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Bellator 290 predictions

Ryan Bader isn’t here to be part of someone else’s fairy tale ending.

As wonderful as it has been to celebrate and show our respect and admiration for the great Fedor Emelianenko this week — and you know the heavyweight GOAT couldn’t care less about all that — the time has come for “The Last Emperor” to actually make that final walk to the cage at Bellator 290 on Saturday.

And there’s a very, very good chance that it doesn’t end well for him.

Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, given that it’s a minor miracle that the living legend is still in position to be competing for title belts at this stage of his career, but it’s tempting to talk oneself into Emelianenko capturing golden glory one last time, turning back the clock to completely turn the tables on Bader in this rematch, and going out on top as few of his generation have managed to do. Make no mistake, even the most jaded fight fan still has a spark of the idealist in them and it’s that spark that allows us to envision Emelianenko having his hand raised one last time.

Win or lose, Fedor’s final fight is a heck of a way to herald Bellator’s debut on (and Scott Coker’s return to) CBS and the matchmakers have done an excellent job putting together a tight three-fight main card to compliment a loaded prelims.

In the co-main event, Johnny Eblen defends his middleweight title for the first time as he faces Anatoly Tokov, a legitimate threat to end Eblen’s reign before it has a chance to start. Kicking off the main card is a surefire crowd-pleaser as welteweights Sabah Homasi and Brennan Ward look to punch the daylights out of each other.

All that and a preliminary portion that features Neiman Gracie, Lorenz Larkin, Henry Corrales, Steve Mowry, 2019 PFL heavyweight champion Ali Isaev, Max Rohskopf, Alejandra Lara, and former bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell.

What: Bellator 290

Where: Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif.

When: Saturday, Feb. 4. Preliminaries begin at 6 p.m. ET on MMA Fighting (un-aired prelims will take place after the main event). The three-fight main card airs at 9 p.m on CBS and Paramount+.

Ryan Bader vs. Fedor Emelianenko

Listen, I’m Mr. MMA Should Do More Fun Rematches Because The Second Fight Will Likely Be Different Than The First One (damn, that is a long last name) but I can’t talk myself into Ryan Bader-Fedor Emelianenko 2 going any different than Part 1. That’s not to say that I have any issue with the matchup as I think it serves two purposes: Sending Emelianenko off in a high-profile fight and giving Bader the opportunity to become the only fighter to say that he beat the heavyweight GOAT twice.

That sounds weird, doesn’t it? Sure, Fedor hasn’t run it back with too many opponents in his career (Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, that’s the list) but to think that Bader could soon hold two wins over him is incredible, no matter how you slice it. Nogueira couldn’t get it done. Mirko Cro Cop couldn’t get it done. Kevin Randleman, Kazuyuki Fujita, Ricardo Arona, none of them could get that elusive W over Emelianenko.

Bader is about to double up on this feat.

How does he get it done? I mean, you saw the first fight, right?

I’m confident we’ll see some of that old Fedor magic as the fight starts, maybe with Bader allowing the PRIDE king to breathe for a few seconds before locking in. Emelianenko still has the power and precision to knock out anyone, it’s his own durability that has eroded and that’s why Bader can end this anytime he wants. This one could go twice as long as the first fight and the outcome still won’t change.

Bader by first-round knockout.

Pick: Bader

Johnny Eblen vs. Anatoly Tokov

This might not pique the interest of the casual CBS viewer, but Johnny Eblen vs. Anatoly Tokov is as good a middleweight title fight as you can make right now. It’s also a pivotal matchup for Eblen because if he gets past Tokov, the path is clear for him to go on a run of defenses that probably won’t face any major snags until he fights Tokov again.

Eblen is the faster, bouncier fighter, a textbook modern MMA product who utilizes his athleticism to maximize his skill set. He’s still developing, but those physical gifts can cover up a lot of warts, not that Eblen has too many. The timing on his strikes is sharp and he rarely takes a step forward without purpose, whether it’s to pressure or shoot for a takedown. He’s just super solid in all facets of the game.

The same could be said about Tokov. A Fedor disciple, Tokov has a methodical, no-nonsense style that has served him well to the tune of a 31-3 record. Even when he’s not dominating, his patience allows him to stay in any fight as he searches for opportunities to box in close or grapple. His dangerous top game could give Eblen plenty of headaches if he puts the champ on his back.

It’s on Eblen to stay evasive, pick his shots, and counter-wrestle when the takedown attempts start piling up. I’m picking him to win this fight by decision, but I’ll be stunned if he makes this one lopsided on the cards as Tokov matches up with him so well. This will be a statement victory for Eblen, just don’t expect it to be the final word in what could be a compelling rivalry.

Pick: Eblen

Sabah Homasi vs. Brennan Ward

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that this one doesn’t go the distance. Bold, I know.

Sabah Homasi and Brennan Ward are fully expected to start this card off with a highlight, a finish that will instantly go viral and get those TVs switching over to CBS to check out what this newfangled cagefighting is all about. It’s a lot of pressure, but they’ve picked the two right men for the job.

Both prolific finishers each with 11 knockouts to their name, Homasi and Ward go about it in different ways, though they use similar tools. Whoever establishes their jab first will have a huge advantage, with Homasi eager to fire his right hand hammer once he establishes the range and Ward more inclined to back his opponent to the fence before he gets loose with the hands. Homasi works better from distance, Ward packs a meaner punch in close, plus he has the option of going to his wrestling.

This is a close one to call and the more I think about it, the more I can envision this becoming a three-round thriller as opposed to producing a TikTok-able KO. Let’s split the difference and go second-round finish, with Homasi the last man standing after he catches Ward with a counter.

Pick: Homasi


Neiman Gracie def. Dante Schiro

Mukhamed Berkhamov def. Lorenz Larkin

Henry Corrales def. Akhmed Magomedov

Ali Isaev def. Steve Mowry

Max Rohskopf def. Chris Gonzalez

Grant Neal def. Karl Albrektsson

Alejandra Lara def. Diana Avsaragova

Nikita Mikhailov def. Darrion Caldwell

Jaylon Bates def. Jornel Lugo

Isaiah Hokit def. Peter Ishiguro

Ethan Hughes def. Yusuf Karakaya

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