A few weeks ago on his weekly ESPN Podcast Ariel Helwani asked the question ‘Where is Bellator?’. He went on to highlight worries that during the time of the Coronavirus pandemic. MMA fans had all but forgotten about the promotion since it’s final show late in February.
Whereas the UFC highlighted plans to carry on running shows as soon as it was able when the world shut down. Bellator canceled all future shows and went quiet. It didn’t help that the UFC came out all guns blazing and delivered great shows. Bellator was all but left in the dust. That all changed last week when Bellator announced it would run Bellator 242 on Friday, July 24th.
Given that the MMA world is very much wrapped up in the frenzy of the UFC’s grand Fight Island run. The announcement came and went with little buzz. The announcement itself consisted of a show that was a far cry removed from one of Bellator’s signature ‘tent-pole’ events. The show however wisely avoided clashing with the UFC’s big Till vs. Whitaker show on Saturday night by running on Friday, and whilst the show is slight in quantity. It more than makes up for its quality that may not be overly apparent to fans looking at the card. Bellator has since highlighted bigger plans. Perhaps this Friday’s card is being seen as a bit of a live test run to get the ball rolling again and iron out any technical kinks that will arise from running shows under very different circumstances.
Main Event: Sergio Pettis vs. Ricky Bandejas (135lb)
There’s no denying the quality of this main event. Sergio Pettis returns for his seconds fight in Bellator. After making a very successful debut in the promotion by stopping Alfred Khashakyan back in January. It was a performance that re-introduced Pettis to the MMA world. It also showed that the high profile move from the UFC to Bellator may have given Pettis the platform for a rebirth to a once highly promising career.
When Sergio Pettis entered the UFC back in 2013 the excitement was palpable. He joined his older superstar brother Anthony in the promotion with a perfect 9-0 record. The stage was set for Pettis to become a star himself in the UFC primitive Bantamweight division. Pettis got off to a decent 3-1 start before moving into the UFC’s brand new Flyweight Division in 2015. Pettis’ run at 125lb was fairly uninspired. He was a part of that initial group of fighters led by Demetrious Johnsons that left fans feeling indifferent to the new division which almost leads to the UFC dispanding the division altogether due to lack of interest from the fans.
Pettis’ ability has never been questioned, and he traded some extremely high-quality wins of the losses including a decision victory of future Title Challenger Joseph Benavidez and a hard-fought loss to great in waiting for Henry Cejudo. The biggest issue Pettis faced was that his fights lacked excitement and any notable highlights. Pettis won 9 fights in the UFC, all of which he did so by decision. The move to Bellator following a win over Tyson Nam raised a few eyebrows but paid off when Pettis looked better than he had in years by stopping Khashakyan in the first round in January. Now Pettis’ draws one of Bellator’s great spoilers…
When Ricky Bandjeas was brought into Bellator back in 2018. He was very much brought in as the latest fodder for one of Bellator’s most promising, marketable young fighters in James Gallagher. The fight was seen as another showcase for Gallagher who was making as much noise both in the cage and out at the time. Bandejas tore up the script that night, stealing the show and making headlines by finishing Gallagher in memorable, brutal fashion. MMA fans rejoiced in seeing the cocky Irishman cut down and would forever hold the young Bandejas close to their hearts as a result.
The massive win would end being as much as a blessing as a curse for Bandejas though as he was matched in his very next fights with Bantamweight standouts Juan Archuleta and Patrick Mix. Bandejas dropped both bouts before responding with a rapid-fire win over Ahmet Kayretti at Bellator 225. His next bout was very quiet. One of the standout stories going into Bellator’s last show in Ireland back in February despite being oddly placed amongst the prelim portion of the show, it was one of the fights fans were talking about going in.
Bandejas was matched against the highly touted Frans Malambo who just so happens to fight out of the same SBG gym as Gallagher, with the fight also taking place in the Irishman’s backyard. Revenge was very much theme of the night, but yet again Bandejas crushed SBG dreams by knocking Malambo out after catching a kick early in round 2.
The fight leaves Bandjeas 2-0 over SBG fighters and left him marked with the unofficial nickname ‘The SBG Hunter’. The Pettis main event is well earned. A high profile spot for Bandjeas who is very much become one of Bellator’s unexpected young stars since his debut. Win or lose here, I still hope Bellator finds the sense to set a rematch with Gallagher in Ireland back when normal play resumes, thought the reluctance to go there may hint at the Bellator being overly protective of Gallagher since the loss.
Despite Pettis’ excellent debut in January, I quite fancy the underdog Bandejas here. Bandejas is the more natural 135lb fighter, has a sizeable height and reach advantage and as a risk-taker, I don’t see him settling into a technical striking match with Pettis if things aren’t going his way. Bandejas by show-stealing KO.
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