Bellator MMA kicks off 2021 this Friday night when the promotion makes its debut on Showtime for Bellator 255. The event is headlined by a clash between featherweight champion Patricio Pitbull and Emmanuel Sanchez, both for the belt and a trip to the World Featherweight Grand Prix tournament semifinals.
But there's far more going down at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut than just a big time main event. The card also sees the Bellator debut of Usman Nurmagomedov, a big showdown with serious ranking implications at welterweight and potentially exciting bouts at heavyweight and women's flyweight.
Let's take a look at every fight on the main card, which airs at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.
Tyrell Fortune -650 vs. Jack May +475, heavyweights: Fortune (9-1) was set for arguably the biggest opportunity of his career on the card, originally matched with Matt Mitrione. On fight week, Mitrione was forced out of the fight, leading May (11-7) to step in on short notice. May already faced off with Fortune this past September, with the fight ending in less than three minutes when Fortune landed a low blow and May was unable to continue. Fortune opened his career 8-0, winning six of those fights by stoppage. He was knocked out by Tim Johnson in his first big opportunity to step up in competition, the follow up to that loss was the no contest against May before Fortune finally got back on the winning track with a decision win over Said Sowma in November. May started his career 7-0, landing a spot in the UFC where he was knocked out in back-to-back fights by Derrick Lewis and Shawn Jordan. After the hot start to his career, May has gone 4-7, with six of his seven losses coming via stoppage.
Alejandra Lara -175 vs. Kana Watanabe +150, women's flyweight: This fight is one of the most intriguing on the card when the undefeated Watanabe (9-0-1) makes her second trip to the Bellator cage to face off with veteran Lara (9-3). Lara's only losses in Bellator have come against the two top women in the division, getting submitted by former champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and losing a split decision to current champ Juliana Velasquez. Those losses came back-to-back and Lara has rebounded with two wins, but has been out of action since December 2019. Watanabe has been idle just as long as Lara, not fighting since her impressive Bellator debut where she scored a third-round TKO victory. Watanabe is a former Olympic qualifier in judo and has an even split of method of victory, winning three fights each by submission, knockout and decision. Lara has finished seven of her nine victories inside the distance, making for a matchup of high-end finishers for the women's flyweight division.
RIZIN's supremely accomplished and chiseled judoka, Kana Watanabe (@kanawatanabe821), bulldozes newcomer Hee Eun Kang, swiftly tossing and strangling her foe in under two minutes. Now 8-0-1, Watanabe extends her win streak to six with her fourth first-round finish. #DEEPJEWELS26 pic.twitter.com/bCNB9DSkNj— Kyle Johnson (@VonPreux) October 22, 2019
Jason Jackson -120 vs. Neiman Gracie +100, welterweights: After the biggest win of his career, Jackson (13-4) now looks to add another big name to his resume when he faces Gracie (10-1). This past November, Jackson took on former UFC champion Benson Henderson, scoring a clear decision victory. That Henderson had moved up a weight class and took the fight on short notice didn't diminish the value of the win for Jackson, who is now riding a three-fight winning streak. Now ranked No. 6 at 170 pounds in the Bellator MMA Fighter Rankings, Jackson can take a huge jump up the ladder by beating No. 3 ranked Gracie. Gracie is two fights removed from suffering his first career loss when he was decisioned by Rory MacDonald. He rebounded with a win over Jon Fitch, scoring the ninth submission victory of his career. The winner of the fight will take one step closer to a potential shot at division champ Douglas Lima.
Usman Nurmagomedov -800 vs. Mike Hamel +550, lightweights: Nurmagomedov (11-0) is the cousin of former dominant UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and is considered by many to be one of the top prospects in the sport. The fight with Hamel will be his debut in the Bellator cage. With 10 stoppage victories in his 11 pro fights, he could be set up to continue his run of five consecutive stoppages against Hamel, who has lost fights by both knockout and submission in his career. Hamel (7-4) has gone just 2-4 after starting his career perfect at 5-0. He lost his Bellator debut after dropping a split decision to Adam Borics this past August.
Patricio Pitbull (c) -260 vs. Emmanuel Sanchez +210, featherweight championship, grand prix semifinals: Pitbull (31-4) is on one of the most impressive runs in all of Bellator, currently on his second stint as featherweight champion and having also captured the lightweight championship with a knockout of Michael Chandler, who has since jumped to the UFC where he is preparing to fight for the 155-pound title. Pitbull is on a six-fight winning streak that has launched him not only to the top of the lightweight and featherweight divisions, but also to the No. 1 spot in the Bellator pound-for-pound rankings. In his two fights in the Grand Prix, Pitbull has taken a decision over Juan Archuleta and knocked out Pedro Carvalho.
Sanchez (20-4) is riding a three-fight winning streak since he lost a shot at Pitbull and the featherweight title in November 2018. That run includes wins over Tywan Claxton and Daniel Weichel in the opening two rounds of the tournament. The win over Weichel avenged one of just three losses suffered by Sanchez in a Bellator career that dates back to 2014. With a second shot at the belt along with a chance to advance to the tournament finals against AJ McKee on the line, expect a motivated Sanchez to show up on Friday night.
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