fighters in the 125-pound division so she’s difficult to control even from top position. We could see some lengthy stalemates on the ground.

Porto is an active striker, but there’s definitely holes in her game and if she’s not careful, the power of Carmouche will put her on her backside. The Brazilian would be wise to use a steady diet of leg kicks to keep Carmouche at bay. If it breaks down into a brawl, the outcome is anyone’s guess.

I still see the grappling as being the difference here, and I’m predicting that Porto catches Carmouche with a surprise submission.

Pick: Porto

Adam Borics vs. Jeremy Kennedy

What a spectacular featherweight fight that’s flying under the radar.

Adam Borics is likely to be the more aggressive fighter in this matchup, with Jeremy Kennedy more content to use his range striking to poke and counter. If Borics gets overeager though, Kennedy can make him pay with solid pop in both hands. He’ll have to be wary of Boric’s creativity, though, as the Hungarian has a nose for exciting finishes.

Kennedy would be wise to mix in takedowns, especially if Borics starts establishing a rhythm. Both fighters are well-rounded, but I give Kennedy the slight edge when it comes to mixing up his techniques. These two are so closely matched though.

I’m confident that this will be a wicked three-round scrap, but I’m not confident in my pick to win the decision at all.

Pick: Kennedy

Cat Zingano vs. Olivia Parker

With respect to Olivia Parker, this matchup should keep Cat Zingano in line for a future fight with Cris Cyborg.

At 5-foot-10, Parker brings great size to the featherweight division, and has some legitimate submission skills. However, she’s faced nowhere near the level of competition that Zingano has, and in her one appearance for Invicta FC, she was completely crushed by Chelsea Chandler. The striking leaves a lot to be desired, so Zingano will have the advantage there, and that’s before we even get to the wrestling.

Once Zingano gets Parker down, I don’t expect the less experienced fighter to have too many answers. Zingano put on a workmanlike performance in her Bellator debut to beat a scrappy Gabrielle Holloway. This time, she’s likely to get a ground-and-pound TKO or submission before the third round.

Pick: Zingano

Goiti Yamauchi vs. Dan Moret

This might not be the blowout that it looks like on paper.

True, Dan Moret typically runs into a wall when it’s time for him to face upper-tier competition, but he’s a high-volume striker and a threat to submit when the fight goes to the ground. Or at least, he would be a threat if he wasn’t facing Goiti Yamauchi.

Yamauchi can certainly be outworked, but hold-for-hold, I like his chances of winning a grappling battle with Moret. Even if we end up seeing some entertaining scrambles, in the end Yamauchi should consistently get the better positions. Still, this will be a good challenge for Yamauchi after facing the more standup-minded Daron Cruickshank and Saad Awad in his previous two outings.

As long as Yamauchi sticks to the game plan, he should either comfortably win a decision or become the first fighter to submit Moret.

Pick: Yamauchi