Bellator's two events may be separated by a distance of 5,000 miles, but both Friday and Saturday will be filled with marquee bouts that will set the stage for the promotion for the rest of the year and beyond.
Bellator 227 takes place in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday, headlined by a bantamweight fight between James Gallagher and Roman Salazar. Also on that card is Michael Page, who is looking to rebound after a loss to Douglas Lima, and former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, who faces fellow UFC veteran Myles Jury.
Bellator 228 takes place Saturday in Inglewood, California. Patricio "Pitbull" Freire puts his featherweight title on the line in the main event against Juan Archuleta. That bout will also act as a first-round matchup in Bellator's Featherweight World Grand Prix. Plus, a pair of former UFC stars, Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi, meet in the middleweight co-main event.
Here's what to watch this weekend:
What will the Bellator World Featherweight Grand Prix quarterfinals look like?
The second half of Bellator's featherweight tournament's opening round takes place Saturday at Bellator 228. The Freire-Archuleta bout will cap off the night, but there's plenty more to see in the other three first-round fights: AJ McKee vs. Georgi Karakhanyan, Darrion Caldwell vs. Henry Corrales and Daniel Weichel vs. Saul Rogers. Derek Campos, Adam Borics, Pedro Carvalho and Emmanuel Sanchez advanced to the second round in the tournament at Bellator 226 on Sept. 6.
What's most interesting about perhaps Bellator's deepest Grand Prix yet will be how the quarterfinals will be decided. Following Bellator 228, the eight competitors remaining will draw numbers. They will then publicly select, in order based on their number, where and when (and perhaps the opponent) they want to fight among Bellator's set future dates and locations.
This is something Bellator president Scott Coker borrowed from old-school K-1 kickboxing in Japan. It'll be interesting to see what strategies the fighters take. Will competitors seek out a specific opponent if he is available? Or try to fight earlier or later? This kind of choose-your-own-adventure format has never been used in United States mixed martial arts.
How relevant is Mousasi vs. Machida in 2019?
This fight between two former stars of the UFC would have been the Bellator middleweight title fight had Mousasi not lost the belt to Rafael Lovato Jr. in an upset in June. Even so, both are still competing at a high level. Machida is coming off a knockout of Chael Sonnen and has won four straight, including his final two fights in the UFC. Mousasi had won eight straight before Lovato beat him. Both are likely past their prime, though. Machida is 41 years old and Mousasi, 34, has openly discussed retirement being in the near future.
Even though there's no title on the line, what this bout does have is a grudge. Mousasi, the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, has been calling for a rematch with Machida, a former UFC light heavyweight champ, since losing to the Brazilian at UFC Fortaleza in 2014. And he has not done so with a whisper.
Mousasi has accused Machida of performance-enhancing drug use multiple times over the past five years. Machida did get suspended by UFC anti-doping partner USADA for 18 months due to a banned substance in 2016, but not for steroids. Machida denied knowing that 7-keto-DHEA was a banned substance and said USADA didn't provide enough education on what was banned and what was not. Either way, there is a backstory here and the winner will stay relevant in either Bellator's middleweight or light heavyweight divisions. It should be an interesting fight.
Is it time for Gallagher to graduate again from showcase fights?
Bellator has done a really nice job building Gallagher up and he has become a legitimate star for the promotion, especially in Ireland. Gallagher, Conor McGregor's teammate, is headlining Bellator 227 against UFC veteran Salazar, who is 13-9 and coming off a loss in LFA.
Gallagher should be a heavy favorite and that has been the norm for his career. Just 22 years old, Gallagher has been pushed slowly, and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, a case can be made that it should happen more in mixed martial arts.
Gallagher was knocked out last year by Ricky Bandejas, temporarily halting his rise. If he beats Salazar, it'll be three straight wins and potentially time for him to get another step up in competition. It appears Gallagher is now focused on fighting at bantamweight after spending some time at featherweight and having success there. With a victory here, especially if it's impressive, someone like former champ Eduardo Dantas should be next.
Can Michael Page still be a big star for Bellator?
Page's undefeated record was tarnished in highlight-reel fashion when he was knocked out by Douglas Lima in May during a Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix semifinal bout. Page also didn't look all that impressive in beating Paul Daley in the first round. He'll take a step back at Bellator 227 when he fights Richard Kiely, who is just 3-1 as a pro. Ireland's Kiely will have the crowd behind him in Dublin.
"Venom" was someone Bellator built up because of his incredibly exciting fighting style and charisma. The promotion has given him plenty of chances to grow as a fighter, and Page has gotten better. But Page is still in search of that signature win over an established name. One could argue that Daley was that win, but many felt Daley should have won the decision. Page has to get by Kiely first, if he can, and then it'll be up to Bellator to figure out how to book him moving forward.
The United Kingdom, where Page hails from, is very important to Bellator, which has committed a lot of money to develop their brand in Europe. Page will be given every chance to succeed, but at 32 years old "MVP" isn't getting any younger.
What is Henderson's current career trajectory?
Very quietly, Henderson, the former UFC lightweight champion, has built a three-fight winning streak after losing three of his first four with Bellator. If Henderson beats Jury, he could make a case for a second Bellator lightweight title shot. One obstacle is Freire, the champion (at featherweight, too), is busy with the Featherweight Grand Prix. Henderson did beat Freire in 2016 when Freire suffered a leg injury during the bout.
Henderson is 35 years old, but signed a new contract with Bellator late last year and most likely won't be going anywhere any time soon. He'll need an impressive victory over Jury to refresh fans' memory of how good he was and get prominent spots on big cards again. It's crazy to think that Henderson, who has had an excellent career, beat Jorge Masvidal in his Henderson's last UFC fight in 2015 and now Masvidal will be headlining Madison Square Garden in two months.