There’s never been a question that all promoters have their sweethearts. But when they try to manipulate matchmaking to fit their grand scheme, it cheapens the brands, and Bellator has been one of the biggest culprits throughout the years. One of the most blatant attempts took place last year at the highest levels of the promotion’s light heavyweight division.

It’s no secret that, just over a year ago, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Christian M’Pumbu were Bellator’s sweethearts of the light heavyweight division. In 2011, M’Pumbu was on a three-TKO-in-a-row winning streak, which included winning the season-four tournament, as well as the light heavyweight title, before dropping a non-title decision to Travis Wiuff to end the year. He sat for all of 2012, which is the same year that King Mo entered Bellator after being released by Strikeforce.

King Mo signed with Bellator in May 2012. He opened the season-eight light heavyweight tournament in January 2013 with a first-round knockout of Przemyslaw Mysiala. The Bellator brass could not have been happier, as their plan for an eventual superfight between King Mo and M’Pumbu was moving along as planned. However, it all changed during one week in late February, and the plan completely fell apart.

On Feb. 21, 2013, Emanuel Newton sent a message to the world with a spinning backfist that knocked Lawal out cold, ending his chances to win the tournament. Then, on Feb. 28, Attila Vegh, winner of the 2012 Summer Series (which included a victory for Vegh over Newton in the tournament semifinals), put on an amazing five-round dismantling of M’Pumbu to become the new light heavyweight champ. In the blink of an eye, Bellator’s master plan came to a crashing halt. Things only got worse from there.

A month later, Newton went on to win the light heavyweight tournament with a unanimous decision over Mikhail Zayats. Newton, with the victory, earned a second shot at Vegh for the strap. However, Bellator could not help from intervening. First, the promotion claimed that Vegh was injured and couldn’t fight Newton, an assertion Vegh contested from the beginning. Then, to make matters worse, the promotion gave King Mo a shot at Newton for an interim belt, which he ended up losing again anyway, proving Newton was the rightful tournament champ.

Now, in a rematch that should have taken place last year, the two rightful champions, Vegh and Newton, will meet this Friday night at the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kan., to unify the Bellator light heavyweight championship at Bellator 113. Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up, and as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Vegh – 10, Newton – 9

Newton’s striking attack looks great, but there’s just not a lot behind it. He has decent footwork and loves to throw front-leg and spinning kicks after every exchange, but he doesn’t generate much damage for the quantity of these strikes thrown. He definitely proved that he deserved his first win over King Mo with his performance in the rematch. However, the spinning backfist win in their first fight was definitely a lucky shot. In his first fight with Vegh, he threw a higher volume of strikes than his opponent, but he did very little damage.

Vegh, a karate champion, is by far the more dangerous striker in this match-up. His first performance with Newton was nothing to write home about, but as far back as the video goes, the Slovakian has been destroying opponents with his relentless striking attack. The best comparison to Vegh’s striking attack would be UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez. He pushes his opponents to their limits, strikes hard and fast, and is no stranger to getting peeled off his opponents by the refs. Newton has not seen the best Vegh has to offer on the feet, but M’Pumbu got it firsthand.

Newton is going to face a much different striking attack than he saw in the first bout with Vegh. If this stays standing, Newton may get knocked out for the first time in over 10 years.

Submission Grappling: Vegh – 10, Newton – 10

Vegh and Newton combine for 19 career submissions, and submissions account for most of their stoppages. Newton trains with some amazing grapplers at Kings MMA and Reign Training Center in Los Angeles, and Vegh trains with a bunch of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts at American Top Team. However, neither is considered a BJJ slickster by any means, and both of them win the majority of submissions through wrestling-centric setups, like arm-triangles and rear-naked chokes.

Both men have great scrambling skills and are good about getting up from the bottom, so there is little chance this will turn into a submission grappling contest. If it does, it’s really a toss-up.

Wrestling: Vegh – 10, Newton – 10

As displayed in their first match-up, both men are very proficient MMA wrestlers. Vegh has been wrestling since he was five years old, and Newton wrestled in high school before transitioning into MMA. Both men have a powerful clinch and effective takedown defense. Newton tried to take it to the mat several times in their first bout, but, the couple times he was successful, Vegh got it right back to standing.

As with submission grappling, Vegh and Newton are very closely matched in the wrestling department. This is really setting the fight up to turn into an all-out striking war.

Aggressiveness: Vegh – 10, Newton – 9

If there’s one thing that the first contest between Vegh and Newton was missing, it was Vegh’s relentless attack. Hopefully, after one year on the bench, it will come back with a vengeance. The Velasquez-like potential in Vegh’s striking arsenal didn’t come out at all in his last fight with Newton.

Newton is more patient than aggressive. One of the most frustrating things about him is to watch him come in with a light combo, only to drop his hands and throw a nonchalant kick before resetting. When he finishes his combos, there appears to be no urgency whatsoever. His last two fights, against Lawal and Zayats, could have been finishes had he shown a more aggressive attack, but he fights too cautious.

Vegh is definitely the more aggressive fighter, and if he comes out that way, Newton may be in for a whole other fight what he may expect based on their last bout.

Stamina: Vegh – 10, Newton – 10

Vegh may have a much higher percentage of finishes on his record than Newton, but both men have deep gas tanks and went to five-round decision victories in their most recent outings. Vegh will be at a slight disadvantage after sitting on the sidelines for a while, but he easily has the cardio to go the full five rounds with Newton without losing too much steam.

X-factor

The x-factor in this fight—which could be by Bellator’s design—is the potential for Vegh to exhibit some ring rust. The ATT fighter has an amazing group of coaches and training partners who have been hard at work constantly getting ready for fights, but it’s unfortunate that his first title defense is after such a long layoff. Newton is currently on the hottest streak of his career, and he definitely has the advantage of momentum entering the cage this Friday night.

Total: Vegh – 50, Newton – 48

Verdict: Based on their first fight, Newton would have a tremendous advantage going into this fight, especially with Vegh’s time on the sidelines. However, American Top Team has been constantly churning out some amazing talent, and Vegh has been training with those guys. In addition, Vegh will enter this match with a big chip on his shoulder, ready to prove to the world that he deserves the belt he won over a year ago.

If Vegh comes out with that nasty, aggressive striking arsenal that he kept under wraps in his previous fight with Newton, this one could easily end well before the championship rounds. If he stays subdued and let’s Newton dance around him, this one will go to a decision once again, only with Newton coming out on top this time.

Vegh feels cheated by the promotion. He needs to get back on track, and this win means everything. On the other hand, Newton seems to assume that he’s going to be fighting the first Vegh.

Vegh will come out on fire, Newton will underestimate his aggression, and Vegh will hit his stride, taking this one by third-round TKO.