Saturday is a busy day in the MMA world. UFC 242 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+) and its lightweight title headliner between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier is getting the bulk of the attention. But Bellator has a compelling card Saturday night in San Jose, California, that won't actually go head-to-head in terms of time slot with the big UFC pay-per-view event.
Bellator 226 (10 p.m. ET, DAZN) features a heavyweight title main event pitting champion Ryan Bader against veteran Cheick Kongo. Also on tap is the launch of the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix, with four of the eight first-round tournament fights happening on the card from SAP Center.
Here's what to watch at Bellator 226:
How good is Ryan Bader at heavyweight?
Since Stipe Miocic knocked out Daniel Cormier to regain the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 241 last month, both Bader and Bellator president Scott Coker have been proclaiming Bader as the best heavyweight in the world. Is he? On paper, absolutely not.
Miocic held the UFC record for most consecutive heavyweight title defenses before he beat Cormier in their rematch, and now he's a two-time UFC champion. Bader has spent most of his career at light heavyweight and holds that title in Bellator. His best victories at heavyweight came against Matt Mitrione and past-his-prime Fedor Emelianenko.
This is the only way we could possibly analyze the Miocic vs. Bader debate, since the two of them fighting each other seems highly unlikely. Could Bader win that fight if it ever, by some miracle, materialized? Sure. He's an excellent fighter and Miocic is not unbeatable. We'll find out a bit more about Bader at heavyweight against Kongo, a 6-foot-4 striker who has won eight in a row. Even with a win, Bader will need to do a lot more to gain on Miocic's résumé. Not that it matters in the long run.
Can Kongo win a major MMA title in 2019?
Kongo's eight-fight winning streak has been sneaky impressive. During this stretch, the former embattled UFC heavyweight has beaten the likes of current UFC contender Alexander Volkov, former Bellator champ Vitaly Minakov and Augusto Sakai, who has won two straight UFC fights. This is not the same Kongo who was best known, during one spell, for frequently landing knees to the groin and grabbing opponents' shorts.
Kongo could absolutely beat Bader this weekend, which could set up an incredible homecoming. MMA will finally be legalized in France in 2020 and Kongo, a Frenchman, has worked hard in lobbying to get that done. A Bellator card in France headlined by a Kongo title defense would be an amazing story. But first, he must deal with Bader and his excellent wrestling, which has long been a Kongo bugaboo. Kongo is a +280 underdog at Caesars, but he could certainly pull it off.
Will anyone emerge as a dark horse in the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix?
Ask anyone in the know in the South Florida MMA scene and they'll tell you Adam Borics is one to watch. The wider audience got a glimpse of that when he knocked out Aaron Pico at Bellator 222 in June. That was no fluke. Those who see the Hungary native train every day at Hard Knocks 365 in Lantana, Florida, will tell you just how good he can be. He has finished seven of his last eight fights.
Borics is 13-0 and he's just rounding into form at 26 years old. He'll face former Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran on Saturday and the bout could act as somewhat of a passing of the torch. Borics is a potential future face of the featherweight division and the Grand Prix could be his coming-out party.
Can Daniel Straus still fight at a high level following a life-threatening vehicle accident?
In December 2017, Straus was in a motorcycle accident in Florida. Initially, he could not move his arms and legs. It took the former two-time Bellator featherweight champion about eight months to learn how to walk again. The odds of him fighting after such a crash were slim. Yet he returned in March to finish Shane Kruchten via first-round submission. That was an amazing feat.
Straus will enter the Grand Prix with rugged Texan Derek Campos as his first-round opponent. This tournament will be no easy task for Straus, who has fought at a championship level in Bellator since 2011. Straus, 35, has a difficult task here, but if history is any indication, counting him out would be a bad idea.
Will Gaston Bolanos continue his highlight-reel finish streak?
Bolanos is not a household name in MMA. At least not yet. But take the time to look up clips from his last few fights. Bolanos is a Muay Thai fighter and kickboxer who has transitioned very well into MMA at Combat Sports Academy in Dublin, California. He has been difficult to deal with on the feet and most who have been content to stay there with him have been stopped. Bolanos has won four straight, all by finish.
Bolanos, who was born in Peru, is athletic and explosive and could be a bilingual star for Bellator in the future. He's still just 26 years old. On Saturday, he takes on journeyman Daniel Carey. Frankly, this is a showcase fight as Bellator continues to smartly build up Bolanos. If he gets another incredible finish, there will be calls for him to be an alternate in the Featherweight Grand Prix. "The Dreamkiller" already seems pretty close to being ready for that.