Bellator 214: Fedor vs. Bader - Predictions and Picks

Fedor Emelianenko and Ryan Bader will main event Bellator 214
Fedor Emelianenko and Ryan Bader will main event Bellator 214

Bellator MMA presents its latest ‘tentpole’ show on Saturday, as Bellator 124: Fedor vs. Bader goes down live from the Forum in Inglewood, California. The show goes unopposed by the UFC after the cancellation of UFC 233, meaning the eyes of the MMA world should be fully focused on the Scott Coker-headed promotion for once.

The 5-fight main card will air on both the Paramount network and on the DAZN streaming service, and the top three fights at least are fantastic; we’ll see a new Bellator Heavyweight champion crowned for the first time since 2016, a former WWE superstar makes his MMA debut, and one of the top prospects in the sport is back in action against his toughest test to date.

Here are the predicted outcomes for Bellator 124: Fedor vs. Bader.

#1 Fedor Emelianenko vs. Ryan Bader

Who will come out on top - Bader or Fedor?
Who will come out on top - Bader or Fedor?

In a fight to decide both the winner of Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix and the new Bellator Heavyweight champion, the consensus greatest Heavyweight in the history of MMA – Fedor Emelianenko – takes on former UFC star and current Bellator Light-Heavyweight champion Ryan Bader.

Regardless of the winner, we’ll see history made; if Bader wins, he’ll become Bellator’s first double champion, an achievement which would probably rank as the biggest in the history of the promotion, and if Fedor wins, it’ll crown a stunning comeback for the Russian that many people would never have seen coming when he lost to Matt Mitrione in his promotional debut.

In all honesty, it’s hard to take a lot from the recent fights of both men. Fedor defeated Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen to make this final, but there’s a clear argument that both of those fighters are as far past their primes as Fedor himself, and the Russian took some serious damage in the Mir fight before pulling off the win.

Bader meanwhile defeated two stylistic lay-ups in the form of King Mo Lawal and Matt Mitrione; Lawal’s deteriorated chin made him an easy target for Bader’s power punching, and Mitrione’s ground game has always been his Achilles heel, which made him easy pickings for Bader’s wrestling.

Size also shouldn’t make too much of a difference in this one. Fedor has fought nearly all of his career at Heavyweight, but as a smaller, chubby Heavyweight weighing around 235lbs. Bader meanwhile was always a huge 205lber with a big frame, and so adding some muscle to move up to Heavyweight hasn’t been an issue at all. If anything, Bader may come in with a size advantage.

The problem I’m having picking this one basically stems from a lack of trust in Bader’s defences. For all intents and purposes, the former NCAA Division I wrestler is in his prime while Fedor is way past his, he hits super-hard and Fedor’s ability to absorb punishment is massively deteriorated, and even in his prime, Fedor never had the greatest takedown defense. All of that suggests this should be an easy win for Bader.

And yet, how can you count Fedor out? In his prime he was almost impossible to put away – just ask Kevin Randleman, Kazuyuki Fujita or Brett Rogers – but while he doesn’t have that kind of durability any more, he’s still a highly dangerous fighter when it comes to offense. He’s no stranger to pulling sudden submissions out of the bag from his back, and everyone knows that at Heavyweight, the last thing to go is a fighter’s punching power.

What’s more, Bader has never been the most durable fighter himself. Of his 5 career losses, 3 of them came via knockout and one of the other two – his 2011 loss to Tito Ortiz – was primarily set up after Bader was knocked down by a punch. If Fedor catches him cleanly, could he put ‘Darth’ away? For sure, and that’s what makes this such an interesting fight.

That’s not to say that Fedor only has a puncher’s chance, too. He managed to get into top position during scrambles against an excellent wrestler in Chael Sonnen, and his ground-and-pound remains second-to-none – while Bader’s skill off his back looked pretty negligible in his 2016 fight with Anthony Johnson.

