Bellator is going back-to-back this weekend with a pair of shows Friday and Saturday at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
The headliner of the weekend comes on Saturday, as Rory MacDonald faces Douglas Lima in the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix final. MacDonald is the Bellator welterweight champion, and he'll be defending his title against Lima, the former two-time champion. The victor will also walk away with $1 million as the tournament winner.
MacDonald vs. Lima is one of the best welterweight fights any promotion in the world could put on. They are both top-10-level talents. But there are other intriguing storylines to keep an eye on this weekend for Bellator, including the third MMA fight for Jake Hager (formerly known as WWE champion Jack Swagger), fresh off his high-profile debut for All Elite Wrestling earlier this month.
With two nights of fights, let's take a look at a few of the key things to keep an eye on at Bellator 231 and 232.
Will the Rory MacDonald vs. Douglas Lima winner be the best welterweight in the world?
Bellator president Scott Coker sent off a tweet last week proclaiming that the winner between MacDonald and Lima at Bellator 232 would not only be the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix winner, $1 million richer and the Bellator welterweight champion. The winner would also be considered the best welterweight in the world. Coker's tweet got ratio'd -- social media slang for his replies (usually negative) far outnumbering the shares or likes. But is he that far off?
The winner of Bellator's Welterweight World Grand Prix not only wins the WGP Title, @BellatorMMA welterweight championship and $1,000,000...— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) October 18, 2019
But @rory_macdonald or @PhenomLima will also leave the cage as the greatest 170-pounder on the planet.
Coming into the high-stakes matchup, MacDonald is ranked No. 4 among welterweights by ESPN and Lima is No. 7. Bellator doesn't have two fighters ranked in any other weight class. MacDonald is unbeaten at 170 pounds since coming over from the UFC as a free agent. Lima has just one loss since 2015 -- to MacDonald. Meanwhile, MacDonald owns a win over current No. 3 Tyron Woodley.
Would the winner be better than the likes of UFC champion Kamaru Usman or top contender Colby Covington? It's impossible to say for sure, since inter-promotional matchups seem like a long shot, at best. Certainly a case could be made for the winner, not only because of the résumés of MacDonald and Lima, but simply by watching them fight. They're both brilliant competitors and the bout should be outstanding, just like the last one was in January 2018.
Is Frank Mir vs. Roy Nelson the MMA equivalent of a "loser leaves town" match?
Mir talked a bit about retirement after his TKO loss to Javy Ayala in December 2018. He also had significant damage done to his mouth and jaw in that fight after his mouthpiece fell out, which likely led to some of that retirement chatter. Mir started training in pro wrestling back in the spring and made his debut in that world in April. He hasn't had many actual matches, but he's been serious enough wrestling that he's been working a bit with veteran wrestler Austin Aries, a fellow Las Vegas resident.
Mir, the former UFC heavyweight champion, has dropped four straight, but outside of Ayala they were all losses to big names: Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski and Mark Hunt. Nelson, a former "The Ultimate Fighter" champion, is in a similar boat. He's lost three in a row to Mirko Cro Cop, Sergei Kharitonov and Matt Mitrione. Nelson owns a win over Ayala.
Nelson, 43, and Mir, 40, will meet in the co-main event of Bellator 231 Friday, in a rematch of their UFC 130 bout from 2011. It's a fascinating fight, because neither one of them seems ready to walk away from MMA, but the loser will likely be pushed in that direction. The winner will get something of a new lease on his career.
What does Jake Hager's new pro wrestling gig with AEW mean for his MMA career?
Hager is an exciting heavyweight with potential for Bellator: a former collegiate All-American wrestler who moves like he's much younger than 37 years old. He also has the experience and following he built up as a champion in WWE, which has been clear with how much buzz Hager has generated in both of his fights for the promotion.
However, one now has to wonder where Hager's priorities lie. He made his surprise debut for All Elite Wrestling, an upstart alternative to WWE, earlier this month during the promotion's debut episode on TNT. Hager is being positioned as a top act by AEW, getting paired in storylines with champion Chris Jericho, one of the most well-known pro wrestlers in the world.
As far back as his days in WWE, Hager long wanted to try MMA as a former dominant heavyweight amateur wrestler at Oklahoma. But pro wrestling is also where his bread has been buttered, and AEW has started out hot, drawing over 1 million viewers in each of their first three weeks on TV in the United States.
Hager could obviously still do both pro wrestling and MMA, almost like Bellator's version of Brock Lesnar. His opponent at Bellator 231, Anthony Garrett, is a journeyman on the regional circuit who Hager is expected to squash. But it'll be curious to see how much Hager's prominent role and obligations with AEW will affect the possibilities of him ever becoming a headlining draw for Bellator.
Where does top light heavyweight Phil Davis go from here?
There was a time when Davis was considered one of the best light heavyweights in the world, on the verge of a UFC title fight against Jon Jones. In truth, Davis' time near the top of that division wasn't all that long ago, and some could argue his name still belongs among the elite. Consider this: Davis has fought Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader twice and lost both times, but by extremely close split decisions each time out. Both could have gone either way. Bader is ESPN's No. 2-ranked light heavyweight after Jones.
At Bellator 231, Davis will take on Rizin import Karl Albrektsson, a 26-year-old Swedish fighter who has won three in a row. Davis, 35, is pretty clearly in the gatekeeper role here. If Albrektsson can beat Davis, that's quite a big achievement for his career. For Davis, meanwhile, this is a bout that proves he does indeed still belong near the top of the 205-pound division.
Last year, Davis fell by split decision to Vadim Nemkov in a similar style of bout against an up-and-comer. He rebounded by beating Liam McGeary in April. Davis has only lost to two men other than Nemkov going back to 2012: Bader and Anthony Johnson. "Mr. Wonderful" has had quite the career -- and we'll find out a lot about its future Friday.
How good can kickboxing champion Robin van Roosmalen be in MMA?
For six years, van Roosmalen was one of Glory Kickboxing's best fighters in the lighter weight classes. The Netherlands native won Glory's featherweight title twice and the promotion's lightweight title twice. Van Roosmalen remains among the elite kickboxers in the world, but he has decided to shift his focus more toward MMA. Bellator signed him in May, and he'll make his debut on the Bellator 232 prelims against Chris Lencioni, a relative unknown.
The transition from high-level kickboxing to MMA is not always easy. Former Glory light heavyweight champion Gokhan Saki is 1-1 in the UFC after coming in with a ton of hype. Sometimes it can be a smash hit. Israel Adesanya, an incredible kickboxer, is now an undefeated UFC middleweight champion. And van Roosmalen had a better résumé in Glory than Adesanya did.
For Bellator, van Roosmalen was a tremendous signing. He's just 2-0 in MMA, and although his teammates at Hard Knocks 365 will tell you he's acclimating well, no one will truly know how good he can be until he gets inside the cage against tougher competition. Van Roosmalen's upside is very high, and Bellator is in a position where it can bring him along slowly.