Bellator 292 is set to go down tomorrow night (Fri., March 10, 2023) inside SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., which will kick off the promotion’s Lightweight World Grand Prix. In the main event of the evening, division king, Usman Nurmagomedov, will defend his title against former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 155-pound champion of the world, Benson Henderson. In the other quarterfinal bout, Tofiq Musayev takes on Alexander Shabliy.
Usman Nurmagomedov vs. Benson Henderson
It only took Nurmagomedov five fights inside the Bellator cage to become champion, and now he is ready to start his reign off on the right foot by earning his first-ever title defense. At 16-0, Nurmagomedov has made an impression in the combat sports world rather quickly, coming out of the stacked and successful camp that houses former UFC Lightweight champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and current title holder, Islam Makhachev. With a dominate win over Patricky Pitbull in his back pocket, Nurmagomedov sets his sight on a former champion with perhaps the most experience of any fighter he’s faced thus far in Benson Henderson. “Smooth” has been fighting professionally for over 16 years and is looking to make history by becoming the only man to win titles inside the World Extreme Cagefighting Championship (WEC), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Bellator MMA banners. He recently revealed that his career is winding down and winning the tournament would be a perfect way to cap it all off. It’s a tall task to say the least but one that is attainable. Henderson is on a two-fight win streak so he does have some momentum coming into the fight. His experience will play a huge factor here, but Nurmagomedov is on a different level at the moment, and while Henderson may be ready to call it a day soon, Usman is just getting started. That’s not to say Henderson is lacking motivation, he isn’t. But he will have to pitch a perfect game to get the win here. Against Nurmagomedov that is easier said than done.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision
Tofiq Musayev vs. Alexander Shabliy
Musayev was a bit irate that he didn’t get the call to face Patricky Pitbull for the title after being overlooked in favor of the aforementioned Usman Nurmagomedov. Instead, the former RIZIN Lightweight champion will have to go through a tough gauntlet in order to reach the title fight and $1 million prize. That’s because even if he beats Shabliy in the co-main event, he will have to face the winner Pitbull and A.J. McKee in order to advance to the finale. Musayev made a splash in his debut by knocking out Sidney Outlaw in just 27 seconds at Bellator 283 (see it here), and now has a tough challenge against Shabliy, who has his own championship dreams to reach. Shabliy is currently riding a seven-fight win streak, is 3-0 under the Bellator banner while coming off a technical knockout (TKO) win over Brent Primus. The Russian grappler has a well-rounded attack with 11 wins coming by stoppage via strikes and seven submissions. Musayev, though, has a slight advantage on the feet with 16 of his 20 wins coming by way of knockout. If it stays standing we could have an epic war on our hands. But it’s one that will not go Shabliy’s way.
Prediction: Musayev via third-round knockout
Valentin Moldavsky vs Linton Vassell
In 2019, Moldavsky defeated Vassell via unanimous decision at Bellator 218. Since that setback, however, Vassell has gone on a tear by winning four straight, which has shot him up all the way to the No. 2 spot on the official rankings. With Moldavsky sitting at No. 1, the winner of this fight could very well get the next shot at division king, Ryan Bader. Both men have losses to “Darth,” so it’s one they’d each love to get back. First things first, though, as Vassell wants to get revenge on the hulking big man and the momentum he has going for himself at the moment could play a big factor. That’s because Moldavsky’s last two fights have resulted in a loss to Bader and a no-contest (NC) to Steve Mowry. The question on deck is whether or not Vassell can make the adjustments to not fall to Moldavsky’s gameplan that got him the first win. To that end, will Moldavsky change things up or keep what worked for him before? I just don’t think Vassell has the grappling chops to hang with Moldavsky in that area, so using his slight reach and height advantage to keep his foe at bay is his best bet.
Final prediction: Moldavsky via unanimous decision
Michael Page vs. Goiti Yamauchi
Michael Page’s last two fights did not treat him well. In May 2022, he lost a split-decision to Logan Storley at Bellator 281, preventing him from getting his first taste of Bellator gold. Three months later, “Venom” lost to Mike Perry under the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) banner, the first time he’s suffered back-to-back defeats. Now, the sensational striker will return to the cage in an attempt to pick up his first win in 18 months against Yamauchi, who has done well for himself over the last few years. Currently on a three-fight win streak, Yamauchi is 6-1 in his last seven fights and is 2-0 since moving up to the 170-pound division. Currently holding on the No. 5 spot, Yamauchi could make a huge leap in the rankings and potentially earn a shot at the title against current champion, Yaroslav Amosov. This is the sleeper fight that could steal the show right away because both men are accomplished kickboxers and can strike with the best of them. Their styles, however, are very different. It’s no secret Page loves to be a showman inside the cage, while Yamauchi is a bit more technical. Both styles have proven effective for them, but in this fight it behooves Page to slow his roll with the theatrics because Yamauchi can tag him, he can hurt him and he can stop him, much like he did Chris Gonzalez and Neiman Gracie. Page has the obvious reach advantage and he has to use it here if he wants to get back in the win column.
Final prediction: Page via unanimous decision
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See you then!
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