For the first time since 2011, Fedor Emelianenko will return to North America to compete this Saturday (February 18, 2017) at Bellator 172 in San Jose, CA. After falling to Dan Henderson in July 2011 — his third consecutive loss following a 28-fight winning streak — Emelianenko fought three times (successfully) under the M-1 and DREAM banners over the next year before announcing his retirement. While not as short-lived as many MMA retirements, Emelianenko’s came to an end when he returned on New Year’s Eve 2015 to fight for RIZIN, defeating kickboxer Jaideep Singh. The year 2016 saw one more bout for ‘The Last Emperor’ as he earned a somewhat controversial majority decision over Fabio Maldonado in Russia. That all led up to his signing with Bellator, which reunited him with the promoter who he had spent the majority of his previous North American tenure with, Scott Coker. This Saturday will show just how much of an impact Fedor can still make in terms of drawing eyeballs. His first bout with Bellator pits him against Matt Mitrione, and while neither fighter is considered an elite heavyweight, they do make for an intriguing bout. The now 40-year-old Emelianenko has a massive advantage on the ground over Mitrione, who should be more dangerous on the feet and will hold a significant size advantage in the fight. Bellator has put one other solid fight on this card under the main event, as Josh Thomson returns for his third outing with the promotion against former title challenger Patricky ‘Pitbull’ Freire. Thomson has been dominant in his last two apperances, but Freire will provide the stiffest test he’s faced since exiting the UFC. Freire is one of the longest tenured Bellator fighters, this being his 17th appearance with the promotion. The Bellator 172 main card also features: Cheick Kongo taking on fellow UFC veteran Oli Thompson; the (long awaited?) Bellator debut of Josh Koscheck against Mauricio Alonso; and the pro debut of Brooke Mayo, because it wouldn’t really be a Bellator card unless a pretty girl got a main card slot over much more deserving fighters. The betting line for Fedor and Mitrione has been released since early February, and Mitrione has remained a slight favorite the entire time. ‘Meathead’ opened at -135 and currently sits at -150. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the remaining main card lines today at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Take a look… ——————– Bellator 172: Fedor vs. Mitrione FEBRUARY 18, 2017 SAP Center | San Jose, California MAIN CARD (Spike TV, 9pm ET) Fedor Emelianenko -105 Matt Mitrione -135 Over 1.5 +145 Under 1.5 -185 – Patricky Freire +210 Josh Thomson -290 Over 2.5 -140 Under 2.5 +100 – Oli Thompson +200 Cheick Kongo -280 Over 1.5 -135 Under 1.5 -105 – Mauricio Alonso +190 Josh Koscheck -270 Over 2.5 -175 Under 2.5 +135 – ——————– Brad’s Analysis: For as long as Patricky Pitbull has been in Bellator, and how much success his brother has had in the promotion, people sometimes forget that he’s barely above .500 in the organization (9-7). His best win is either David Rickels or Derek Campos, and he earned his title shot by putting a two-fight win streak together against Ryan Couture and Kevin Souza. Whenever he’s stepped up to face the best Bellator has to offer at lightweight, he’s lost (Michael Chandler x2, Eddie Alvarez, Marcin Held, Derek Anderson x2). Even at 38, Thomson belongs right amongst that group. I think he can use his mobility and kicking game on the feet to give Freire angles he can’t work with, and Thomson also has the better wrestling and overall grappling game. It’ll probably be a decision, but I expect a clear one for Thomson. Unless Kongo gets knocked out, he’s more than capable of grinding out fights against most heavyweight. Despite strength being one of his best attributes, Thompson really doesn’t have much in the way of stopping power with his strikes, and few fighters — outside of top wrestlers — are able to outmanuever him in the clinch. Kongo may even be able to land some hard shots as Thompson tires that will allow him to get a stoppage, but he hasn’t really shown a tendency to go for the finish lately. If Koscheck loses to Alonso, it would be by far the worst opponent he’s lost to in his career. So then it becomes a case of: how shot is he? The first four losses of his current five-fight losing streak were reasonable against Top 15 competition (with several being more in the Top 5 range), but the Erick Silva loss is quite worrisome, as Silva has looked severely declined of late as well. I assume that Koscheck will still be able to get takedowns, but if Alonso can create scrambles and make him work, I’m not sure Koscheck sticks around. I’ll certainly be avoiding a bet on Koscheck (unless the price is ridiculous and I can get a pick em or dog price), but I’m not sure there’s enough to make me want to bet Alonso.