Bellator 116 Preview for ‘Johnson vs Ivanov’ Tonight (April 11) in Temecula

Lavar JohnsonBellator 116 is upon us, as we get a double dose of MMA on April 11th, as the UFC is live from Abu Dhabi in the afternoon and Bellator comes to us on Spike from the Pechenga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California. Not only will we see a semifinal fight for the heavyweight tournament, but we’ll see a welterweight and middleweight tournament semifinal as well. But wait, that’s not all! Vladimir Matyushenko will have his retirement fight against Joey Beltran. It’s kind of stacked, this card.

The main event is a heavyweight tournament semifinal fight between “Big” Lavar Johnson (18-8) and Blagoy Ivanov (10-0-1). Ivanov is 5-0 in Bellator, and his No Contest reads like an interesting MMA footnote of yore considering where both men are fighting now (get to it, Nawara). Ivanov’s lone mark on his nearly spotless record comes from a ring breaking out from underneath him and the UFC’s Ilir Latifi in 2008. Since then, he’s gone 8-0 and the only times he went to a decision, he broke both of his hands in a World Victory Road fight against Kazuyuki Fujita and in his last fight, against the tough Rich Hale. If you’re familiar with MMA over the last few years, you know Lavar Johnson, the UFC and Strikeforce vet who can’t help but get into a fight where either him or someone else goes to sleep in the most violent of fashions. Ivanov has a strong ground game, and if he trips Johnson, it’s all over for the big man, but if it stay standing, it’s anyone’s game. Johnson broke his recent 3-fight skid by TKOing Ryan Martinez at Bellator 111, which gave him his 16th win via strikes. If it stays standing – Johnson has every reason to win. If it goes to the ground, Ivanov will have his way with him.
On the other side of the bracket for the heavyweight tournament, we have Mighty Mo (6-2) taking on former Bellator heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov (20-4). I have publicly picked against Mighty Mo in every single Bellator fight (MMA fight even) in his entire career. I don’t understand his athletic resurgence after go 3-15 to end his kickboxing career and going 3-2 to start his MMA career. Still, he has impressed against Bellator’s decent heavyweight division. He subbed Ron Sparks and Peter Graham, neither of which are grappling dynamos, but Mo simply shouldn’t be subbing anyone. Or should he? Volkov is better than him in every way. He has 15 knockouts and one sub, which means Mighty Mo has more submissions than this sambo-based badass, but it’s still his fight to lose. He has the size advantage, is better in the clinch and on the ground. Will Mighty Mo surprise once again? I’m picking no, but that hasn’t worked out for me.
The welterweight semis are underway, as up and comers Nathan Coy (14-4) and Adam McDonough (10-0) try to make a place for themselves in the wide-open welterweight division. Be prepared to watch McDonough’s spinning back kick knockout over Johnny Buck about 50 times in the lead up to this fight, which is fine, because McDonough has looked like a killer in his Bellator run, but he’s more than just flashy – he’s got a well-rounded game that will be tough for Coy to penetrate. Coy was the Maximum Fighting Championship welterweight champion and was ousted from Strikeforce after going 0-2 at the hands of Tyron Woodley and Nathan Moore. He’s a good wrestler and it comes off in his fight results – decison win, decision win, decision win. If McDonough can stuff the takedown, which he’s entirely capable of, Coy is screwed. If Coy can complete his shot, he can do some damage on top.
To open the main event, we have two old vets banging in honor of Vladimir Matyushenko’s (27-7) retirement. Joey Beltran (14-10-1) will send the former UFC championship contender into the sunset with what will likely be a wild first minute or two. Much like any end to a sporting career, it hasn’t been pretty for these two of late. Beltran is 1-5-1 in his last seven and Vlad is 1-2. That paints a more nasty picture of Vlad than I intend, so he’s also 3-3 in his last six, 6-3 in his last 9 and 27-7 in his last 34. Vlad still has solid wrestling abilities and a decent right hand, but at 43-years-old, it’s time. Beltran has seemingly lost most of his skills, as he lost to Quinton Jackson on short notice back in November, when he filled in for the injured Tito Ortiz, and he did it exactly how Bellator was hoping – via nasty knockout. Beltran’s chin is depleted, his gas tank is questionable, and he hasn’t shown much diversity outside of standing and banging in recent years. If Matyushenko can ride him like he did Houston Alexander last September, he can get the easy W.
The prelim main event coming to us from is Joe Pacheco (7-1) vs Brandon Halsey (5-0) in the middleweight tournament semis after Dan Cramer was offered a new opponent and declined them. It’s weird, and I’m not sure what to say, but here’s what’s up with these guys. Basically, Pacheco is a 29-year-old wrestler with good ground and pound and basic submission skills, while Halsey is more comfortable on his feet. Look for Pacheco to work the takedowns and make Halsey work from the bottom. Halsey knocked out UFC vet Hector Ramirez in 52 seconds at Bellator 106, while Pacheco is coming off the first loss of his career – a second round submission to Brennan Ward via guillotine.

Written by Jason Nawara

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Bellator 116 Play: Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko (-130) vs Joey “The Mexicutioner” Beltran (+110)

Bellator 116 Play: Nathan Coy (-200) vs Adam McDonough (+170)