There was a time not so long ago when we complained there was not nearly enough mixed martial arts to fill the schedule. We would often have to wait a month or more between events, and even then, we’d only get to witness a five-fight main card. Eventually, things changed. New broadcast deals were reached, and before long, there were marathon events on television every weekend. Now things have shifted again. MMA remains a weekend staple, but the battleground has moved to the digital realm.
Saturday marks the first time MMA’s two behemoths — UFC and Bellator — go head-to-head in primetime on their new streaming platforms, and they’re doing so with cards that appeal mainly to hardcore fans.
Let’s have a look at how UFC Fort Lauderdale (ESPN+) and Bellator 220 (DAZN) match up:
Neither of these dudes have Wikipedia pages, but Roosevelt is undefeated at 7-0, having beaten Darrell Horcher in his UFC debut last November. He’s also a finisher, having stopped all of his opponents and has an aspirational story, having survived homelessness and a troubled past to chase his athletic dreams. Gifford is a party-crasher in this fight booking, but it should be fun while it lasts.
Fun Fact: Roberts has had 14 combined fights as an amateur and pro, and has never been to a decision
Bellator — Gaston Bolanos vs. Nathan Stolen
Now we’re cooking with gas. Lineker vs. Sandhagen is a chef’s-kiss ode to the fight game, with the latter attempting to establish his bantamweight bona fides against a divisional top-10 staple. Both have a wildman streak within, which should make for an explosive contest.
Bolanos is best known for a nasty, one-shot spinning back elbow knockout a couple of years ago. He’s won three in a row overall, and is facing a fighter who has lost three in a row and four of his last five, which suggests that Bellator is attempting to give Bolanos a bit of a showcase. His striking skills are clearly quite impressive, so the fight is definitely worth a watch.
Fun Fact: Through three UFC fights, Sandhagen has landed 8.89 strikes per minute, a pace that would rank him first in the promotion if he had enough fight time to officially qualify for the stat leadership
Bellator — Phil Davis vs. Liam McGeary
Hmm, what do we have here … a pair of light heavyweight encounters featuring known commodities and with absolutely nothing on the line? Not the most riveting matchups, but also not enough to tempt you to switch to one of those other streaming services you pay for but almost never watch. You know, the one you keep forgetting to cancel.
Davis–McGeary is a rematch of a 2016 championship fight that wasn’t particularly competitive and didn’t demand a second go-round. Given their particular skill sets, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome, but it’s only three rounds this time, so that’s a plus.
The UFC pairing gives Cutelaba, who is just 25 years old, a chance to make a statement against a tough, gritty veteran. Teixeira is still hard-charging, though time has worn him down a bit from the monster he used to be.
Fun Fact: Prior to Davis-McGeary I, McGeary told Davis, “If I say I’m going to knock them out, I knock them out. If I say I’m getting a submission, I submit them. You, I just want to beat your f*cking face in.” McGeary was then routed 50-43, 50-44, 50-45.
Bellator — Benson Henderson vs. Adam Piccolotti
Personal preferences play a role into which matchup hits your spot. Oliveira-Perry promises a pair of action fighters with big power and no use for backpedaling. Henderson-Piccolotti is a pairing of cage technicians.
Coming on the heels of lumbering light heayvweights, I know which one I’ll need.
Fun Fact: Oliveira will be back fighting on April 27, just four months after being injured by a grenade.
UFC — Greg Hardy vs. Dmitry Smolyakov
Bellator — Ilima-Lei Macfarlane vs. Veta Arteaga
So let me get this straight: Hardy, with all of four pro fights to his name, who was disqualified last time around because he gave into his frustrations in failing to finish his opponent, is back in a co-main event? It’s pretty silly that the UFC continues trying to shoehorn him into these high-profile spots when he is clearly not ready. Dana White used to slam Scott Coker for putting Herschel Walker in the cage, but this is more brazen because the UFC is putting Hardy into positions where the audience expects top fighters. Instead, they’re getting a work in progress. The UFC is doing what it can to help Hardy, bringing back a guy they cut in 2017 as his opponent. We’ll see if that matters, but clearly, they’re all-in on the Greg Hardy business.
Bellator, meanwhile, features its undefeated, exciting women’s flyweight champ Macfarlane attempting to defend her title for a third time. Arteaga didn’t exactly blaze a trail to her title shot, only collecting two straight wins before being granted a title shot, and the fight is lopsided enough that bookmakers hadn’t even gotten around to creating a line as of Friday night’s weigh-ins. Still, only one of these bouts has a fighter at the top of their game.
Fun Fact: Macfarlane’s dad Walter and his lifelong friend realized they were brothers through the DNA testing site 23 and Me. They told their families at a party planned to honor Ilima-Lei’s MMA achievements.
Bellator — Rory MacDonald vs. Jon Fitch
The UFC show was originally intended to host Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa. That soon changed to Romero vs. Souza. And then Romero came down ill, leaving us with the final iteration. Souza doesn’t seem particularly jazzed about fighting Hermansson, mostly because on its surface, it doesn’t appear to put him any closer to championship contention. He said the UFC eventually promised him that he would advance to a title shot with a win, but we all know those promises don’t always hold true. It will be interesting to see if Souza comes out flat against a non top-five opponent, or if he brings his A-game.
MacDonald vs. Fitch is a quarterfinal fight of the Bellator welterweight World Grand Prix, a tournament that seems like it was announced about six years ago. MacDonald’s championship will be on the line in every round, a nice little wrinkle to the proceedings, and although Fitch is now 41, he’s still managed to win five in a row.
Fun Fact: This will be MacDonald’s first title defense since winning the belt 463 days ago.
While I’d give a slight edge to the UFC’s card for its mix of madness and earlier start time, it should be a fun night all the way around. And remember, if the fight you’re watching is boring, you can always switch the channel … err, stream.