Bellator 207 — Matt Mitrione vs. Ryan Bader: Fight prediction, card, odds, start time


The journey to crowning a new Bellator MMA heavyweight champion will take one giant step forward this weekend when a pair of Grand Prix semifinal bouts invade the eastern seaboard as the main events of separate cards.

On Friday, light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader faces Matt Mitrione at Bellator 207 in Uncasville, Connecticut. One night later, Russian legend Fedor Emelianenko takes on Chael Sonnen at Bellator 208 in Uniondale, New York. Both cards start at 9 p.m. ET and are simulcast on Paramount Network and DAZN.

Let’s take a closer look at each matchup:

Ryan Bader (25-5) vs. Matt Mitrione (13-5)

This matchup between the tournament’s two betting favorites when it kicked off should be an intriguing one considering the contrast of styles between Bader’s wrestling ability and Mitrione’s awkward striking game, which features unique speed for a heavyweight. 

The 35-year-old Bader, who captured Bellator’s 205-pound title in 2017 over Phil Davis, entered the tournament as the fighter closest to his absolute prime and took care of Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in just 15 seconds during their first-round bout in May. 

“When I saw the bracket and saw that we were both on the same side, I knew that we were going to fight,” Bader told CBS Sports’ “In This Corner” podcast on Tuesday. “[Mitrione] is a true heavyweight and he moves well. He’s very talented on the feet. Where I see holes in his game, they just happen to be my strength — wrestling, cardio and I don’t move like a heavyweight, I move like a fast light heavyweight.

“I’ve been through wars, I’ve been through five-round grinders and I’ve fought the best of the best of the best. Wherever this fight goes, I believe I have the upperhand.”

Bader said he expects to enter this bout between UFC veterans at 233 pounds. The 41-year-old Mitrione, who turned pro in 2009 following a three-year run in the NFL, weighed in at 255 pounds when he defeated Roy Nelson by majority decision in February. 

“If Matt is coming in at 240 or so, for me, what is 12-15 pounds? Nothing,” Bader said. “I’ll keep my speed, I’ll keep my cardio. Plus, I’ll have 10 pounds more of lean muscle mass on my body. I’m faster than ever, best cardio I’ve ever have. Coming into this tournament, I feel like I’m the favorite. I’m just not that wrestler anymore. Now I know what I’m doing and I have that technique.”

Favorite  Underdog Weightclass

Ryan Bader -310

Matt Mitrione +260


Roy Nelson -300

Sergei Kharitonov +250


Lorenz Larkin -750

Ion Pascu +520


Baby Slice -800

Corey Browning +550


Carrington Banks -120

Mandel Nallo +100


Mitirone believes he’ll have a profound advantage on his feet against Bader after “whooping Roy’s ass pretty soundly” in his first-round matchup despite fading a bit late in Round 3. Despite the experience gap he’ll face on the wrestling side, Mitrione doesn’t expect to change his game all that much.  

“I’m going to be me, that’s what I’m going to do,” Mitrione said. “We modified a couple of things going forward for this fight but I’m athletic, long, limber and aggressive. I’m going to be me. He’s good at what he does, that’s why he’s the best 205-pounder in the game. But I’m a different animal. I’m the anomaly at heavyweight. I’m difficult to train for because of the way I do what I do. There are a lot of Baders out there.”


If Sonnen had it his way should he defeat Emelianenko on Saturday, he would prefer to face Mitrione in the tournament final due to his potential advantage on the ground. But being the No. 1 contender for Bader’s light heavyweight title, he expects to face “Darth” regardless once the tournament is all said and done. 

As far as his prediction, Sonnen likes the younger fighter.

“Hard fight, I tend to lean toward Ryan Bader,” Sonnen said. “I feel he has the better wrestling and I think both guys will concede that. Mitirone can knock him out with his power for sure but so could Bader. He’s just a powerful son of a bitch. I think that’s an interesting fight.”

Sonnen’s analysis doesn’t feel that far off. This looks like a fighter Bader can win simply by being efficient, taking it to the ground and relying on his wrestling and cardio in the same manner he defeated Davis by split decision in a fight that was roundly booed by the fans in attendance. 

From that perspective, Mitrione can only benefit from not only staying on his feet, but injecting a bit of chaos into the fight to spice up the entertainment factor by giving himself a better chance to win. But even with Mitrione’s power and unique movement on his feet, Bader’s underrated boxing and control of distance with his jab could do well to nullify that gap. 

