Bellator returns with an exciting event this Friday night. San Jose, California, will be the sight of the light heavyweight Grand Prix finals and a highly-anticipated rematch. Scott Coker is no stranger to hosting big events in San Jose. The city and HP Pavilion, in particular, have been synonymous with Coker’s promotions.
Featherweight champion A.J. McKee will make his first title defense when he takes on former champion Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire. The clash will be a rematch of last year’s featherweight Grand Prix final, which saw McKee submit Freire to become the new champion.
The light heavyweight Grand Prix will see reigning light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov take on TUF season 19 winner Corey Anderson. Both fighters have been impressive throughout the tournament, with the champion even overcoming adversity in his semifinal win over Julius Anglickas.
In this list, we look at five questions that could be answered at Bellator 277.
#5. Will Rafael Carvalho snap his losing skid?
Former Bellator middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho is at a crossroads in his career. He is on a three-fight losing skid and is 1-4 in his last five fights.
Following his unanimous decision loss to Alex Polizzi in 2020, Carvalho was released by the promotion. However, he was given another chance last year when he replaced Costello can Steenis for a bout with Lorenz Larkin. It was great effort, especially considering he accepted the fight on six days' notice. He came out on the losing end once again, though, as the judges awarded Larkin the split decision.
It seems as though the promotion is repaying him for his performance on short notice by giving him another opportunity. It will be a tough task as he’ll be fighting Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov, who is in a similar situation. He was defeated by Corey Anderson via TKO in the opening round of the light heavyweight Grand Prix. He then lost a unanimous decision to Karl Albrektsson last October.
#4. Can Linton Vassell get closer to a Bellator heavyweight title shot?
Former title challenger Linton Vassell has been successful and looks to have found a great fit in Bellator’s heavyweight division. In 2019, it didn’t look like he would be in the promotion much longer. However, he has turned things around and has shown plenty of improvements.
Vassell returned to the heavyweight division in 2019 after back-to-back losses to Phil Davis and current heavyweight champion Ryan Bader. His return to the weight class didn’t go his way initially, as eventual interim heavyweight champion Valentin Moldavsky defeated him via unanimous decision.
Despite being on a three-fight losing skid, ‘The Swarm’ remained at heavyweight, a show of perserverence that ended up being the correct decision. He earned back-to-back TKO wins over Sergei Kharitonov and Ronny Markes, as well as a split decision win over Tyrell Fortune last November.
Vassell has an excellent opportunity to get closer to a heavyweight title shot if he wins his fourth straight fight this Friday. Bader is scheduled to defend the title against Cheick Kongo next month, so the timing could work out well.
#3. Will Aaron Pico extend his winning streak?
Aaron Pico will be looking to make another statement and get his name into the Bellator featherweight title picture. The young phenom is widely regarded as one of the promotion’s greatest prospects and homegrown stars. This is high praise considering the caliber of fighters that’ve made a name for themselves while competing in the promotion.
Pico was originally scheduled to compete against No.7-ranked featherweight Jeremy Kennedy. However, the UFC vet was forced off the card with an injury and was replaced by Adli Edwards. It will be interesting to see how the fight plays out as Edwards accepted the bout on just 8 days' notice.
The bout is also a risky one for Pico, with there being added pressure because of his ranking and skillset. If he wins, it will extend his winning streak to four and put him in the mix for a title shot.
Depending on what transpires in the main event, Pico could set himself up for a rematch with Adam Borics.
#2. Who will win the Bellator light heavyweight Grand Prix?
Bellator will conclude its light heavyweight Grand Prix when reigning champion Vadim Nemkov defends against Corey Anderson. Both are looking to prove that they are the best 205lber in the world and they’ll get that opportunity at Bellator 277.
Nemkov has been unbeaten since joining the promotion and has defeated former champions on his way to the Grand Prix final. He won the title in 2020 when he finished Ryan Bader in the second round following a head kick and ground strikes. It was an impressive win, especially considering Bader held both heavyweight and light heavyweight gold simultaneously.
He then followed that up with his second win over former champion Phil Davis and a submission win over Julius Anglickas.
‘Overtime’ has been equally as impressive since joining the promotion following his tenure with the UFC. He finished former title challenger Melvin Manhoef, as well as Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov. His recent win was his most impressive to date as he finished Bader in 51 seconds to advance to the Grand Prix final.
#1. Will the Bellator featherweight championship rematch have the same outcome?
The rematch between Bellator featherweight champion A.J. McKee and Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire is an interesting main event. Their first encounter saw McKee make quick work of Freire to win the featherweight Grand Prix and featherweight championship. It was a coronation and passing of the torch of sorts as ‘Mercenary’ defeated arguably the promotion’s greatest fighter.
It will be interesting to see whether ‘Pitbull’ is able to recover from the loss and regain the featherweight championship. Prior to the loss to McKee, Freire was the reigning featherweight and lightweight champion and was riding a seven-fight winning streak.
The outcome of the fight will also be telling of the promotion’s plans going forward. Prior to the Grand Prix final, McKee mentioned it would be a matter of time before he moves to lightweight.
If he wins at Bellator 277, he will likely move up to 155 pounds, potentially resulting in the featherweight championship being vacated. If ‘Pitbull’ wins, it could set the stage for a trilogy bout later this year.
Q. Who do you think wins the rematch?
Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire