Big time MMA returns to Dublin this Saturday in the 3 Arena. With Bellator promising another great night of fights. Headlined by a Welterweight Title Unification between Yaroslav Amosov (26-0) vs. Logan Storley (14-1). With a number one contender shootout between SGB’s Pedro Carvalho vs. Jeremy Kennedy in the co-main. With massive Irish interest in Bellator. We take a look at some of the fighters preparing to make the walk to the cage on Saturday.
Returning after a 3-year hiatus to submit Karl Albrektsson in spectacular fashion. The Belfast man set about making up for lost time by calling out co-main event winner Yoel Romero. Unfortunately, Moore didn’t get the big name he craved. But has been handed a difficult assignment against Maciej Różański, who has previously submitted Will Fleury. Moore’s last fight played out like a Rocky movie. Dropped and almost finished in round one. He rallied, cheered on by his mountain of a father, who charged press row like the Juggernaut to cheer on his son. As he applied to finish to his real naked choke. For someone who has been on the scene for over a decade, Moore is a relatively young 31. In a division still populated by the elder statesman. Should Moore put on a repeat of his previous performance. He may find himself face to face with the “Soldier of God” in the near future.
Just 24 years old Kelly is unbeaten as both an amateur and professional. With all bar one of his 11 victories finishing inside the distance. The massive Lightweight is somehow set to make his Featherweight debut against fellow undefeated prospect Dorval Jordan. If there are no adverse effects from cutting the additional 10lbs, the 6ft “Moville mauler” could be a terrifying appointment for anyone at 145lbs. Named as one of ESPN's 'top 25 under 25' to watch in 2023. Kelly was critical of his own performance at Bellator in September. Training under John Kavanagh and the underrated Dave Roche. The Donegal man seems to have refocused his efforts, his popular YouTube channel seemingly neglected, in order to focus on his next assignment. Showing a willingness to cut out even moderate distractions, even on the back of a win. Is a hugely encouraging sign that when the bright lights eventually shine on Kelly. He will bask in the glow rather than wilt.
Smullen returns to the Bellator cage 3 years after his last fight in the organization, a decision win over Harry Hardwick. He returns as a double champion after capturing the RFP featherweight and lightweight belts. Unfortunately for Smullen, just 4 days after winning his second belt in Ukraine. The Russian invasion began, and the organization has been forced to shut its doors for now. Luck seems to be a commodity that evades Smullen. His stint in The Ultimate Fighter, where he was expected to finally get a chance to show off his impressive submission skills. Ended before it began with a bout of rhabdomyolysis forcing his exit from the show. Now 7-1 since his sole appearance at the TUF finale. Smullen will be hoping his luck has changed as he takes on Piotr Niedzielski, who himself is on a 9 fight win streak. Including a victory over Pedro Carvalho. Victory on Saturday night would see Smullen shoot to the top of the Featherweight rankings and may see him challenge for his 3rd belt.
The “Pikeman” will be looking to build on his great win in September over Arivaldo Lima Da Silva. The Wexford man showed incredible footwork as he dominated the Brazilian over 3 rounds. Moore earned plaudits as one of the few MMA fighters to be open about the toll the profession takes on your mental health. To the point he went over 50 hours without sleep in the lead up to a fight in Russia. He has come through the other side and as his coach John Kavanagh says, “a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter”. Since the episode in Russia. Moore has shown massive improvements. Unlucky not to get the decision over Jornel Lugo before besting Da Silva. Moore appears to be in his best ever physical and mental state and that could spell trouble for opponent Luca Iovine. Moore had called for a fight with Leandro Higo, who has since seen his fight with James Gallagher fall apart. A win for the Wexford man on Saturday could see a fight with the highly rated Higo back on the table.
The man whose victory inspired Conor McGregor to leap into the Bellator cage and pick a fight with referee Marc Goddard. The “Relentless” one has quietly put together an impressive 7-2 run since his disappointing 0-2 run with the UFC. A non-stop powerful aggressive fighter. Ward may find a willing combatant in England’s Mike Shipman. Shipman however, has a hell of a tight squeeze with 6 submission chokes on his record. Ward would be advised to keep his neck away from “Sea Bass”. At 42 and showing no signs of slowing his come-forward style. Ward will be looking to steal the show with his thunderous hands. With hopefully, a rescheduled fight with undefeated prospect Norbert Novenyi Jr awaiting him next.
