Bellator 222 brings a mix of familiar faces and potential stars

Michael Hiscoe MMATorch contributor

Bellator returns to Madison Square Garden on Friday night with a card full of familiar faces to UFC fans but also some top-notch fighters that casual viewers may not know but will certainly want to check out.

Headlining the show is a semi-final bout in Bellator’s welterweight grand prix tournament. Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald takes on Neiman Gracie and the title will be on the line.

MacDonald is coming off of a controversial majority draw against Jon Fitch only seven weeks ago. One of the ringside judges and our own Cole Henry scored the fight in Fitch’s favor but the rules of the tournament dictated that in the case of a draw, the champion would move on.

MacDonald sounded conflicted about his fighting future in the aftermath of the Fitch fight saying, “It takes a certain spirit to come in here and put a man through pain, and I don’t know if I have that same drive to hurt people anymore.” Nonetheless, MacDonald is taking the fight against Gracie with a quick turnaround and his mental state may turn out to be the story of the fight.

The undefeated Gracie may be the dark horse of this tournament. In nine professional fights, Gracie has eight submission wins including a fourth-round rear-naked choke of Ed Ruth last December. MacDonald makes for a big step up in competition for Gracie, who has yet to fight anyone who has even had a sniff at the top ten in his short career.

Underneath the main event is a fight between known commodities in what was originally billed as the evening’s headliner. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida takes on Chael Sonnen in a fight that has somehow eluded us all of these years.

Machida impressed in his Bellator debut, taking a unanimous decision over Rafael Carvalho in Honolulu back in December.

Sonnen’s Bellator run has been spotty at best.

He picked up a couple of wins over Wanderlei Silva and Quinton Jackson but did not look good at all in losses to Fedor Emelianenko or Tito Ortiz. If Sonnen can get the fight to the ground he may have a chance, but otherwise, he may have difficulty with Machida’s unorthodox striking arsenal.

Somewhat under the radar is an interpromotional bout between Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell and Kyoji Horiguchi.

This title fight is a rematch from RIZIN’s New Year’s Eve event that Horiguchi won by third-round submission. Since leaving UFC for RIZIN in 2017, Horiguchi has won nine straight and has emerged as one of the top bantamweights in the world.

Caldwell will look to redeem himself and Bellator’s honor on home turf. If Horiguchi wins again, it will be interesting to see if he continues to fight for Bellator, or if he will defend the Bellator championship in RIZIN, or just vacate.

Good friend and training partner of Conor McGregor, Dillon Danis takes on Max Humphrey in a 175 pound catchweight bout. Danis’ lone pro fight was a first-round submission over Kyle Walker at Bellator 198 in April 2018.

Humphrey has a 3-2 record on the regional circuit, and, at least on paper, this appears to be a fight set up to showcase Danis for the Bellator audience.

Rounding out the main card is featherweight bout between former bantamweight champ Eduardo Dantas and Juan Archuleta. Archuleta has looked good of late and has a 22-1 record so this may be an opportunity for a star-making performance against a fighter with some name value and championship credentials.

Notable preliminary fights include Aaron Pico fighting for the seventh time in his two year career, this time against Adam Borics and also former pro boxer Heather Hardy taking on Taylor Turner.

The entire Bellator 222 card streams live on DAZN with prelims beginning at 6:30 PM ET and the Main Card at 10 PM ET.

Full Bellator 222 Fight Card

Main card 

Welterweight Rory MacDonald (c) vs. Neiman Gracie
Light Heavyweight Lyoto Machida vs. Chael Sonnen
Bantamweight Darrion Caldwell (c) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi
Catchweight (175 lbs.) Dillon Danis vs. Max Humphrey
Bantamweight Eduardo Dantas vs. Juan Archuleta

Preliminary card

Bantamweight Ricky Bandejas vs. Patrick Mix
Featherweight Aaron Pico vs. Adam Borics
Flyweight Brandon Polcare vs. Brandon Medina
Bantamweight Mike Kimbel vs. Sebastian Ruiz
Women’s Flyweight Heather Hardy vs. Taylor Turner
Welterweight Haim Gozali vs. Gustavo Wurlitzer
Middleweight Phil Hawes vs. Michael Wilcox
Catchweight (165 lbs.) Kastriot Xhema vs. Whitney Francois
Featherweight John Beneduce vs. Kenny Rivera
Welterweight Robson Gracie vs. Oscar Vera
Catchweight (112 lbs.) Rena Kubota vs. Lindsey VanZandt
Women’s Flyweight Valerie Loureda vs. Larkyn Dasch

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