2016 ended on a stretch of endlessly fascinating and exciting happenings.
Conor McGregor became the first dual champion in UFC history, Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson had an amazing fight and Amanda Nunes tore through Ronda Rousey like she was a six-year-old ripping through Christmas packages.
But because those fights were compressed at the end of the year, 2017 will get off to a bit of a slow start. Yair Rodriguez’s performance shined at UFC Fight Night 103, but the mood still ended up more somber because of how B.J. Penn looked in defeat.
Enter Bellator’s 170th edition.
The main event between Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen may not produce fireworks in the cage once the bell sounds, but the lead-up to it certainly has. Luckily for fans, the undercard to this event will bring it.
Bleacher Report’s Scott Harris and Nathan McCarter take a look at two of the hottest bouts early in this new year.
Nathan: Scott, there may not be a more enticing fight for the casual fan than Brennan Ward vs. Paul Daley.
Sure, their focus is largely on the UFC, but Ward-Daley is exactly the kind of fight they crave. It features aggressive, heavy-handed warriors who want nothing more than to see their opponents unconscious on the canvas.
Ward has won five of his last six and is coming off an 86-second KO of Saad Awad. Daley is known as “Semtex” for a reason. This is the type of fight that gets crowds off their feet and splashing beer on nearby fans from all the gesticulation.
Daley vs. Ward is the ultimate popcorn-movie summer blockbuster by Michael Bay. There’s not going to be huge implications from the bout, and it’ll lack technical proficiency at times, but it will surely be explosive.
I know you have your eye on yet another fight on the undercard that’s set to deliver. What do you have, Scott?
Scott: Forget Chael-Tito and the battle of the geriatrics. When Hisaki Kato vs. Ralek Gracie is the most interesting and potentially exciting bout on this card.
All Kato does is knock people out. In a 7-2 record, all seven wins came by TKO or KO. A natural southpaw, Kato and his Kudo karate background are difficult to prepare for, as are the extremely hard and hyper-aggressive strikes he tends to throw.
On Saturday the French-Japanese middleweight goes for a 3-1 record under the Bellator banner. His only loss? That would be to Melvin Manhoef, one of the most powerful striking berserkers this sport has ever known.
Kato won’t face that problem against Gracie. Yes, this is indeed the perfect striker-grappler matchup. No one who cares about sports would see the Gracie surname and think anything other than “jiu-jitsu.” Understandably so. If Gracie can take Kato down, it's the Brazilian’s world.
The thing is, the 31-year-old Gracie hasn’t competed in pro MMA since 2010. He better hope Dorothy brought the oil can if he’s going to stand a chance against a striker as bloodthirsty as Kato.
Ultimately, this could be no-lose for fans. No matter where the fight goes, it’s hard not to see it playing out in a stoppage.
Nathan: These two fights alone are worth the price of admission or a flick of the remote over to Spike for the action. Also on the main card, Georgi Karakhanyan takes on Emmanuel Sanchez and Derek Campos battles Derek Anderson, both of which could supply some early fun, as well.
And we didn’t touch on some preliminary contests that will stream on the interwebs. Cody Bollinger always swings leather, but chiefly we missed Rebecca Ruth taking on Colleen Schneider.
Ortiz-Sonnen may grab the headline and the attention, but that’s what a main event is supposed to do. And if you’ve watched MMA over the years, you know that it isn’t likely to produce huge fireworks, but the undercard offers some of the best early action in all of MMA. It’d be a shame if you overlooked and missed what’s happening on Saturday.