Bader is 10-1 since 2013 with his only loss being a first-round knockout to Anthony Johnson. Along the way, he has defeated a who’s who of talented names including Davis (twice), Rashad Evans, Ovince Saint Preux, Rafael Cavalcante, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ilir Latifi. Mitrione’s resume over that time is far from comparable save for a first-round knockout of Derrick Lewis in 2014 that looks better now that Lewis is challenging for a UFC title. 

Pick: Bader via unanimous decision

Fedor Emelianenko (37-5, 1 NC) vs. Chael Sonnen (31-15-1)

The sexiest potential matchup on paper from a name standpoint when this tournament was launched has now become a difficult fight to handicap given the contrast in styles, natural weight and the tossup as to who is more removed from their respective prime. 

In many ways, breaking down this fight isn’t that different from Bader-Mitrione in the sense that it matches a pure wrestler against one of the most dangerous strikers in heavyweight history. The question comes down to who can implement their style first to gain control in this three-round fight and how much will Sonnen’s size disadvantage as a natural middleweight offset the fact that the 42-year-old Emelianenko is well past his prime?

It’s all debatable at this point, which makes this bout so fun to break down. But Sonnen isn’t willing to simply declare that Emelianenko is washed up (nor will he concede the same about himself at age 41) and points to Fedor’s 48-second knockout of former UFC champion Frank Mir in April as proof. 

“I think [Emelianenko] was something very special. I think that he still is but I do hope Father Time has caught up with him,” Sonnen said. “He has a size that I’ve never had to deal with and he has power I’ve never had to deal with. I haven’t bought into the fact that Fedor’s not in his prime. We are in a world heavyweight tournament and he’s in the final four. I don’t buy into it yet. 

“I’ve got real concerns about Fedor, I’ve got real concerns about taking him down. I’ve got real confidence that I can keep him there if I get him down. That power is something else too. I’m looking forward to it, I think it’s going to be fun to go out and deal with that but I think it’s something that has created some stress in my week.”

Favorite Underdog Weightclass

Fedor Emelianenko -250

Chael Sonnen +210


Benson Henderson -420

Saad Awad +335


Anatoly Tokov -115

Alexander Shlemenko -100


Timothy Johnson -130

Cheick Kongo +110


Henry Corrales -530

Andy Main +415


Sonnen, who out-wrestled Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in January to advance, expects to weigh at 220 pounds. Emelianenko, meanwhile, came in at 240 for his first-round bout against Mir. 


Mitrione believes victory is very achievable for Sonnen, but it will come at the cost of entertainment. 

“I think Chael can make it miserable,” Mitrione said. “If Chael wins, it will be an incredibly boring fight and there won’t be a finish. If Fedor wins, it could be on the ground or standing up and it will be a horrendous and vicious knockout.”

“It’s really who can implement their game plan and it’s no secret — Chael is going to go in there and look to take you down and lay on top of you and control you,” Bader said. “If he can get two takedowns, he can win the fight. But if Fedor goes out there and stops his first two takedowns, I think Chael is going to panic a little bit. He’s going to start getting tagged up and Fedor is going to run away with this fight. For me this fight is 50/50 and I really believe it comes down to the first two takedowns.”

For all the rightful talk of Emelianenko being past his prime and having done a poor job of evolving his game over the years, he has retained a level of hand speed and explosion that remains dangerous for the division. Not only did he finish Mir after luring him into a war in the opening seconds, he knocked down Mitrione with a right hand in 2017 on a double knockdown before being stopped seconds later. 

The main decline for Emelianenko has surrounded his chin and once legendary punch resistance. It’s a weakness that likely won’t show itself as much against Sonnen, who is essentially moving up two divisions from his ideal weight and was never a one-punch threat on his feet. 

The big question, outside of whether Fedor can stop Sonnen from shooting, is whether Sonnen’s chin can hang in there amid the constant threat that the fight could be over with one punch. Sonnen was floored multiple times in his 2017 decision win over Wanderlei Silva and has historically been vulnerable during chaotic fights in which he hasn’t been in control. 

Sonnen has also succumbed to mental errors in some of his biggest fights when he hasn’t been the frontrunner. Doing that just once against Emelianenko could bring an end to the fight. Bader’s prediction about the first two takedown attempts being the most telling result as to who ultimately wins the fight could be true as Sonnen has little chance to do so should he be forced to stand up.

Pick: Emelianenko via second-round knockout

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