Bellator MMA returns to the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Oklahoma for Bellator 181 on Friday night. This is the promotions one and only event for the month of July. The main event will be fought at a catch weight when Derek Campos squares off against Brandon Girtz for the third time. Campos won the first fight by unanimous decision at Bellator 96. They fought again at Bellator 146 where Girtz finished Campos in 37 seconds into the first round.
The co-main event features long time UFC and Bellator veteran Kendall Grove taking on the surging John Salter in a battle of middleweights. The four-fight main card rounds out with Jessica Middleton stepping in on short notice for the injured Valerie Letourneau taking on Emily Ducote in the women’s flyweight division and in the men’s bantamweight division Joe Warren goes up against Steve Garcia.
The prelims will stream live at bellator.spike.com at 5 p.m. CT with the main card starting at 8PM CT on Spike.
Brandon Girtz (14-6) vs. Derek Campos (18-6) – Catchweight 157 lbs.
Current Odds: After getting stopped by Girtz in 37 seconds at Bellator 146, Derek Campos has won his last three fights. In his most recent win he put on an excellent performance by beating Derek Anderson by unanimous decision in a fight I expected him to lose. Campos is 7-3 since coming to Bellator with the losses coming against some of the lightweight division’s best in Girtz, Michael Chandler and Patricky Freire. The twenty-nine year old boasts ten finishes in eighteen career wins.
After winning three in a row, Brandon Girtz has now lost his last two fights. He lost both by decision, first to Adam Piccolotti at Bellator 165 and most recently Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 174. The fight against Gonzalez was on short notice and at 170 lbs. Fighting out of the Grudge Training Center, the thirty-two year old has eight wins by submission to go along with two by KO/TKO.
These are two fighters heading in opposite directions. For Girtz, he hasn’t won a fight since beating Campos, and for Campos a win here can put him line for a title shot depending on how the promotion handles the Chandler vs. Primus situation.
While I think this will be a good fight, I don’t expect Campos to get knocked out again. Girtz will come out aggressively and pressure Campos in an effort to get him out of there early. Only this time Campos will weather the early storm and might even take some damage, but ultimately he’s the better fighter. Expect Campos to take the rubber match by decision.
Pick: Campos by decision
John Salter (13-3) vs. Kendall Grove (23-16) – Middleweight 185 lbs.
Current Odds: John Salter enters Friday’s fight against Kendall Grove riding a five-fight win streak. The last three of those victories occurred under the Bellator banner. His most recent fight took place at Bellator 168 where he finished Claudio Annicchiarico with punches in the first round. Fighting out the Dethrone Base Camp, the thirty-two year old has thirteen finishes in thirteen career wins. Seven are by KO/TKO to go along with six by submission. In fact, in sixteen fights, Salter has yet to leave it to the judges.
Long-time veteran Kendall Grove makes the walk for the fortieth time on Friday night. The thirty-four year old Hawaiian native has seventeen finishes in twenty-three career wins with ten coming by way of submission and seven by knockout. Grove had won two fights in a row until he was stopped in his most recent fight against Alexander Shlemenko at Bellator 162.
Like most fights, Kendall Grove will have the height and reach advantage. Grove is at his best when he can use his reach advantage and create space and control range. If he is capable of executing this game plan I think he has a good chance at winning here. However, if Salter has success getting inside I think he’ll be able to do some damage. Although Grove is adequate on the ground, I think he tries to avoid going there at all costs against Salter.
I expect Salter to get inside Grove’s range and inflict enough damage to be able to take Grove to the mat where he will finish the fight.
Pick: Salter by TKO
Emily Ducote (5-2) vs. Jessica Middleton (2-1) – Flyweight 125 lbs.
Current Odds: Jessica Middleton steps in for the injured Valerie Letourneau on very short notice to face rising prospect Emily Ducote. Middleton started her Bellator career 2-0, but she lost her most recent fight to Ilima-Lei Macfarlane at Bellator 178.
Emily Ducote is 3-1 under the Bellator banner with all three wins coming via submission. Her most recent submission win was against Katy Collins at Bellator 174. The Oklahoma City native comes home where she will have the hometown fans in her corner.
Middleton is a technical striker who likes to maintain distance and pick her opponents apart from the outside. She’s going to have to use her jab and kicks in order to keep Ducote at bay. Ducote will pressure Middleton throughout the fight and if she has success getting inside she might finish Middleton with strikes. Ducote also has the advantage on the ground and with three wins by submission in five career fights, a win by submission is my official pick.
Pick: Ducote by submission
Joe Warren (14-6) vs. Steve Garcia (7-1) – Bantamweight 135 lbs.
Current Odds: Forty year old veteran Joe Warren makes the walk for the eleventh time under the Bellator banner on Friday night. After starting out 4-0, Warren is just 2-2 over his last four in Bellator. His most recent fight was at Bellator 166 where he lost to Eduardo Dantas by majority decision. Covering the fight for this site, I didn’t think it was as close as two of the judges scored it. Warren has never been known as a finisher considering 64% of his wins have gone to the judge’s scorecards. On the flip side, he’s been finished in five of his six losses.
After starting his career winning his first six fights, Steve Garcia now finds himself 1-1 over his previous two. He lost to Ricky Turcios, who just lost to Boston Salmon in Week 1 of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series, at Bellator 151 by split decision. Garcia bounced back by decisioning Ronnie Lawrence at Bellator 162. The twenty-five year old has five wins by knockout in his seven career wins.
This fight will come down to which fighter is able to impose their will on the other. Joe Warren, a NCAA All-American wrestler and Greco Roman-gold medalist at the 2006 FILA Wrestling World Championships, will do everything he can to get the fight to the ground. While Garcia knows his path to victory is by keeping the fight on the feet and getting Warren out of there early.
If Garcia is to win the fight it will be by knockout in the first round. As long as Warren can weather the early onslaught, eventually he will start to have success getting Garcia to the ground where he will grind out a win by decision.
Pick: Warren by decision
Prelims Quick Picks
Cotton over Rodriguez
Rhodes over Lovato
Lawrence over Thomison
Seumanutafa over Moldavsky
Marigo over Howard
Fialho over Matthews
Bell over Elkin
Storley over Haley
Gary over Florentino
Brooks over Bomba
Vargas over Collins
Gomez over Trevino
Enjoy the fights!
NOW CHECK OUT THIS ARTICLE: DANA WHITE CONTENDER’S SERIES PREVIEW 7/11: Grocke’s preview of fights on debut episode tonight on Fight Pass