Bellator MMA’s latest tentpole event takes place this Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The card features two title fights as well as a number of other intriguing matchups for the fans. The sportsbooks are offering betting odds on all six main card fights, and my top plays are listed below in the Bellator 222 edition of Prime Picks.
Lyoto Machida (-300)
My most confident pick on the card is Machida (25-8) to defeat Chael Sonnen (30-6-1) in a light heavyweight bout. I really like this matchup for “The Dragon” and the odds seem about right here in my opinion. Stylistically this is a favorable fight for the Brazilian. He has always had excellent takedown defense and if Sonnen can’t get him to the mat there is going to be a wide discrepancy as far as the striking goes. Machida also enters this fight with quite a bit of momentum, having won three straight fights over Rafael Carvalho, Eryk Anders and Vitor Belfort. Sonnen, on the other hand, is entering this contest following a brutal TKO loss to Fedor Emelianenko. Sonnen has always been a good wrestler, but he’s struggled against fighters who can keep the fight on the feet against him and he has been knocked out quite a few times in his career. It’s only a three-round fight so perhaps Sonnen can make it the full 15 minutes, but I don’t like the style matchup for him. I expect the former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion to piece him apart on the feet and either take home a clear decision or win via TKO. At -300 odds I like Machida a lot here and he will be a very popular parlay piece for bettors this weekend.
Kyoji Horiguchi (-105)
For an underdog pick, I like Horiguchi (27-2) to defeat Darrion Caldwell (13-2) in a rematch and become the new Bellator bantamweight champion. These two met less than six months ago at Rizin New Year’s Eve, with Horiguchi defeating "The Wolf" via third-round submission. Since then, the Japanese fighter has picked up a TKO win over former UFC flyweight Ben Nguyen to up his win streak to 12 straight fights, while Caldwell hasn’t been active since. Mixed martial arts is often a game of momentum and right now Horiguchi has a ton of it, having not lost since a 2015 defeat to Demetrious Johnson. Although he’ll be fighting in the United States for the first time in a few years, his past experience inside the Octagon should help him out here. Caldwell is a great fighter and the fact this fight is in a cage and not a ring may help him out, but Horiguchi is the better fighter and should be the betting favorite here. I’m surprised he opened as the underdog considering what happened just a few months ago when these last met. Although the American has great wrestling, we’ve seen that Horiguchi has a solid ground game and we already know what a devastating striker he is and how much knockout power he has for a little guy. At -135 underdog odds, you have to take the value and go with the challenger to win the Bellator bantamweight title.
Juan Archuleta (-185)
In featherweight action, give me Archuleta (22-1) to beat Eduardo Dantas (21-6). Archuleta might be the most underrated fighter in the promotion. He’s currently riding a 17-fight win streak which includes a perfect 4-0 mark so far in Bellator. In his last fight, he beat rising prospect Ricky Bandejas and he also has a win over current UFC fighter Jordan Griffin during his win streak. Bellator also likes him and they are giving him a big main card push on this card against a former champion. At one point, Dantas was one of the most feared bantamweights in the world, but he’s seen better days. He is coming off of a win over Toby Misech but it was hardly impressive and he had lost his two prior bouts. Although this is a step up in competition for Archuleta, it’s a favorable matchup for him and he likely gets the biggest win of his career here. At -185 odds give me Archuleta to defeat Dantas.
Rory MacDonald (-135)
Last but not least, I do lean towards MacDonald (20-5-1) to defeat Neiman Gracie (9-1) in a welterweight title and tournament semifinal bout. It’s true that the Canadian looked awful against Jon Fitch, but I’m not ready to completely write him off just yet. As good as Gracie has looked so far in Bellator, and as good as he looked against Ed Ruth in the quarterfinals, MacDonald is still far more experienced and the more proven, well-rounded fighter. If the “Red King” does get by Gracie and fights Douglas Lima in the finals, then that would be a good spot to fade him. Against Gracie, I actually favor the champion quite a bit to get the job done. Recency bias is why we see MacDonald as such a small favorite here at just -135. If this fight took place before the Fitch bout, no doubt the former UFC title challenger would be a heavier favorite to win. Gracie might have the submission skills, but we have no idea if he can even get his opponent to the ground, and if the fight takes place on the feet you have to figure that MacDonald will have the advantage. While the champ is on a decline, he is motivated to win this fight. At these low -135 odds, there’s value on MacDonald defeating Gracie and advance to the tournament finals.
Adam Martin is a mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the sport since 2011. He is currently the lead odds analyst for Sherdog.com as well as the lead staff writer for MMAOddsbreaker.com. Adam is also the co-host of “The Parting Shot Podcast” on iTunes. His favorite fight of all time is Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua and he wishes Pride never died. Adam is based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and he is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Centennial College. Get in touch with him on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.