#2 Vitaly Minakov vs. Javy Ayala
What a difference a year makes. This time in 2018 Vitaly Minakov was widely recognized as the best Heavyweight outside of the UFC, as he’d put together a 21-0 record and had won 5 fights in Bellator from 2012 to 2014 to capture their Heavyweight title. Contract disputes forced him elsewhere, and a run in the Fight Nights Global promotion seemed to be a precursor for a UFC run, but instead, the big Russian mended fences with Bellator and signed to return there earlier this year.
And well, it hardly went as he would’ve liked. Matched with Cheick Kongo – who he defeated back in 2014 – Minakov put on a stinker of a performance and ended up losing a unanimous decision. In all honesty the fight should probably have been scored for Minakov, who I felt clearly did enough to win at least two rounds, but regardless, it wasn’t a performance worthy of the hype around him.
The most likely explanation? Ring rust. Minakov hadn’t fought since December 2017 before the fight, a layoff as long as any he’d had in his career. Six months later, he will probably be much more ready for action – and a big win here will probably give him a title shot against the winner of the upcoming Kongo/Ryan Bader title fight in September.
Thankfully for him, this fight seems infinitely winnable. Javy Ayala has some big wins on his ledger, most notably over Sergei Kharitonov and Frank Mir, but realistically, he isn’t a top-level Heavyweight contender. Mir and Kharitonov were miles past their prime when Ayala fought them, and I’d argue that his performances against Roy Nelson and Cheick Kongo are more of a barometer as to how he’ll fend against Minakov.
Against Nelson, ‘Eye Candy’ had some early success but was eventually stifled by the ground game of ‘Big Country’, while Kongo picked up a rare knockout win simply by being a more accurate striker, catching Ayala with a clean right hand counter to put him away.
Given Minakov has an extremely powerful ground game with a full arsenal of submissions and ground strikes thanks to his excellent Sambo background, as well as heavy, crisp striking on the feet, I’d say this should be his fight to lose. Ayala clearly hits hard and at Heavyweight that means he’s got a puncher’s chance, but if Minakov comes in looking more ready than he did against Kongo, it’s hard to see him losing really.
The Pick: Minakov via first-round TKOPublished 22 Aug 2019, 22:30 IST