Bellator 277 is this Friday, April 15, and features two of the biggest fights in the promotion’s history.
In the co-main event, fight fans will get a matchup between two of the light heavyweight division’s best talents outside the UFC when Corey Anderson and Vadim Nemkov face off inside San Jose’s SAP Center not only for the Grand Prix crown but also for the division title.
Then in the headliner, Bellator’s brightest young star AJ McKee will defend his recently won featherweight belt against the man he took it from in promotional icon Patricio “Pitbull” Freire.
Along with those two massive matchups, there are several interesting narratives heading into fight night. Let’s take a look at five of the biggest questions hovering over Bellator 277.
Win or lose, is Bellator in the AJ McKee era?
There are certainly those that will say if AJ McKee loses, then he is not the face of Bellator just yet. However, outside of being knocked out cold and face planting to the mat like a falling tree, it’s hard to see how we aren’t in the “Mercenary Era,” win or lose.
If McKee moves to 19-0 after Friday, there is no doubt whatsoever that this promotion is his because he is its most talented fighter. But, even if he did lose, his first defeat would come at the hands of the greatest fighter in Bellator history, Freire. And after he already beat him previously. What’s the shame in that? Whatever way you slice it, McKee is still just 27 and only getting better, while “Pitbull” will turn 35 in July and is exiting his prime. Victory or not, we are in the Era of McKee until he decides to leave for the UFC.
Are ‘Pitbull’s’ best years behind him?
As mentioned above, the Brazilian will be 35-years-old on July 7. Unlike heavyweights, hitting the back end of your 30s is the start of an athletic decline for most fighters below middleweight. And that decline seems to come even more sharply at the lowest weight classes. Are Freire’s best years behind him? Yes, they are.
Does that mean he isn’t an elite fighter anymore? No, it doesn’t, especially not in Bellator. If “Pitbull” is a Bellator lifer he is likely to be a top fighter until he’s 40. With 37-fights worth of experience, he will remain a very dangerous fighter for several more years to come. Meaning that McKee may not be facing the best version of “Pitbull,” but he will still fight one that can beat him on April 15.
Who is the best light heavyweight outside the UFC: Vadim Nemkov or Corey Anderson?
It could be argued that Vadim Nemkov vs Corey Anderson in the Grand Prix final is the best fight on the Bellator 277 card. There is no doubt about it, these are the two best light heavyweight fighters on earth not competing in the Octagon. Heck, even before “Overtime” secured his release from the UFC, he was a top-five level competitor in the organization.
The question is, which man is the true 205-pound king of Outworld? I don’t know, and that is what makes this fight so fun. Anderson has the more impressive resume with victories over the current and former UFC light heavyweight champs. Yet, the Russian deserves serious respect having victories over four former Bellator titlists and a talent level that hasn’t yet peaked at only 29. No matter who stands triumphant at the end, the winner will be a deserving champion and a fighter on the level of their elite UFC counterparts.
Is Linton Vassell a contender at heavyweight?
Former light heavyweight title contender Linton Vassell has quietly become a real threat within the heavyweight division. After four fights the Englishman is 3-1 with his lone defeat coming to the former interim champion Valentin Moldavsky. Now he faces a former title challenger in Timothy Johnson. If the fourth-ranked “Swarm” defeats Johnson on Friday a case could be made for him to face the winner of the championship rematch between Ryan Bader and Cheick Kongo in May. And considering his grappling skills and light heavyweight speed, he would be a serious threat to bring the UK another major MMA championship later this year.
Is this former champion Rafael Cavalho’s last chance?
Former middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho needs a win…bad. After getting the title and defending it on several occasions, he has lost five and six and hasn’t reached the potential he showed in his early days in the promotion. Organizations other than the UFC have been known to be more lenient when it comes to losing streaks and less willing to cut ties quickly. However, with Carvalho not being a popular fighter and one most may not even realize held a title, he needs a win or he’ll be looking for a new place to fight in the summer.