Friday's loaded Bellator 207 card from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, is being headlined by a heavyweight grand prix clash between Matt Mitrione and Ryan Bader.
Mitrione is riding one of the hottest streaks of his mixed martial arts career. The 40-year-old has won each of his last four fights, including a decision win over Roy Nelson in the quarterfinals of Bellator's heavyweight tournament in February.
Bader is making just his second career appearance as a heavyweight. His first showing was a rousing success, scoring a 15-second TKO win over Muhammed Lawal in May.
Bellator 207 Viewing Information
Date: Oct. 12
Start Time: 9 p.m. ET (main card on Paramount Network); 6:30 p.m. ET (preliminary card on Paramount Network)
Live Stream: ParamountNetwork.com
Bellator 207 Main Card
Heavyweight Bout: Matt Mitrione (13-5) vs. Ryan Bader (25-5)
Heavyweight Bout: Roy Nelson (23-15) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (26-6)
Welterweight Bout: Lorenz Larkin (19-7) vs. Ion Pascu (18-8)
Lightweight Bout: Kevin Ferguson Jr. (3-1) vs. Corey Browning (3-2)
Lightweight Bout: Carrington Banks (7-1) vs. Mandel Nallo (6-0)
Main Event Prediction
Bader has transformed into a strong stand-up fighter as his career has gone on. His TKO win over Lawal was the 10th of his career and the fourth in his past five matches.
Mitrione has 13 career victories, with 11 by knockout and two by decision.
Bader, on the other hand, checks in at 6'2" and 230 pounds with a 74-inch reach. He is the current Bellator light heavyweight titleholder but made the move up in weight class from 205 in an attempt to become a two-division champion.
Bader told MMANews.com's Damon Martin:
"I feel like I'm strong enough, big enough for heavyweight already as is and I want to keep what makes me good, which is my quickness, my cardio, all the things that come with that. It's not like I'm trying to bulk up to 240 or anything. I'm trying to stay around my natural weight, which is 230. Keeping what has made me good at light heavyweight."
Based on the size difference, Bader's best approach against Mitrione will be going back to his wrestling roots. Darth was a two-time All-American at Arizona State and looked like a potential UFC star based on his track record in that discipline.
By adding power and striking to his game, Bader has become an excellent all-around fighter.
Mitrione's recent wins have come against opponents well past their prime. Nelson and Fedor Emelianenko, whom Mitrione defeated in June 2017, are both 42 years old. Nelson has lost eight of his last 12 fights.
Friday's match against Bader will be the first real test Mitrione has had since his final UFC bout, a loss against Travis Browne, in January 2016.
Bader is in much better condition to carry the fight if it goes deep into the second and third rounds. He has more ways to win as a striker and a wrestler than Mitrione, who has to land punches to succeed.
Prediction: Bader wins via unanimous decision