17/08/2018

Bellator 198 predictions -- Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir fight card, odds, preview

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Bellator 198 predictions -- Fedor Emelianenko vs. Frank Mir fight card, odds, preview

The Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix reaches its third matchup of the first round

The Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix reaches its third matchup of the first round

The eight-man Bellator MMA Heavyweight World Grand Prix tournament has the potential to produce a variety of interesting pairings between some of the biggest names in the sport over the past decade.  

It's fair to argue, however, that there isn't a matchup more sexy in terms of celebrity, and more difficult to handicap considering the questions surrounding both fighters than Saturday's first-round matchup headlining Bellator 198 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. 

Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko (36-5, 1 NC), widely considered the greatest heavyweight in the sport's history, faces off with two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir (18-11), who will make his promotional debut. 

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Despite a handful of flirtations, Emelianenko has never fought in UFC, which makes this three-round bout a dream fight of sorts between the greatest heavyweight champion in Pride history and one of the best to ever compete in UFC. Both turned pro within a year of each other, enjoying parallel careers without ever crossing paths. 

While Mir, 38, is excited for the challenge of competing against such a great martial artist, it's a fight he never spent long dreaming would happen. 

"I never thought it would happen because I saw what his sales were," Mir told CBS Sports on Wednesday. "He doesn't sell tickets. He doesn't want to do interviews, he doesn't want to let people in and garner interest. If you're a fan of Fedor, you are really only a fan of what he does inside of a boxing ring or a cage. You don't know anything about him because he doesn't let people really see who he is as a human being and that translates over to tickets sales. 

"That's why when I fought Brock [Lesnar], it sold more pay-per-views than anyone else. That's because Brock has a fan base, I have a fan base and it takes two people to make a fight sell. That's why everybody wants to fight Conor [McGregor]. S---, they know it's going to be a big payday. Where as Fedor, I knew he was probably never going to get to the UFC because the money he wanted wasn't worth it. Look dude, you might be one of the best fighters in the world but we saw how many tickets you sold in Affliction. No one cares to watch you."

Favorite Underdog Weightclass

Frank Mir

Fedor Emelianenko +125

Heavyweight

Emmanuel Sanchez -600

Sam Sicilia +450

Featherweight

Neiman Gracie -1165

Javier Torres +750

Welterweight

Rafael Lovato Jr. -440

Gerald Harris +350

Catchweight (188)

Dillon Danis -1100

Kyle Walker +700

Catchweight (175)

To Mir's point, Emelianenko hasn't done any interviews with American media ahead of the fight and has appeared as stone-faced and emotionless as ever in promotional videos put out by Bellator. But Fedor's name alone still garners interest, even in the twilight of his career at 41. 

Trying to figure out exactly what Emelianenko has left isn't an easy proposition for both Mir and oddsmakers alike. 

"The Last Emperor" made his Bellator debut at last June's pay-per-view at New York's Madison Square Garden. In his first fight on U.S. soil since 2011, Fedor saw a five-fight winning streak snapped when, following a dramatic double knockdown, he succumbed to punches against Matt Mitrione in Round 1.

"Mitrione is a very good fighter on his feet and Fedor is a small heavyweight," Mir said. "What I took from it is what I have always known and I think the rest of the world is catching up on because a lot of the guys he fought over there [in Pride] were his size. A lot of the guys over here in the U.S. -- I'm a 255-pound heavyweight and I'm not known as one of the biggest heavyweights. If I would've been in Pride, I would've been the biggest heavyweight besides Bob Sapp. And also too, stylistically, we have a cage over here and Fedor hasn't fared well in a cage. It changes his style. It really does make a difference between a boxing ring and cage as to how you fight."

Somewhat similar questions follow Mir into the fight, although for different reasons. He hasn't fought since a first-round knockout loss to Mark Hunt in 2016. Afterwards, he was suspended two years by USADA after testing positive for oral turinabol metabolites, which he still denies knowingly ingesting. In addition, Mir enters having lost six of his last eight fights, albeit mostly against elite competition (especially comparative to Emelianenko's recent run). 

