With Bellator 257 in the books, the Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight Grand Prix quarterfinals are now three-quarters of the way done, and the winners of the main and co-main events are more or less locked into their next matchup.
That still leaves plenty of winning fighters in need of a dance partner, however. The remainder of the card was loaded with some of Bellator’s hottest prospects as well as several mainstay contenders. Some of them delivered big on Friday, while others disappointed — at least relative to expectations. Here are some matches that should be made for the main card winners from Bellator 257, as well as one of the more prominent victors from the undercard.
Vadim Nemkov vs. Anthony Johnson/Yoel Romero winner: In a rematch with Phil Davis, Nemkov, the reigning Bellator light heavyweight champion, repeated and arguably bettered his split-decision win from their first meeting in November 2018. The grand prix quarterfinal offered few fireworks, but Nemkov did more than enough to pile up rounds at the expense of the gun-shy American. Nemkov now awaits the winner of the fourth quarterfinal, which takes place in the co-main event of Bellator 258 on May 7. That matchup is the wild card of the bracket, featuring two fighters making their Bellator debuts in eternal UFC middleweight contender Romero and fearsome knockout artist Johnson, who returns from a self-imposed four-year absence. While Nemkov will rightfully be a heavy favorite over whichever man emerges victorious, at the very least, both Johnson and Romero offer the kind of fight-changing power and explosion that has been sorely lacking across eight total rounds of Nemkov vs. Davis.
Corey Anderson vs. Ryan Bader: The other semifinal is already set, as Bader thrashed Lyoto Machida last week at Bellator 256, getting his quest to regain his lost title off to a good start. Anderson completely outclassed Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov in Friday’s co-main event. For as long as the two men were standing, Yagshimuradov had no answer for Anderson’s superior reach, height and punishing jab. And that was the good news; the real problem was that “Overtime” took Yagshimuradov down with ease in the second and third rounds, passed to dominant positions at will, and destroyed him with ground-and-pound. The Bader vs. Anderson semifinal figures to be a good one.
Veta Arteaga vs. Vanessa Porto: Don’t be fooled by the majority decision. A point deduction in the second round for illegal knees — inadvertent but undeniably damaging — makes the fight look closer than it was, but two of the judges gave Arteaga all three rounds. She was simply too sharp on the feet for the relatively green Desiree Yanez, who was stepping up a weight class to boot. Arteaga’s modest-looking 5-4 record in the Bellator cage belies the fact that she has been competitive against everyone but Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, who was at the time one of the most dominant champs in the sport. Using Bellator’s own rankings as a measuring stick, Kate Jackson would be a suitable matchup, but it feels unfair to reward Jackson, who is coming off of back-to-back losses, with Arteaga. Porto, who was bullied around by Liz Carmouche in her Bellator debut last week, has been by acclamation one of the better flyweights in the sport for years, but needs a step back after a decisive loss to a top contender. Arteaga vs. Porto makes sense, and as an added bonus, two women who are accustomed to always being the shorter fighter in the cage will have a chance to pick on someone their own size.
Paul Daley vs. Jason Jackson: Daley might be the most maddening fighter on the Bellator roster, which is saying a lot. Sometimes, the 38-year-old Brit gives every appearance of being mentally checked out of his own fight career a la Quinton Jackson — see his clownish performances against Jon Fitch and Michael Page, and the fact that he can’t even be bothered to fight in an actual weight class half the time. (Bellator’s only other habitual 175-pound fighter, Dillon Danis, surely wants none of this action.) However, for all the silliness, Daley is 8-4 in Bellator and remains a veteran kickboxer with crushing power who is still capable of the sublime, when the mood strikes him. His knockout of Sabah Homasi on Friday, in which he caught a left kick with his left hand, pulled Homasi off-balance as he let his foot go, and then knocked him out with the same hand, was his best finish in years. While the catchweight contest won’t officially propel Daley up the welterweight rankings, Homasi had been on a four-fight win streak and was ranked eighth. If Daley is willing to cut the extra four pounds to the welterweight non-title limit, he really should get a ranked fighter next. Jackson, who won a decision over Neiman Gracie two weeks ago at Bellator 255, would be a great choice. He’s ranked even higher than Homasi was, and figures to climb some more once the rankings take the Gracie fight into account, but on the other hand, the decision was a robbery, and it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Jackson stayed out of the immediate title picture for at least another fight or two.
Julia Budd vs. Cat Zingano: A win is a win…sort of. Budd did enough to take a split verdict over the debuting Dayana Silva, putting her title loss to Cristiane Justino further in the rear view. However, by the eye test, “The Jewel” struggled to pull the trigger against a 12-to-1 underdog who appeared to be a full weight class smaller than herself. It goes in the “W” column, but it did nothing to make us want to see Budd vs. “Cyborg” 2. Budd is now in a difficult spot, having already fought and beaten just about every good featherweight on the Bellator roster…with one notable exception. Zingano did considerably better against her own softball opponent last week, armbarring Olivia Parker in half a round. Since Justino is booked against Leslie Smith a little over a month from now, Budd and Zingano could meet in a title eliminator. An emphatic win by either woman would lend interest to a title shot.