Two homegrown stars have reached the mountaintop of Bellator's welterweight division. Michael "Venom" Page and Logan Storley have each spent the majority of their career in the promotion. Their commitment to the craft conjures an interim welterweight championship match at Bellator 281 in Page's backyard of London, England.
A pinpoint accurate and dynamic knockout artist, "MVP" has been criticized for fighting a relatively low level of competition. Page (20-1) has a number of experienced opponents and UFC veterans on his record and, more recently, has found success against ranked Bellator opposition. Page, in his last fight, avenged his only career loss to former champion Douglas Lima, earning a split decision in London and a title shot against reigning champion Yaroslav Amosov. Unfortunately, Amosov pulled out of the fight as the Ukrainian fighter continues to serve his country in the war with Russia. The downgrade from undisputed champion to interim champion has had no effect on Page's morale heading into Bellator 281.
"100% still complete excitement. I've been saying it to people, but I still see myself as the champion at the end of it," Page told CBS Sports. "The only difference is there is one person that when he comes, he's first in line and he gets to jump the queue to fight the champion. That's it. Outside of that, I just enjoy competing. I enjoy being on stage and being in front of a crowd. I enjoy the energy that they give me. There is so much that I enjoy about this. There is nothing that can take away from this moment."
Check out the full interview with Michael Page below.
Storley (13-1) is among the best pure wrestlers that Bellator offers. A four-time NCAA Division I All-American, the only blemish -- ignoring a messy split decision win over Dante Schiro -- on his pro record is a split decision loss to Amosov. The Sanford MMA student earned his shot at Page with a decisive win over top 10 welterweight Neiman Gracie. While it is true that Storley won definitively on the scorecards, both men showed heart and toughness in one of the best fights Bellator has produced this year. Storley will have to be more mindful swinging for the fences against an electric Page. He must also be mindful of Page's potential hometown advantage. In what is expected to be a modern-day matchup of wrestler vs. striker, Storley is well aware that a hostile crowd could influence the referee's decision-making.
"He has a really good grip from bottom and he's going to try and tie me up and get it back on the feet. Especially here in the U.K. I'm sure people will be booing as soon as it hits the ground. We're well prepared for that. It's going to take 25 minutes of focus. That's what this fight is going to come down to," Storley told CBS Sports. "I know that every referee can say whatever, but we've seen it in arenas. You get into a crowd that's booing and this and that. I need to stay active and do damage on the top. I've spent the last camp getting ready for Gracie. I spent the last camp with Nate Marquardt that fight. He's one of the best guys. He's a legend of the sport. He has a lot of little tips and tricks to help me. He was a really big help. I need to put damage on this guy and take him into deep waters."
Page is not the only highlight-reel striker on the card. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida returns to the middleweight division for a clash with Fabian Edwards. Both Machida, 43, and Edwards, 29, are trending downwards. "The Dragon" has lost three consecutive fights to heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, light heavyweight Phil Davis and middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi. Edwards fell short to Austin Vanderford in a title eliminator and dropped a split decision to Costello van Steenis before that. Machida makes his drop back to middleweight with two things firmly in mind: he is too small for light heavyweight and winning is no longer the primary motivating factor.
"When they offered me the Grand Prix, at first I thought there is no way it was going to be at 185. It's going to be at 205 and that is not my [weight] class anymore," Machida told CBS Sports. "But I thought, what counts at the end of the day is the experience you have in your life. I said, 'No, man. If I have the opportunity and someone offered me this and I believe that I am able to do that, why not? People get stuck in victories and defeats all the time. Nothing is wrong with that. Nothing wrong. But I am at a point in my career where I have to try different things. That's what I'm looking for."
Check out the full interview with Lyoto Machida below.
The London crowd may witness the crowning of its next world champion in Friday's main event, but it will also send off one of its most prolific knockout artists. Paul Daley, 39, is winding down his career with a potential retirement fight against Wendell Giacomo, a teammate of the "Pitbull" brothers. Daley has carved out a violent career as one of MMA's most battle-tested veterans. A pro dating back to 2003, Daley has competed against the likes of Nick Diaz, Tyron Woodley, Jorge Masvidal, Martin Kampmann, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Duane Ludwig, Rory MacDonald, Lima and Page. He has competed for Bellator, Cage Warriors, EliteXC, Pancrase and Strikeforce, plus a three-fight spell in the UFC that saw him axed after striking Koscheck after the bell.
"I think firstly you have to be comfortable with your decision. It can't be a knee-jerk kind of decision," Daley told CBS Sports. "This is something I've been planning towards. I wanted to retire at 35. It's something that I've had there and I've been putting things in place for me to be able to do that. I'm happy with what I've done in the sport. I'm honest with myself, that's another thing. You have to be comfortable and I feel like I'm in a position where I'm comfortable stepping away from the sport."
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Plus, a key women's flyweight bout is on tap when Denise Kielholtz takes on Kana Watanabe on the undercard. Kielholtz, the Bellator kickboxing women's flyweight champion, failed in her bid last summer to earn the MMA crown at 125 pounds in a split decision loss to then-champ Juliana Velasquez. She has not fought since then, but gets an interesting matchup in Watanabe, who was undefeated up until her last fight against Liz Carmouche when she was stopped in just 35 seconds. Prior to that defeat, Watanabe had finished six of her 10 victories inside the cage.
Here is the fight card for Bellator 281 with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
Bellator 281 card, odds
| Logan Storley -270||Michael Page +220||Interim welterweight championship|
|Fabian Edwards -160||Lyoto Machida +135||Middleweight|
| Denise Kielholtz -280||Kana Watanabe +230||Women's flyweight|
|Paul Daley -340||Wendell Giacomo +270||Welterweight|
|Luke Trainer -330|| Simon Biyong +260||Light heavyweight|
Bellator 281 viewing information
Date: May 13 | Start time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: OVO Arena Wembley -- London
Michael Page vs. Logan Storley: Candidly, this is a tough fight to predict. Page and Storley each have such vast advantages in their preferred arts that it may boil down to who has the greater deficiencies in their opponent's area of expertise. MVP has a serious six-inch height and 8.5-inch reach advantage that greatly benefits his rangy striking game. Conversely, Storley's lower center of gravity invites single leg and double leg takedowns if he can get on the inside. It has been three years since Page was outwrestled by Paul Daley, so we will somewhat excuse that performance. The multiple takedowns scored by Lima last year are more troubling. MVP would do well to stay away from wild kicks that could leave him off balance or at an inopportune angle. He has the head movement and distance management to stick with his hands down style and that will help him fish for under hooks and push away a Storley who must get in close. Storley and Gracie lit each other up for 25 minutes. That is not a game that will prove fruitful against MVP. Storley must find a way to crowd Page immediately, either against the fence or with takedowns. Storley's near-blunder against Schiro inspires some hesitancy. It takes just one takedown to completely change a fight's setting. Let's side with Storley this time. Pick: Storley via UD