Bellator MMA is set to return on April 11 to continue its 10th season. Live from California, the card boasts a lineup that includes the heavyweight tournament semifinals and one of the welterweight tournament semis.

Strikeforce and UFC vet Lavar Johnson is set to headline opposite Blagoi Ivanov of Bulgaria. Both men are pining for a tournament-finals spot opposite the winner of Mighty Mo and Alexander Volkov, who occupy the co-main event.

In the welterweight semis, Nathan Coy is set to square off with Adam McDonough. The winner meets the victor of the fight between Andrey Koreshkov and Sam Oropeza, whose fight at Bellator 115 was scrapped due to an illness to the Russian.

Without further ado, let’s preview the Bellator 116 card and make some predictions.

HW Tournament Semifinal: Lavar Johnson (18-8) vs. Blagoi Ivanov (10-0)

The headliner sees a former UFC vet and a Bulgarian brute collide when Lavar Johnson takes on Blagoi Ivanov for a spot in the tournament finals. Johnson is looking to redeem some recent poor performances, while Ivanov continues his comeback from a near-fatal stabbing in his home country.

Johnson is a power puncher who throws pure heat in the cage. All but two of his pro wins came by way of knockout, showing that he doesn’t like visiting the judges’ scorecards. In his tournament quarterfinal, he knocked out a game Ryan Martinez. That reversed a disappointing tournament last season, where Johnson was quickly blasted by Vinicius Queiroz.

Ivanov is undefeated. The sambo practitioner has dominated opponents with heavy striking and a ferocious top game on the mat. Since returning from his near-fatal attack, Ivanov has gone 3-0, finishing Manny Lara and Keith Bell with submission and thoroughly dismantling Rich Hale to a decision in the quarterfinals. He needs to avoid a kickboxing match with Johnson and ground him early on.

Whoever imposes their will and has the better cardio will be victorious. Johnson is known to be suspect on the ground, a place where Ivanov thrives. If Ivanov can avoid the home-run punch from Johnson, he will ground, pound and finish Johnson with extreme prejudice.

HW Tournament Semifinal: Alexander Volkov (20-4) vs. Mighty Mo (6-2)

The co-main event sees two men with two very different body types match up with a chance to make the heavyweight tournament finals. Former champion Alexander Volkov of Russia looks to get back into a title fight with Vitaly Minakov, but he first must get through a powerhouse Samoan by the name of Mighty Mo.

Volkov is a 6-foot-7 striker with a long, lanky frame that gives opponents problems. Most of his wins have come by way of knockout, including his quick first-round stoppage of Mark Holata in the quarterfinals. He will want to stay out of Mo’s wheelhouse, since Mighty Mo has better one-punch knockout power than the Russian. Staying technical is key for the former champion.

Mo is a short, stocky banger with heavy hands and a surprising development in his ground game. He scored a stunning submission over Ron Sparks to get into the tournament and followed that up with a come-from-behind submission of Peter Graham in the quarterfinals. Outworking Volkov on the ground will be much tougher, though. Volkov actually possesses competence on the mat.

Volkov is far more well-rounded and can keep good distance on Mo. He is going to outstrike him with a stick-and-move strategy. Having fought far better grapplers and wrestlers in his time as a pro, Volkov will be wary of Mo going for a takedown. He might not be able to knock out Mo, but he will thoroughly outclass him en route to the heavyweight tournament finals.

WW Tournament Semifinal: Nathan Coy (14-4) vs. Adam McDonough (10-0)

With a spot in the welterweight tournament finals on the line, Strikeforce veteran Nathan Coy meets up with undefeated prospect Adam McDonough. The winner will meet the eventual winner of the fight between Andrey Koreshkov and Sam Oropeza, a bout that has yet to rescheduled.

Coy is a wrestler with decent striking ability and a tough top game. His quarterfinal bout saw him battle Paul Bradley, a fellow wrestler who was outworked by the more well-rounded Coy. Coy would be wise to clinch and take McDonough down, as it would be a preemptive strike against what McDonough wants to do to him.

McDonough is a well-rounded fighter, though it has been his striking that has been the crowning jewel of his game. Earlier in his career, he was more submission oriented with his attacks, but he has shown off good skill on the feet since then. In the quarterfinals, he outworked Jesse Juarez, a guy who many thought would outwrestle and hustle McDonough.

This is going to be an interesting match-up of grinder and finisher. McDonough needs to sprawl and brawl with Coy, who will be looking to shoot early and often. However, despite McDonough’s upside, Coy is experienced and gritty and should grind McDonough to a decision.

LHW: Vladimir Matyushenko (27-7) vs. Joey Beltran (14-10)

A light heavyweight feature bout is set to take place between UFC veterans Vladimir Matyushenko and Joey Beltran. This will mark the last fight in an illustrious career for the Belarusian, Matyushenko.

Beltran is a brawler with an iron chin, incredible toughness and knockout power. His Bellator debut was a tough one—he took on Quinton “Rampage” Jackson on short notice. Of course, he was blitzed at the end of the first round and put away with power strikes. That is not always the case with Beltran, though. He has great heart and determination to battle through getting hurt.

Matyushenko is a wrestler with good ground-and-pound and a heavy top game. He was able to out-muscle and out-hustle Houston Alexander in his Bellator debut, though he has obviously slowed at his age (43). He needs to avoid brawling with Beltran, as it could spell trouble.

