Melvin Manhoef has climbed high enough to see the top of the Bellator MMA middleweight mountain. There sits Rafael Carvalho.
Manhoef will challenge Carvalho for his 185-pound championship in the Bellator 155 headliner on Friday at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho. The two middleweights will shoulder the marquee for a five-fight main card that also features a featherweight co-headliner pairing Pat Curran with Georgi Karakhanyan, a women’s featherweight battle pitting Marloes Coenen against Alexis Dufresne and two heavyweight tilts, as Augusto Sakai meets Dan Charles and Joey Beltran faces Chase Gormley.
A former Cage Rage champion, Manhoef last fought on Nov. 20, when he knocked out Hisaki Kato 3:43 into their Bellator 146 confrontation. The 40-year-old Suriname-born Dutchman has long been one of MMA’s premier knockout artists, with 28 of his 30 career victories coming by KO or TKO. Included among those wins are quick finishes of Doug Marshall, Evangelista Santos, Denis Kang, Kazuo Misaki, Mark Hunt and Kazushi Sakuraba. Manhoef has compiled a 2-1 mark since arriving in Bellator in 2014.
Carvalho, meanwhile, has rattled off 12 consecutive victories, 10 of them finishes. The 29-year-old Brazilian captured the middleweight crown at Bellator 144 on Oct. 23, when he cut down Brandon Halsey with a second-round body kick at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Wins over Joe Schilling, Brian Rogers and Gustavo Machado highlight the Carvalho resume, which includes a perfect 3-0 record in Bellator.
With the Carvalho-Manhoef title bout as the focal point, here is what to watch for at Bellator 155:
Curran and Karakhanyan have a shared interest: the Bellator featherweight title currently resting on the waist of Daniel Straus.
The fact that their paths cross in the co-main event should come as little surprise. Bellator’s former champion at 145 pounds, Curran has lost three of his past five bouts, his run of sustained success interrupted by decision losses to Straus, Daniel Weichel and Patricio Freire. The 28-year-old Jeff Curran protégé has not fought since earning a three-round unanimous verdict over Roufusport’s Emanuel Sanchez at Bellator 139 in June. Currant owns notable wins over Straus (twice), Freire, Joe Warren, Marlon Sandro and Roger Huerta.
A onetime World Series of Fighting and Tachi Palace Fights titleholder, Karakhanyan returned to Bellator in 2014 following a three-year separation from the organization. The 30-year-old Millennia MMA rep has gone 1-1 since, a guillotine choke submission on two-time NCAA All-American wrestler Bubba Jenkins offset by his decision loss to Weichel at Bellator 147 on Dec. 4. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Karakhanyan has secured 14 of his 24 professional victories by submission.
The departure of Will Brooks left the Bellator lightweight throne vacant and undoubtedly energized those who remain to pick up the pieces at 155 pounds. Held and Jansen are near the top of the list, as the last two men Brooks defeated as champion before being released.
Held -- who will get a chance to avenge his March 2013 decision loss to Jansen on the undercard -- has built a reputation for attacking the lower extremities. Of the 12 submission wins on his ledger, six have resulted from foot or leg locks: two by kneebar, two by toe hold, one by heel hook and one by inverted heel hook. The 24-year-old Pole last appeared at Bellator 145 in November, when he wound up on the wrong side of a five-round unanimous decision against Brooks.
A World Extreme Cagefighting and M-1 Global veteran, Jansen has won seven of his past eight bouts. However, the 36-year-old Portland, Oregon, native has not competed since he dropped a five-round verdict to Brooks at Bellator 136 more than a year ago. In 23 professional appearances, Jansen has never been finished.
Augusto Sakai has a perfect record to protect when he locks horns with Charles in a heavyweight showcase.
Sakai, now 9-0, has outpointed Alex Huddleston and finished Daniel Gallemore, Matt Frembling and Rob Horton since touching down in Bellator in 2013. While he has not faced what anyone would consider a murderer’s row in terms of competition, the 24-year-old Brazilian was booked to battle Cheick Kongo at Bellator 150 -- a win would have exposed him to a much wider audience -- but had to withdraw with an injury.
Charles has won three of his last four fights, losing only to former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Bobby Lashley. The 30-year-old has linked arms with the Power MMA Team camp in Arizona, where he trains alongside Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway and Michael Chandler.
Former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen was set to vie for the inaugural Bellator women’s featherweight title before an injury forced Julia Budd to bow out of their booking. Now, Coenen finds herself relegated to a non-title assignment.
The 35-year-old Golden Glory rep will instead take on Ultimate Fighting Championship washout Alexis Dufresne in a featured scrap at 145 pounds. Coenen will carry a two-fight winning streak into the cage, having followed her June 2013 loss to Cristiane Justino with back-to-back submissions against Annalisa Bucci and Arlene Blencowe. “Rumina” counts victories over Liz Carmouche, Sarah Kaufman and Roxanne Modafferi among her 23 pro conquests.
Dufresne started her career 5-0 and earned a ticket to the UFC, where consecutive losses to Sarah Moras and Marion Reneau prompted her release.