Bellator 182: “Koreshkov vs. Njokuani” takes place tomorrow (Fri., Aug. 25, 2017) at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. Former Welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov has a chance to get back into title contention with a win, but he’ll need to beat the streaking Chidi Njokuani in the main event to do it. It’s a crucial fight for both men with Rory MacDonald having leapfrogged them in line.

There are significant stakes on the line for two other theoretical Welterweights heading into this card, too, and another big chance for “Mercenary” A.J. McKee to prove his worth as a contender, while two Flyweights battle for ranking in a division that has yet to crown a champion.

Let’s break it down:

175 lbs.: Andrey Koreshkov (19-2) vs. Chidi Njokuani (17-4, 1 NC)

“Spartan” Andrey Koreshkov had finally ascended to the Mount Elbrus-like peak of the Welterweight division. He had been knocked off the summit once before by Ben Askren, who shortly thereafter left the promotion and the title vacant. Douglas Lima capture the belt in his absence, but Koreshkov took it from him at Bellator 140. Both men now seem to be each other’s kryptonite though as Lima took it right back at Bellator 164. If Lima doesn’t lose his title to Rory MacDonald we may see a trilogy fight in their respective futures.

Unfortunately for Koreshkov though Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani sees an entirely different future for the Welterweight division. He’s been on an undeniable roll dating back to before his Bellator debut, amassing an unbeaten streak dating back to August 2013 through nine straight fights. He lives up to the “Bangs” in his nickname by banging out opponents, finishing 10 of 17 wins (59%) with knockout power. Standing 6’3” with a 78” wingspan, he’s a Light Heavyweight in a division of much smaller men. He has two inches in height and four inches in reach on the former champ.

Size alone doesn’t make fights. The prize pupil of Alexander “Storm” Shlemenko has proven his mettle time and again in the cage, and when your only career losses are to Askren and Lima there’s no shame in your game. He too has finishing power, knocking out 10 of 19 opponents (53%) and with three submissions to his credit his ground game may be a little underrated. Njokuani can only boast one win by submission and that hasn’t happened since 2010. If Njokuani relies on his size alone to make the difference it could backfire tremendously as the shorter Koreshkov ducks under the punches, double legs him and mauls him on the ground.

Furthermore Njokuani has had two straight fights well over 170 lbs.. He faced Andre Fialho at 175 after missing weight, then agreed to fight Melvin Guillard at a catchweight of 179 lbs. It feels like Njokuani’s size is finally starting to catch up to him. He’s only 28 years but as he gets older making weight for a title fight is going to get much harder going forward. If he comes up short to Koreshkov the only sensible choice may be to move up to 185 and not exhaust himself making such a hard cut.

Final prediction: Andrey Koreshkov takes a unanimous decision

180 lbs.: Brennan Ward (14-5) vs. Fernando Gonzalez (26-14)

If one Welterweight fight wasn’t enough for Verona, how about two? Ward first peaked three years ago at Middleweight, but after a title shot loss to the aforementioned Shlemenko and a humiliating defeat against Tamdan McCrory, the 5’11” fighter decided to try himself at 170 and has found some success there, winning five of his last seven fights. Gonzalez can do him one better though, having his hand raised in six of seven MMA bouts, with the lone blemish being a Michael “Venom” Page fight that was a disappointment for both men.

The bad news for these fighters is that they’re behind the winner of the main event in the pecking order for a title shot, who is himself behind Rory MacDonald, so finding the proper motivation to give it 110% may be a tough task. Despite his excellent high school and collegiate wrestling credentials though Ward has never been a takedown scientist. In fact many of his fights have turned into “f—k it let’s bang bro” affairs. It makes for a very crowd pleasing style and also makes it much harder to predict his fights. A Ward fight can often be “he who lands first wins.”

That’s all of the reason I need to pick Fernando Gonzalez in this fight. He has twice as much experience as his opponent, and he’s not going to be baited into playing the stand and trade game with Ward like some of his other opponents. Page couldn’t get Gonzalez to oblige, so there’s no reason to think Ward will either. Although he’s the smaller man at 5’9” with a 68” reach, giving up a long 7” of fists to tag him with, Gonzalez just needs to stay calm and composed and pick his shots. Unless Ward rushes him fast and catches him off guard at the bell he’ll be fine.

Final prediction: Fernando Gonzalez wins via unanimous decision

145 lbs.: A.J. McKee (8-0) vs. Blair Tugman (10-6)

If you spend any time talking to A.J. McKee he may give you the impression he has a chip on his shoulder, but thus far nobody has come along to knock it off, and natural confidence is one of the best things any athlete can have. Blair Tugman wants to be the one to find the chink in McKee’s armor and use it to knock that chip (or his block) off, but after scoring his third straight win at Bellator 178 via submission, Tugman may have a little bit of swagger in his step right now too.

Tugman is a tall Featherweight at 6’0”, but McKee stands 5’10” so Tugman won’t necessarily tower over him. As the son of outstanding wrestler turned fighter Antonio McKee, young A.J. loves to be flashy but has the pedigree to take down an opponent and grind him out, though that’s only happened twice in eight fights. Tugman’s record until recently has been problematic as well, staying at or near the Mendoza line of having as many wins as losses for much of his career. This could be “the new Tugman” or it could be that his three wins were of lesser caliber than McKee.

Final prediction: A.J. McKee wins via second round TKO

125 lbs.: Bruna Ellen (3-1) vs. Veta Arteaga (3-1)

Rounding out the card we have two Flyweights looking to improve their record in a division looking to crown a champion. Ellen’s only promotional loss came against Jessica “Million Hits” Middleton, while Arteaga lost a questionable split decision to Anastasia Yankova. To move up one must win and one must lose though the spoils for the victor could be a fight with Ilima-Lei Macfarlane or Valerie Letourneau. Both have only one TKO and two decisions so it feels like a coin flip fight. For lack of better defining characteristic I’ll go with Arteaga as the elder fighter (29 to 21) who is more experienced in life if not in pro fights.

Final prediction: Veta Arteaga surprises everyone with a submission win

That’s a wrap!

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