Bellator’s debut in Madison Square Garden is shaping up to be one of the biggest shows of the year and in just eight days, the waiting will all be over.
The main event will feature a grudge match three years in the making with Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva finally settling their differences inside cage. Before all that gets underway, in the co-main event, the legend Fedor Emelianenko fights for the first time on American soil since 2011 when he takes on Matt Mitrione.
The two were expected to meet earlier this year back at Bellator 172 in February, but the fight was cancelled just a few hours before the event when Mitrione suffered kidney stones. Bellator were unable to find a suitable opponent for Fedor to fight, so the bout was then rescheduled for Bellator NYC on June 24.
Fedor comes into the bout having fought just six times in as many years after taking an extended break from the sport dating from June 2012 to December 2015. “The Last Emperor” will be making his Bellator debut, but his relationship with Bellator CEO Scott Coker extends back to his Strikeforce days from 2009 to 2011.
The Russian is currently riding a six-fight win streak with wins over Jeff Monson, Satoshi Ishii, Pedro Rizzo, Singh Jaideep and Fabio Maldonado. The win over Maldonado came under the EFN banner and amidst plenty of controversy with Fedor taking a majority decision. Maldonado later contested his loss and had it overturned to a draw by the World Mixed Martial Arts Association (WMMA). However, WMMAA have no authority to officially change the decision, thus it remains as a win on Fedor’s record.
Previous controversies will all be forgotten next week when Fedor takes to the Bellator cage for the first time, but a happy return is far from guaranteed.
In Fedor’s way on June 24 will be Mitrione, the former NFL and decorated UFC fighter. Mitrione joined Bellator in 2016 having lost two on the bounce in the UFC to Ben Rothwell and Travis Browne. Mitrione’s debut in Bellator didn’t go quite to plan after being knocked down by Carl Seumanutaf early in round one, but he bounced back well and won the fight himself just minutes later by knockout.
Mitrione’s last appearance in the Bellator cage came at Bellator 158 in July last year where he defeated Oli Thompson after an entertaining back and forth two round brawl. Having overcome the short-term discomfort of kidney stones earlier this year, Mitrione now gets a second chance to have the biggest fight of his life at Bellator NYC next Saturday night when he attempts to ruin the Fedor return party.
The buildup for the next week will be all about the return of Fedor and it will no doubt prove to be a memorable moment for those in attendance and those watching around the world. Make no mistake about it though, a fairytale ending is the furthest thing from guaranteed for “The Last Emperor”.