The Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix continues on Friday night with a pair of semifinal bouts anchoring Bellator 289 from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The main event is one of those two fights but also a battle for the interim title as Raufeon Stots puts his title on the line against Danny Sabatello.
In the other tournament fight, Magomed Magomedov battles Patchy Mix to earn not only a spot in the tournament finals but also a shot at the interim title and the $1 million prize.
Another title is on the line at the event, as Juliana Velasquez will take on the woman who defeated her to win the flyweight crown, Liz Carmouche. After a controversial ending to their first fight, both women will look to erase any doubt as to who is the better fighter.
As with any fight card, there are multiple storylines running throughout the event. With Bellator 289, these storylines may be more interesting or bigger than most othercards. With that in mind, let's take a look at the three biggest stories heading into the event.
It's put up or shut up time for Stots and Sabatello
While Bellator has produced notable rivalries in the promotion's history, very few have had the sort of heat that Stots and Sabatello have brought over the past few months. Sabatello as a trash talker had never come across someone willing to return verbal barbs until he ran into Stots. That led to some wild media appearances and spicy talk continuing in every interview either man has given ahead of the fight. Stots has repeatedly criticized Sabatello as both a man and a fighter, such as telling MMA Junkie Radio that everything about Sabatello is a mask for his shortcomings, saying, "He's probably the most one-dimensional fighter that Bellator has, but he does a good job of making people forget that. That's his whole facade, is like, 'I'm coming here to crush this guy. I want to hate this guy,' but then you're going to go in there and you're going to cuddle somebody's goddamn legs the whole f---ing five rounds."
But talk doesn't matter once the bell rings and this is a fight both to advance to the Grand Prix finals and for Stots' interim bantamweight title. It's now up to Sabatello to prove his wrestling-based, grinding style is able to play at the highest levels of Bellator, or for Stots to prove that his dynamic, high-paced attack is enough to overcome a one-dimensional fighter.
Combat sports provide the most direct answer in all of athletics to a trash-talk-filled rivalry. The cage door closes and it's one on one. Neither man wants to leave Connecticut as the loser after months of the insistence on their status as the better fighter and better man.
The champ makes the first defense of her title
Liz Carmouche occupies an important place in MMA history. While women's MMA had been established long before the UFC decided to allow women to set foot in the Octagon as anything other than an "Octagon Girl," it was still a landscape-changing moment for the sport. And Carmouche shared the cage with Ronda Rousey in the first ever women's fight in the UFC, even threatening Rousey early in the fight before being submitted late in the first round.
Up until her most recent fight, Carmouche's was a career of footnotes. A title challenger in Strikeforce and twice in the UFC, in addition to the fight with Rousey, Carmouche was around but never on top of a premier division. Then, at Bellator 278, shein the fourth round of a competitive fight to capture the Bellator women's flyweight title.
Carmouche's first defense comes in a rematch with Velasquez, who appealed the loss in the first fight due to what she felt was a bad stoppage. It's now on Carmouche to continue building her new narrative as champion rather than footnote.
The other Grand Prix fight is some fire, too
While Stots and Sabatello are grabbing the headlines, the fight between Patchy Mix and Magomed Magomedov will determine the other Grand Prix finalist and the next challenger for the interim bantamweight title. In addition, it's a very compelling bout. Mix started his career 13-0 before stumbling in a shot at the vacant bantamweight title against Juan Archuleta in September 2020. That was a disastrous performance for Mix, but he has since bounced back with three wins, including defeating tournament favorite Kyoji Horiguchi in the Grand Prix quarterfinals.
Magomedov also won 13 straight to start his career before suffering his first defeat, a decision loss in Russia to Petr Yan, who would go on to win a UFC championship. Four fights later, Magomedov made his way to Bellator and seemed like he'd be a major force in the division. But, in just his third Bellator fight, Magomedov found himself in the cage with Stots. In one of Bellator's best fights in 2021, Stots pulled off the decision win and set Magomedov back in his pursuit to take over the division.
Now, Mix and Magomedov meet in the semifinals with both men battling for redemption and to finally reach the mountaintop. It may not have the trash-talking flair of Stots vs. Sabatello, but Mix vs. Magomedov is a big fight with serious implications for two of bantamweight's best.