At the end of the day though, I’m picking Bader here based on the fact that Fedor’s durability isn’t what it used to be, and I can’t see Bader taking too many silly risks. I suspect he’ll come out looking for the takedown right away, and will look to use his own ground-and-pound to take the Russian legend out.

Against a top wrestler with less power in his shots – think Phil Davis for instance – I’d be tempted to take Fedor, but Bader throws seriously heavy hands and assuming he doesn’t make any early mistakes, this should be his fight to lose. To see Fedor win would not shock me, though – he made a career from beating the odds at times and this would cap it all off nicely.

The Pick: Bader via first-round TKO

#2 Aaron Pico vs. Henry Corrales

Aaron Pico might be the finest prospect in all of MMA
Aaron Pico might be the finest prospect in all of MMA

In the semi-main event of the night, hot prospect Aaron Pico takes on tough veteran Henry Corrales in what should be the toughest test of his career. Corrales might have far less hype behind him than Pico, but he’s been fighting professionally since 2011, has won his past 4 fights against tough opposition and has only lost to the best Bellator has to offer – Patricio Pitbull, Daniel Straus and Emmanuel Sanchez.

Pico meanwhile – still aged just 22 – has been perfect since his shocking loss to Zach Freeman in his professional debut back in 2017. He’s torn through his last 4 opponents, beating all of them by KO or TKO, and hasn’t gone out of the first round. His bodyshot stoppage of Shane Kruchten, in particular, was absolutely vicious, and with an outstanding background in boxing and wrestling, it’s easy to understand why there’s so much talk of him perhaps being the best prospect in the sport’s history.

Corrales will be an interesting test for him simply because judging on his past fights, he appears to be far tougher than all of Pico’s previous opponents. He’s battle tested, and incredibly enough, of his 19 career fights, only 3 of them have ended in the first round. Those three losses he’s got in Bellator all came in tough fights and his loss to Sanchez came via split decision, although it was a clear loss.

If Pico finds it hard to put Corrales away early, then, he could be in for a long night. Discounting the Freeman fight, as it was over so suddenly, Pico literally hasn’t ever faced adversity inside the cage as all of his other opponents simply wilted under his power. Corrales may well do the same, but if he doesn’t? Then who knows how Pico might react?

I’m going to take Pico here based on a few things; firstly, I think his ceiling is at least as high as Pitbull’s and probably higher than the ceilings of Straus and Sanchez, and while he’s not the finished article yet, his offense is already at the stage where he’ll be able to put even tough fighters away. Secondly, he’s one of Bellator’s few homegrown stars, and it would make no sense for Scott Coker to push him too far too soon – particularly after the disastrous Freeman fight.

That makes me suspect that while Corrales is a tough fighter, Bellator’s matchmakers probably know that his rough-and-ready style could play into the more technical Pico’s hands, and to add to that, his excellent record is largely built on extremely low-level fighters, meaning his 15-3 might not be as great as it initially looks.

Corrales might have some moments early on and could well be the first fighter to push Pico out of the first round, but I think Pico’s striking power will prove to be the difference, and he’ll put Corrales away down the stretch, perhaps by ground-and-pound.

The Pick: Pico via second round TKO

#3 Jake Hager vs. JW Kiser

Can former WWE superstar Jake Hager succeed in MMA?
Can former WWE superstar Jake Hager succeed in MMA?

Formerly known as WWE superstar Jack Swagger – who held the World Heavyweight title there in 2010 – Jake Hager will be making his MMA debut here, becoming the latest crossover from the world of pro-wrestling. The last man to do that on this big of a stage was CM Punk, and of course, everyone knows that went horribly – he was embarrassed in his 2 UFC fights against pretty low-level opposition.

Hager might be different though in that, unlike Punk, he’s bringing a genuine wrestling background with him into Bellator’s cage. Like former UFC Heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar, Hager is a former NCAA Division I wrestler out of the University of Oklahoma, meaning he’ll automatically hold a massive advantage over most of the low-level Heavyweights he’s likely to face early on.