Matyushenko wants to ride off into the sunset on a win. He will not take many risks here, as the obvious game plan is to wrestle Beltran. He will do that, earning a decision en route to his well-deserved retirement.

Preliminary Card
FW: Joe Taimanglo (19-5-1) vs. Rob Emerson (15-10)

Joe Taimanglo and Rob Emerson, a pair of featherweights, look to punch their ticket to a future tournament when they fight. Guam’s Taimanglo is short and compact, but he is also explosive and quick. He used that in his tournament run when he out-hustled Andrew Fisher, before getting outwrestled by Justin Wilcox in the semis. UFC veteran Emerson is a striker that has added some nice submissions to his game, as seen in his tap out of Jared Downing. Emerson will be a tough out, but Taimanglo will stick and move, score takedowns and run a decision over the tough American.

WW: Ron Keslar (11-5) vs. Karo Parisyan (22-10)

UFC vet and judo specialist Karo Parisyan looks to revive his career in a big way, but in his way is Ron Keslar, a tournament finalist from last season. Parisyan has slowed in recent years, and the longtime veteran has seen better days in the cage. Keslar is a wrestler who made an unlikely run in last season’s welterweight tourney. He was able to knock off Luis Melo and War Machine before succumbing to Rick Hawn in the finals. Unless Parisyan returns to form, Keslar will mix in takedowns and heavy top pressure to earn the victory.

MW: Joe Pacheco (7-1) vs. Brandon Halsey (5-0)

Tournament vet Joe Pacheco looks to get back into the win column after being a replacement in last season’s tournament, but an undefeated beast in the form of Brandon Halsey has other plans. Pacheco got the call to fight Brennan Ward in the middleweight tournament semifinals last season, but was promptly choked out by the eventual winner. Halsey is a power wrestler with imposing strength and a heavy top game. He will use that wrestling to ground Pacheco and beat him up, gaining the win and a possible tournament spot for next season.

MW: Luis Philipe Lins (7-0) vs. Travis Clark (7-2)

Luis Philipe Lins is a top Brazilian prospect who makes his long-awaited debut for Bellator. Across the cage stands an unheralded American named Travis Clark, who is looking to make a name for himself. Lins is a striker with good physical strength and a large frame. He is known to blaze through opponents with his aggressive style, seeking the chin with his hands early and often. Clark has shown to be tough in his career. His only losses came to TUF vets Hector Urbina and Elias Theodorou. His best bet is to use his wrestling, though that may overexpose his chin if he doesn’t set it up. Lins is a monster. He will score a knockout blow to make a successful premiere with Bellator.

BW: Brandon Bender (11-1) vs. Mario Navarro (4-3)

Bantamweight tournament vet Brandon Bender looks to possibly punch another ticket to a future tournament against middling Mario Navarro. Navarro is a grappler, but he has struggled for consistency in the cage. He will have his hands full with Bender, who is a good wrestler with heavy ground-and-pound and underrated submissions. Bender almost stopped Travis Marx in his last bout in the bantamweight tournament, but a spirited comeback by Marx led to Bender’s finish in the second. Bender is going to beat up Navarro and overwhelm him, finishing the fight via strikes.

WW: Ricky Rainey (6-2) vs. Andy Murad (6-1)

XFC veteran Ricky Rainey is set to debut with Bellator after a good run outside the company, but in the way of a successful debut is tough ground fighter Andy Murad. Murad uses the clinch and his wrestling to grind away at opponents, but he lost a questionable decision in his last outing against Gavin Sterritt. Rainey has a similar skill set, though his boxing is more advanced. Rainey will defend takedowns throughout the bout, strike from a distance on Murad and score a decision win in his Bellator debut.

MW: Keith Berry (15-12) vs. Dave Vitkay (13-12-1)

Strikeforce veteran Keith Berry is looking to get back into the win column after two straight Bellator losses. Across from him stands Dave Vitkay, a journeyman riding a hot hand. Berry is a striker that relies on knockout power and quick stoppages to carry him in bouts. When he gets in deep water, he can fall into trouble. Vitkay represents a grappling submission fighter with good physical strength. If this fight goes down, he will likely manhandle Berry. However, Berry will be headhunting early and score a stoppage from strikes.

LHW: Carlos Eduardo (11-2) vs. Virgil Zwicker (12-3)

A possible light heavyweight tournament spot is up for grabs when top Brazilian prospect Carlos Eduardo takes on Strikeforce vet Virgil Zwicker. Eduardo is a well-rounded fighter whose only losses are to Jon Jones and an error in judgement when he was disqualified for an illegal kick. He ran through Wayman Carter in his Bellator debut and is likely one of the best prospects the company has. Zwicker is a striker who is undefeated since leaving Strikeforce. After knocking out Nick Moghaddam in his Bellator debut, he went overseas to KSW and knocked out former heavyweight Mike Hayes with one punch. This will be an exciting one, but Eduardo’s ground game will be the deciding factor.

About The Author

Riley Kontek
Staff Writer

Riley Kontek is a Chicago-land native that has been an addict of mixed martial arts since the first Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz encounter. He has been writing on MMA for the last year and is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. In addition to that, he used to host a weekly radio show on MMA. Though he has no formal training in mixed martial arts, Riley is a master in the art of hockey fighting.