Less than a week ago, Bellator made its 2017 debut. The card was solid, highlighted by some terrific prelim fights, an epic flying knee knockout by perennial knockout artist Paul Daley against Brennan Ward, and a controversial submission win by the retiring Tito Ortiz over Chael Sonnen.
That card was alright, but it’s time to move on. Tonight, Bellator holds a solid Friday night card. It’s far from stacked, and has a lot more unknown names on it than last week’s tentpole card, but it should still provide a couple hours of fun MMA action. In the main event, former UFC veteran Melvin Guillard will take on the always exciting Chidi Njokuani, while the co-main features longtime Bellator journeyman David Rickels, who’s bout will that of high-level prospect AJ McKee. Again, it’s far from a stacked card, but it should be solid combat sports fun. Without further ado, here are my picks for tonight’s four-fight main card slate.
Bellator 171 Main Card (9/8c, Spike TV)
Jessica Middleton (1-0) vs. Alice Smith Yauger (4-4)
The main card opens with a Women’s Flyweight matchup between two women who are virtual unknowns. Middleton has one pro fight to her credit, against Bruna Ellen in July of last year, that went the distance. Yauger is much more experienced, has been fighting since 2013, and has won three of her last four. Seven of her eight career fights have gone the distance, so this one seems guaranteed to go into deep waters. It’s not an easy fight to pick, but due to the experience edge, I guess I have to pick Yauger, who’s gone the distance six times, to win tonight in that same exact fashion. Prediction: Yauger via decision.
AJ McKee (6-0) vs. Brandon Phillips (6-2)
The next bout features one if Bellator’s finest young prospects in AJ McKee. Only 21-years-old, “The Mercenary” is 6-0, with three knockout, two submission and one decision victory. His three bouts in 2015 all ended in the first round, but aside from his first bout in 2016, McKee has gone past that round to win via second round submission, and then via decision in December. The sky is his limit, and it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for him.
Phillips is no joke though. Four of the six wins from Phillips have come via knockout, and he’s only gone the distance twice. He’s lost two of his last three though, and is 0-1 in Bellator. This is a big step up for him, in what many will look at as a litmus/showcase fight for McKee.
This is a very good fight, and Bellator deserves props for the matchmaking here. It’s a step up for McKee, but not too much of one. Phillips will pose a threat and this fight will be fun, but I see McKee taking care of business once again. Prediction: McKee via tko, round 2.
David Rickels (17-4, 2NC) vs. Aaron Darrow (14-8)
In the co-main event of the evening, longtime Bellator member David Rickels will return to the cage over six months after getting knocked out by Melvin Guillard, in a bout many expected Rickels to win. That bout was overturned to a no contest, since Guillard tested positive for a banned substance, so Rickels enters the bout with a 3-3 (2NC) record since starting his career 14-1. He’s not what he used to be, but the Bellator member since 2011 is still an exciting fighter that will make fans cheer for him as the bout goes on.
Darrow is a 22-fight veteran who’s won ten fights via decision, alongside a pair of knockout and decision victories. Of his eight losses, five have come via decision, while three ended via knockout. He entered the Bellator cage with five straight losses, but has won both his fights with the promotion, first via third-round submission, and then via decision. Both of those fights were back in 2014 though, so this is his first pro fight since. October 2014.
The bout is taking place in Kansas, which is the state Rickels is from and continues to represent. He’ll be a huge crowd favorite there, will have an advantage due to that, and is the fresher fighter here. All signs point to him winning. He’s got six decision and submission wins apiece, as well as five knockout wins. He’ll surely try to keep this fight standing, since he’s facing a submission specialist. So long as he can do that, I think he’ll win a fun, enjoyable decision bout. Prediction: Rickels via decision.
Melvin Guillard (32-16-2, 3NC) vs. Chidi Njokuani (16-4, 1NC)
In the main event of the evening, former UFC and WSOF Lightweight contender Melvin Guillard will take on Chidi Njokuani, in a fight that is once again pretty good matchmaking in my opinion. Guillard is long in the tooth at this point, almost 34 years old with 53 fights to his credit. SInce July 2011, he’s just 3-8 with two no contests, and his lone win since mid-2013 came against GZ Cavalcante in mid 2014. Clearly he’s at the twilight of his career. And yet, as shown in his last bout against David Rickels, he can still bring the action. Yes, he did test positive in that bout, but maybe there’s still something there.
What better opponent for him to prove if he’s got something left against than Chidi Njokuani? A former Kickboxer who won 12 of his 14 kickboxing bouts, and seven via knockout, Njokuani has won 10 of his 16 MMA bouts via knockout as well. He’s also won five via decision, while having been knocked out and submitted twice apiece. That said, he’s only lost twice in his last 17 fights, just once since 2011, and is undefeated in his last eight. He’s never fought someone the level of Guillard though, aside from a young Brandon Thatch in 2011. He should win this fight for sure, but you never know. This is a fight where either Njokuani will beat a known name, or Guillard will add to his highlight reel. Both men are primarily knockout artists and have been knocked out before, so while Guillard has a shot, I’ll have to pick Njokuani in what should be quite an enjoyable slugfest. Prediction: Njokuani via tko, round 2.