In a curious move considering the criticism the UFC often garnered for the same booking, Bellator MMA has two shows this weekend; Bellator 215 from Uncasville, Connecticut on Friday night and then Bellator 216 from the same venue on Sunday night.
Broadcasting live on the Paramount Network and on the DAZN streaming service in the US, Bellator 215 is clearly the lesser of the two cards, with a Heavyweight main event of Matt Mitrione vs. Sergei Kharitonov, and little else in terms of name value on offer.
Here are the predicted outcomes for Bellator 215: Mitrione vs. Kharitonov.
#1 Matt Mitrione vs. Sergei Kharitonov
It’s quite telling of the Heavyweight division when Sergei Kharitonov – a man who most observers regarded as past his prime in about 2008 – is still competing near the top of the world’s second-biggest MMA promotion. Once considered one of the very best big men on the planet, Kharitonov now occupies the same kind of niche in Bellator that Alistair Overeem does in the UFC – still dangerous, still relevant, but less durable than he was in his prime.
That prime, of course, came back in the PRIDE days, where Kharitonov defeated the likes of Semmy Schilt, Fabricio Werdum and Pedro Rizzo. Since then he’s been on a tour de force of promotions outside the UFC, having plied his trade in DREAM, K-1 – even moonlighting as a kickboxer at one point – StrikeForce, M-1 Global and now finally, Bellator.
In all honesty, his career looked all but over when he debuted in Bellator with a disappointing KO loss to Javy Ayala in 2016, but since then he’s put together a very solid run – 5 wins and a No Contest – and even knocked out Roy Nelson in his most recent fight.
Kharitonov remains largely the same fighter he always was, albeit slower and with a much weaker chin. He’s still a very excellent MMA boxer, able to chain together combinations and work the body as often as he aims for the head. His kicking game is somewhat of a lesser weapon, but he’s got dangerous knees from the clinch and a somewhat underrated grappling game, surprising considering he doesn’t come from a sambo background like a lot of other Russian fighters.
Matt Mitrione meanwhile made the switch to Bellator in 2016 after fighting his entire career with the UFC coming off his stint on TUF 10 in 2009. His MMA success is based almost purely on his explosive athleticism – at 6’3” and 255lbs, ‘Meathead’ is a former NFL player and he’s shockingly quick for such a large man.
That quickness has translated well in terms of his striking, as he flings combinations and kicks out with ease where a Heavyweight with lesser athletic gifts would struggle. Against fighters who’ve been willing to engage him from the outside, Mitrione’s always been highly successful. That’s why, of his 13 wins, 11 of them have come by KO or TKO.
Mitrione’s problem has always been his grappling skills. As he came into MMA at a relatively late stage – he debuted in the UFC at the age of 31 – he’s simply not had the time to properly round out his skills, and so every time he’s been on the ground, he’s looked like a fish out of water. His submission loss to Ben Rothwell in 2015 was a massive example of this, as was his inept performance against Ryan Bader last year.
Thankfully for him though, Kharitonov has never been one to shoot for takedowns, and even if he does, I don’t think he’s a good enough wrestler to really take Mitrione down. For however bad ‘Meathead’ is on the ground, it’s pretty tricky to actually get him there.
That means we’re likely in for a striking battle and in that case, I’m favouring Mitrione. In his prime, Sergei likely would’ve been able to use his more skilled boxing game to find Mitrione’s chin, but I think this slower, less durable version of the Russian simply won’t be quick enough to catch the former NFL man cleanly. And Mitrione if nothing else hits like a ton of bricks.
The Pick: Mitrione via first round KO