Neiman Gracie and Goti Yamauchi have trapped many victims in the webs of their complex grappling. But only one can walk away on top when the two vaunted submission specialists meet in the main event of Bellator 284 from the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Gracie (11-3) emerged as one of the promotion's most promising stars after submitting Ed Ruth in the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix quarterfinals in 2018. Since then, the No. 5 ranked welterweight has searched to recapture the magic of his 9-0 starting run. Gracie has alternated losses and wins in his last five fights. He successfully retired Jon Fitch but was outpointed by elite Bellator welterweights like Logan Storley, Jason Jackson and Rory MacDonald. The 33-year-old is a premier modern banner carrier of the legendary Gracie family. Nine submission wins are on brand and a TKO of Mark Lemminger showed his evolution.
"A lot of people were criticizing me because the fight was mostly striking, but I made Logan Storley have a fun fight… how hard is that?" Gracie said at media day this week. "I think it's gonna be more grappling on this fight because he's not afraid to go to the floor. Storley was afraid to go to the ground -- no disrespect, but he said that."
Yamauchi (27-5) had his fair share of success at featherweight and lightweight but makes his welterweight debut on Friday. Fighters often switch divisions to refresh their careers, but Yamauchi has been one of Bellator's better fighters for a long time. The submission savant -- who has a ridiculous 21 career submission wins -- pieced together a 13-4 record since debuting with Bellator in 2013. Yamauchi has only dropped decisions to Dan Moret (split) and Michael Chandler (unanimous) in the last five years. His recent victories include a TKO over Chris Gonzalez, submissions of Daron Cruickshank and Saad Awad, plus a decision over Daniel Weichel. A win over top-five ranked Gracie could reward Yamauchi with big fights two divisions up from where Yamauchi started his career.
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"I think lightweight and welterweight are the hardest weight classes in MMA. I'm moving up. I used to fight tough guys at lightweight, but I'm a little happier and healthier this time. Way better now at 170," Yamauchi said. "This is my weight class. I'm not cutting less; I got bigger. Real weight. Muscles, not fat. I work even harder, but now, with health and some quality muscles. I think welterweight is a good opportunity to prove I was doing something wrong with the weight."
The co-main event has significant implications in the heavyweight division. Former interim Bellator heavyweight champion Valentin Moldavsky (No. 1) bounces back from a loss to undisputed champion Ryan Bader by challenging the division's most promising prospect. Steve Mowry (No. 5) has finished all 10 of his professional fights via knockout or submission. While Mowry has faced more experienced opposition than Moldavsky, this is his direct route to a heavyweight title fight.
"[Bellator has] been great. Ever since I signed with them. They took a big chance on me, and I took a chance on them, and it's been great," Mowry said at media day.
"Honestly, I'm just so focused on what's coming up. He is far and away the toughest opponent I've ever had in terms of everything. He's a guy that's been there and done that. He's very skilled; he has a skillset that a lot of people just haven't been able to get around, and I look forward to getting in there and trying to figure him out."
Plus, former women's flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane is back when she takes on Bruna Ellen in a featured bout. Macfarlane has struggled since her reign as champion and an undefeated start to her career. Macfarlane dropped the title to Juliana Velasquez in December 2020 and contemplated retirement in the year after. She returned at home in Hawaii in April, but dropped a decision to Justine Kish. Now, she missed weight for her fight on Friday by three pounds.
"Even with one arm in my last fight, I was able to finish the fight. And even with a broken nose, I was able to get through the fight. Boo-hoo, I have two losses on my record," Macfarlane said at media day. "I can walk through a flying knee and keep fighting. I don't really care that I lost those last two. I think the people who are making it a big deal, their opinion doesn't matter."
Here's the fight card for Bellator 284 with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
Bellator 284 card, odds
|Neiman Gracie -180||Goiti Yamauchi +155||Welterweight|
|Valentin Moldavsky -195||Steve Mowry +165||Heavyweight|
|Ilima-Lei Macfarlane -115||Bruna Ellen -105||Women's flyweight|
|Gokhan Saricam -175||Said Sowma +150||Heavyweight|
|Austin Vanderford -190||Aaron Jeffery +160||Middleweight|
Bellator 284 viewing information
Date: Aug. 12 | Start time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: Sanford Pentagon -- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
TV channel: Showtime
Neiman Gracie vs. Goti Yamauchi: Yamauchi is a name that is often overlooked by Bellator fans. He has remained one of the most consistent fighters over the last nine years. The submission threat is real and his resolve is evident in the decision to move up another weight class. Gracie has struggled to break through to the championship level in Bellator, but he remains a significant presence in one of the company's deeper divisions. Gracie benefits from a two-inch height advantage and the fighters are equal in reach. Despite how close those statistics are, I expect Gracie to carry the bigger frame. Gracie has evolved at a faster rate in the striking and should carry power behind his size. A grappling-heavy fight could produce fireworks or duds. Alternatively, they may negate one another and force a striking exchange. I favor Gracie to win this more often than not. Gracie via UD