Drogheda's Ciaran Clarke is a testament to doing things the hard way and the right way. Competing in multiple European and World Amateur tournaments before turning professional. Clarke has been forged in fire and now the steely SBG stand out has been unstoppable in his 6-0 run as a pro. Backed by his ear deafening support, Bellator would do well to realize the potential star they have on their hands. Clarke is every bit as impressive outside the ring. Donating all his salary from a recent documentary to suicide prevention charity Save Our Sons And Daughters (SOSAD). Clarke is exactly the kind of role model the sport has been crying out for. His quiet nature outside of the cage is juxtaposed with his predatory nature inside. With Clarke always on the hunt for a finish with 4 from his 6 victories so far. In his opponent Leonardos Sinis, Clarke will find someone just as willing to go to the ground. As the Greek fighter has an impressive 10 submission victories in his 11 wins. Should he maintain his perfect record on Saturday. The Drogheda native may just be Irelands next hope at a World Title.
Kavanagh makes her return a year on from her horrific ACL and MCL tear seconds into her fight with Leah McCourt. Amazingly “KO” fought through 3 rounds, effectively on one leg and was victorious on the night. Carried from the arena in the arms of Conor McGregor and coach John Kavanagh to deafening cheers. However, in her enforced absence, Kavanagh has seen the vanquished McCourt return to the win column and get a big-name fight with Cat Zingano. Kavanagh had previously been promised a rematch with champion and all-time great Cris Cyborg. Perhaps wisely, Sinead will not be thrown straight into the fire on her return from injury. She instead will find herself in another rematch. This one against Janay Harding who she had previously stopped in 2018. If Kavanagh can return to her best. A title shot must be next. But after such a massive injury and lay off. How much will that toll be mentally as well as physically? One thing is for sure. No one can deal with adversity like Kavanagh.
The owner of the greatest walk out in MMA. When “Zombie” hits and “The Showstopper” makes the walk. There is no feeling quite like it. Having walked the hard road himself. Which has seen him take in South Africa, Poland, Italy, Russia and Kazakhstan. Queally has firmly established himself as Bellator’s box office attraction in Ireland. Having defeated the legendary Patricky Pitbull. A rematch was schedule in Dublin with the vacant Bellator Lightweight World Championship on the line. Unfortunately, he would come up short in his attempt to add a world title to his name. But Queally had established himself as a name in the division, and his previous outing saw him take on former UFC champion Benson Henderson. The 38-year-old Waterford man will be looking to return to winning ways against the American Bryce Logan. The perennial underdog, Queally finds himself in unfamiliar territory as the favorite. The raucous 3 Arena will be hoping for another show stopping performance. Queally will be hoping to celebrate his birthday with a win, and maybe take up his teammate Conor McGregor’s recent challenge. McGregor wished his sparring partner a happy birthday, before asking him to repeat the feat with a bottle of the superstars famous beverage inside him. "Happy birthday show stop! Your one stop shop for stoppin shops. (Drink a full bottle of proper whiskey and try say this fast)"
Despite running late and almost missing the weigh in for his Bellator debut. “The Black Diamond” wasted little time inside the cage as he submitted Alex Bodnar in the first round. The charismatic SBG prospect will have his work cut out for him as he takes on Jiu Jitsu black belt Craig McIntosh. A win would see the Blanchardstown natives stock rise even further, after his show-stealing post fight interview in September. Telling the Dublin crowd “ I love ya, Bleeding deadly yiz are” to a huge reaction. Undefeated, with 4 submission finishes in his 4 outings so far. The ceiling has yet to be set for Kenny and its exciting to see how far he could yet go. The brother of “Combate Global” winner Frans Mlambo, Mokhonoana is not short of inspiration as he prepares to take the next big step in his fighting career.
BELLATOR 291: AMOSOV VS. STORLEY 2 takes place on Saturday February 25th in the 3Arena. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster at https://www.ticketmaster.ie/bellator-mma-tickets/artist/1319868