They are two of the sport’s foremost self-promoters, and they have been tasked with carrying the Bellator MMA flag into 2017.
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder Tito Ortiz will face Chael Sonnen in the Bellator 170 main event on Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Meanwhile, British striker Paul Daley meets Brennan Ward in a welterweight co-headliner that promises plenty of bravado and the accompanying fireworks.
Ortiz turns 42 on Jan. 23 and has long since lost his position of relevancy at 205 pounds. Nevertheless, he remains one of MMA’s most recognizable and polarizing figures, hence this assignment. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” has gone 3-8-1 across his last 12 appearances, his victories over Ryan Bader, Alexander Shlemenko and Stephan Bonnar overshadowed by losses to Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin (twice), Matt Hamill, Rashad Evans, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Liam McGeary. Ortiz has not competed since he failed to unseat McGeary as Bellator light heavyweight champion and submitted to an inverted triangle choke at Bellator 142 in September 2015.
Sonnen has spent much of his 20-year career floating between the 185- and 205-pound weight classes. A onetime NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Oregon, his lengthy MMA resume includes wins over Renato Sobral, Paulo Filho, Yushin Okami, Nate Marquardt, Brian Stann, Mauricio Rua and current UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping. However, Sonnen has not fought since he succumbed to first-round punches from the aforementioned Evans at UFC 167 more than three years ago.
With the Ortiz-Sonnen showdown in the marquee, here is what to watch for at Bellator 170:
Daley and Ward back up their brash words with devastating punching power. The proof: They have 37 knockouts in 52 victories between them.
A two-time Cage Rage champion in his native England, Daley has competed in a long list of notable promotions, from the UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator to Cage Warriors Fighting Championship, EliteXC and the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts. The 33-year-old last appeared at Bellator 158 on July 16, when he dropped a unanimous decision to Douglas Lima. Known for his explosive hands and combustible personality, Daley has 18 first-round finishes to his credit.
Ward was an NCAA All-American wrestler at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, prior to his move to mixed martial arts. The Bellator Season 9 tournament winner has won five of his past six bouts, a 30-second submission loss to Evangelista Santos his only misstep. Ward, 28, last competed at Bellator 163 on Nov. 4, when he disposed of Saad Awad with punches in a little more than a minute at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Scratching a Seven-Year Itch
Ralek Gracie has been away from the MMA scene for nearly seven years.
Gracie, 3-0, will make his Bellator debut opposite Hisaki Kato on the main card. The 31-year-old Metamorsis founder has not fought since he took a unanimous decision from Gracie family nemesis Kazushi Sakuraba under the Dream banner in May 2010. He had submitted his two previous opponents with armbars in a little more than six minutes combined.
Kato, 34, made waves with his devastating Superman-punch finish on Joe Schilling at Bellator 139 in 2015. He has gone 2-1 since, a knockout loss to Melvin Manhoef offset by decisive victories over Yuta Watanabe and A.J. Matthews. All nine of Kato’s fights -- each of his seven wins and both of his defeats -- have concluded with knockouts, seven of them inside one round.
Georgi Karakhanyan and Emmanuel Sanchez have the same goal in mind: a run at the Bellator featherweight championship. It should come as little surprise then that their paths would cross.
A former Tachi Palace Fights and World Series of Fighting titleholder, Karakhanyan will put a modest two-fight winning streak on the line against Sanchez in a three-round showcase at 145 pounds. The Millennia MMA rep holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has proven himself a potent offensive fighter, with 20 finishes among his 26 professional victories. Karakhanyan’s list of victims includes Bubba Jenkins (twice), Team Alpha Male’s Lance Palmer and UFC veteran Waylon Lowe.
Sanchez has enjoyed a slow but steady rise on the featherweight ladder. The Roufusport export has compiled a 5-2 record since arriving in Bellator in October 2014, losing only to Pat Curran and former M-1 Global champion Daniel Weichel. Sanchez has yet to be finished in his 16-fight career.