Kiser has to be included on that list. Bellator has Kiser’s record as 1-1; Sherdog has it at 0-1, but either way he’s clearly not a top-level fighter, and this is his Bellator debut too. Sure, Hager could get caught by a big shot and find himself knocked out – this is MMA after all – but the likelihood of the former WWE man being thoroughly owned like Punk was by Mickey Gall seems low.

Ignoring Hager’s WWE background – which could be worrying in the future given the damage his body has already gone through – his wrestling should be enough to pull him through here against an opponent the level of Kiser. At 36 I doubt he can develop into a genuine title contender – time isn’t on his side – but he could surprise me yet. I think he wins comfortably via ground-and-pound here.

The Pick: Hager via first round TKO

#4 Juan Archuleta vs. Ricky Bandejas

Ricky Bandejas knocked out the hyped James Gallagher in his Bellator debut
Ricky Bandejas knocked out the hyped James Gallagher in his Bellator debut

This Bantamweight fight is flying under the radar somewhat due to the high profile of the three top fights on this card, but perhaps it deserves a little more publicity. Firstly, both fighters have fantastic records on paper – Archuleta is 21-1 with 3 Bellator wins, and Bandejas is 11-1. But while Archuleta has the stronger record and more experience, it’s Bandejas I’m more interested in.

That’s because in his Bellator debut last August, Bandejas ended the hype train of Ireland’s James Gallagher – a man Scott Coker seemed to be trying to build as his own version of Conor McGregor. Gallagher talked an insane amount of trash leading into the fight and taunted Bandejas heavily coming in, but it didn’t help him as Bandejas destroyed him with strikes – including a Shawn Michaels-inspired superkick – in the first round.

Judging on that, we could be in for some excitement here as Archuleta appears to be an extremely flashy and creative striker with power and speed both on his side. He’s busted out cartwheel kicks, flying knees and spinning elbows in his previous bouts, and clearly knows how to finish his opponents, judging by 10 KO’s or TKO’s on his record.

Sure, it’s easy to question his level of opposition, but then it’s not like Bandejas has been fighting top-level opposition either. Despite their respective ages (Bandejas is 27, Archuleta is 31) I’d still class both men as prospects and whoever wins this one could find themselves rocketing up the rankings in Bellator due to the promotion’s general lack of depth.

I’m tempted to go with Bandejas here due to that Gallagher win but the more I think about it, I’m leaning towards Archuleta; ‘The Spaniard’ has more experience, seems to have more striking power, and I think he’ll have enough to win a bit of a war.

The Pick: Archuleta via unanimous decision

#5 Adel Altamimi vs. Brandon McMahan

Adel Altamimi (right) makes his Bellator debut on Saturday
Adel Altamimi (right) makes his Bellator debut on Saturday

This seems like an odd fight for Bellator to place on a tentpole main card – Altamimi is currently 7-5 in MMA and coming off a loss, while McMahan is currently 5-6, and neither man has fought in Bellator before. But it’s clearly a goodwill gesture to Altamimi, who is currently a coach as part of Jay Glazer’s Merging Vets and Players charity – which aims to link combat veterans with retired professional athletes to give both groups support.

Altamimi’s story is pretty wild; contracted by US Marines as a convoy driver in Iraq, he was captured by Al-Qaeda and witnessed the murders of his cousin and his best friend before Marines saved him at the last possible moment. Essentially, he’s experienced the kind of trauma that few other professional fighters ever have done.

Altamimi might not develop into a contender – his last loss actually came at the hands of Juan Archuleta – but I can’t see any way that Bellator would’ve given him a particularly tricky opponent in his promotional debut, and as it took me forever to even find any information on McMahan, and most of his fight footage is years old and of poor quality, I’m happy to pick Altamimi to win.

The Pick: Altamimi via first round submission

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