On the heels of the UFC’s most recent PPV which saw a Heavyweight Championship unification, Bellator offers their own Heavyweight Championship unification in their first offering of 2022. Also featured on the card is a former UFC champion, a former Bellator champion, and a number of up-and-coming prospects.

Ryan Bader vs. Valentin Moldavsky

Headlining the fight card is a Heavyweight Championship unification bout featuring reigning Champion Ryan Bader and Interim Champion Valentin Moldavsky. Bader returns to the Heavyweight division for the first time since September of 2019 where he has yet to taste defeat – holding a Heavyweight record of 3-0, 1NC. The former two division champion has had mixed results as of late. In 2020, Bader succumbed to Vadim Nemkov by second round TKO and lost his Bellator Light Heavyweight Championship in the process. While he rebounded in a rematch with former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida which he won by decision, Bader suffered another TKO loss just a few months later to Corey Anderson in under one minute. Having recently suffered two stoppage losses via strikes at a weight class lower, it seems quite likely that Bader will look to deploy his strong wrestling and heavy ground and pound upon the Heavyweight division. However, at 38-years old and with 36 professional bouts to his name, the man who won The Ultimate Fighter season 8 back in 2008 could be nearing the tail end of an impressive career.

Bader’s first hurdle in his return to the Heavyweight division comes in the form of former Sambo World Champion Valentin Moldavsky who won the Bellator Interim Heavyweight Championship back in June of 2021 with a decision victory over Tim Johnson. Moldavsky holds an overall MMA record of 11-1 and is a perfect 6-0 in Bellator – having notched notable victories over the likes of Roy Nelson, Javy Ayala, and Linton Vassell. Despite only having one victory by way of strikes, Moldavsky’s striking power should not be underestimated. He swings looping punches with ill intent. However, he typically crashes into the clinch and works to press his opponent against the cage or secure a takedown. While Moldavsky’s bread and butter is his grappling, he may look to utilize it in a defensive manner and instead look to uncork heavy strikes on the smaller and seemingly more susceptible Bader.

 Benson Henderson vs. Islam Mamedov

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The co-main event sees former UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson look to avoid a fourth straight loss when he meets the surging Islam Mamedov. In 2016, Henderson was a marquee signing for Bellator, however, it has not been “Smooth” sailing for the veteran as he has accumulated just a 5-6 record with the promotion. At 38 years of age and with recent losses to former champions Michael Chandler and Brent Primus as well as top Welterweight contender Jason Jackson, Henderson may be on his last legs with the promotion. To defy the odds, Henderson will need to utilize his strong kicks from range and constantly threaten Mamedov with submission attempts if the Dagestani enters into a grappling exchange. Should Henderson find himself on the bottom, he may find success in scrambles especially if he can fight his way to top position.

Henderson has a tall order ahead of him in Islam Mamedov who boasts a 20-1-1 MMA record. While he is just 1-0 in the promotion, that victory comes over former Bellator Lightweight Champion Brent Primus. In addition, Mamedov had a successful PFL tenure where he scored victories over the likes of UFC veteran Thiago Tavares and PFL standout Natan Schulte. While quite well-rounded, Mamedov relies primarily on his grappling, opting to get top position and grind out his opponents. Given that Primus had success in this regard against Henderson, it seems sensible that Mamedov will attempt a similar strategy.

Henry Corrales vs. Aiden Lee

Elsewhere on the main card, Henry Corrales looks to turn back prospect Aiden Lee. Corrales has been a staple of Bellator since 2015 and holds a 7-6 record with the promotion. He holds notable victories over the likes of Brandon Girtz, Aaron Pico, and former WSOF Champion Georgi Karakhanyan. Always enthusiastic about a brawl, the 35-year-old will no doubt look to close the distance on Lee and land his punches with tenacity and violence.

Meanwhile, Lee is just 26 years of age and nearly a decade younger than his adversary. While Lee is just 3-2 in Bellator, he has demonstrated a refined striking style utilizing his long frame and speed very effectively. Lee will likely look to keep Corrales on the outside and pick him apart with straight punches and roundhouse kicks, while being opportunistic with his submission attempts as he was in his last bout against Aleksandr Osetrov at Bellator 269.

Sabah Homasi vs. Jaleel Willis

Opening the main card is a striking showcase between The Ultimate Fighter season 21 alumnus Sabah Homasi and former LFA Welterweight Champion Jaleel Willis. Since entering Bellator, Homasi has put on absolute barnburners, with big KO victories over Micah Terrill and Bobby Voelker alongside a hellacious war with Paul Daley. Homasi now finds himself on the heels of two straight losses and will need to fight with high intensity if he is to overcome the talented Willis. Willis has been finished via strikes in the past and Homasi will undoubtedly look to replicate that by unleashing a heavy barrage of strikes early and often in the bout.

Willis holds a professional record of 15-3 overall and prior to joining Bellator was the LFA Welterweight Champion. Since signing with the promotion, Willis has accumulated just a 2-1 record in Bellator, but looks to be a very promising prospect. Willis has shown an educated striking capability, having strong offence out of both stances and having no issues going the distance in drawn-out fights. Willis’ path to victory in this bout will not be easy, as he will first need to endure an early storm before extending Homasi into the later rounds. If he can make it to these later rounds, Willis has a good chance of enjoying success in outpointing Homasi over the remainder of the contest.

Darrion Caldwell vs. Enrique Barzola

On the preliminary portion of the card, former Bellator Bantamweight Champion Darrion Caldwell looks to recover from two straight defeats when he fights Bellator debutant and winner of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, Enrique Barzola. Caldwell, a standout amateur wrestler for North Carolina State University enjoyed great early success in his MMA career. Caldwell started off his MMA career with a 13-1 record, which included capturing the Bellator Bantamweight title from Eduardo Dantas in 2017 and successfully defending it against Leandro Higo. Though he has since found himself at just 2-4 in his last six bouts, his losses are nothing to be ashamed of – having lost twice to former double promotion Bantamweight Champion Kyoji Horiguchi, once to current Bellator Featherweight Champion AJ McKee, and in a hotly contested rematch with Higo. Caldwell holds notable victories over the likes of Adam Borics, Henry Corrales, and the aforementioned Higo and Dantas. Caldwell will likely look to enjoy success in top position against Barzola, but has also demonstrated an ability to use his striking at range to cause opponents anguish.

Enrique Barzola enters Bellator on the heels of a 6-3-1 run with the UFC. Barzola will be competing as a Bantamweight for just the second time in his career, his debut in the weight class being a draw with Rani Yahya in his last bout. Like Caldwell, Barzola does his best work when he is able to force his opponents into a grappling match and work from the top position. This strategy has seen him acquire victories over the likes of Gabriel Benitez, Matt Bessette, and Brandon Davis. With a first assignment against a former Champion and a wrestler of Caldwell’s caliber, Barzola might have difficulty executing his typical gameplan. It will be very interesting to see if Barzola shows off an improved alternate facet to his game or if he tries to utilize his size to bully Caldwell against the cage and possibly on the mat.


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