Mir doesn't pull any punches in describing the past two years as "rough." He claims the stress of traveling and trying to make ends meet to support his family during his suspension played a role in him putting on so much weight, which was visible in January when he faced off with Emelianenko for pictures at a Bellator event. 

The one positive from the break was how it cured a case of burnout he was facing as a fighter, not just with the grind of training but the uncertainties which surrounded UFC's sale to new owners WME-IMG in 2016. 

Not only does Mir believe he fits better at this stage in his career with the "small mom-and-pop shop and closely knit family" that is Bellator, he developed a new perspective on fighting after signing with Russian MMA promotion Absolute Championship Berkut (ABC) as a color commentator in late 2016 alongside Bryan Lacey. 

"That has been huge, sitting outside of the cage and watching the guys who are young, up and coming dangerous fighters fighting and breaking it down," Mir said. "At the end of the day it reminded me that I love fighting. All the other stuff that comes around it, that's like any job in life or career there are things you love about it and things you don't. I just had to really establish it that as far as fighting another human being and the science of fighting, I'm in love with it until the day I die."

frank-mir.jpg
Mir is looking for a fresh start with Bellator. Getty Images

Considering the winner of Bellator's Grand Prix will be awarded the promotion's vacant heavyweight championship, the opportunity was enticing to Mir from the standpoint of adding to his legacy and providing his kids with more bragging rights. 

"I won two belts in UFC and then if I go win one in Bellator, it's the top two promotions," Mir said. "It's kind of like in boxing with the WBO and WBC titles where people can go through and win different championships. ACB is number three and if I can go with them and win a belt, I could say I won the title of the top three promotions in the world. For somebody to surpass that, it would be years where basically Bellator or UFC would agree to cross promote the way that boxing does. I don't think we are anywhere near that so I think it would be a standard I could set that other people would never be able to attain."

While Mir is confident he will defeat Emelianenko, he doesn't think that his next matchup against Chael Sonnen, the former UFC middleweight title contender who defeated Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in January, will be necessarily easier. 

"I think actually Chael is smart because he's not fighting like a heavyweight," Mir said. "That is actually what is going to do him well. Whether it's Chael or [Ryan] Bader or 'King Mo' [Muhammed Lawal] or any of the light heavyweights, if they trade to stand there and trade in front of me or Mitrione and say, 'Alright, I'm going to try to out heavyweight a heavyweight,' you're not just dealing with normal heavyweights. Mitrione and myself, and even Roy [Nelson], are extremely athletic heavyweights so it's going to be a bad night for you. 

"But if you sit there and go, 'OK, my strength is not going to be able to throw you around and power shot you but I'm going to move a lot and I'm going to use the fact that if we were running on a track, being small is an advantage. So let's make this a race. Let's make this a constant motion and movement and then if you can catch me, I'm not just going to stay in boxing range. I'm going to clinch you and lay on you and wear you down.'"

Mir describes the prospect of facing the "tricky" Sonnen as "playing with magnets" because of how quick Sonnen moves in comparison to larger heavyweights. 

"He's going to be moving a ton. I'm going to try and catch him to knock him out," Mir said. "But if I move in too close, boom, he clinches me. He's a really good wrestler. He can sit there and now grind me against the cage and not let me take him down but then not take me down at the same time but now we go to a judges' decision. There is a route to victory for him that I have to be very, very attentive of."

Prediction 

Don't expect this one to go past the first round. Not only is Emelianenko's cardio a question mark at that point, he has devolved into an all-or-nothing slugger with enough speed left to get to your chin and enough defensive inefficiencies to create room for Mir to do the same. 

Mir enters with advantages in size and a dominant edge on the ground, particularly when it comes to submissions. He is also a sneaky good boxer with a strong base of Kenpo karate. Provided Mir comes in at a weight much closer to his fighting prime than what he looked like in January, he's a tough style matchup for Fedor and possesses more ways to win the fight. Whether he knocks Emelianenko out or submits him after knocking him down, Mir has an opportunity to announce himself as the tournament favorite. 

Pick: Mir via first-round submission.  

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