Bellator heads back to the friendly confines of WinStar Resort and Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma this Friday night for Bellator 224. The event features a four-fight main card with a title fight in the headliner, and below are my predictions for each bout.
Women’s Featherweight Title Bout: Julia Budd (c) vs. Olga Rubin
Budd (12-2) is the Bellator women’s featherweight champion. The 36-year-old Canadian has won 10 straight fights dating back to 2012 and is a perfect 6-0 so far in Bellator. Some of her notable victories include Marloes Coenen and Germaine de Randamie, with her lone career losses to Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes in Strikeforce. Budd is a physical specimen and was a great signing for Bellator after the UFC passed on her. She is a powerful wrestler with fight-ending ground-and-pound capabilities and could be a dominant champion in Bellator for quite some time. With a potential matchup against Cris Cyborg on tap, expect Budd to be very motivated to get an impressive win in this fight. Rubin (6-0) is a homegrown Bellator talent looking to take the next step in her career. The 29-year-old native of Israel made her pro MMA debut back in 2016 and has so far racked up a perfect 6-0 record including a 4-0 mark in Bellator. Like Budd, she is a big featherweight who prefers to ground-and-pound her opponents. Though Rubin has done well against lesser competition, Budd is a massive step up. I expect Budd to have another great performance here, and win the fight via TKO when the fight gets to the mat.
Pick: Julia Budd
Middleweight Bout: Rafael Carvalho vs. Chidi Njokuani
Carvalho (15-3) is the former Bellator middleweight champion. The 32-year-old Brazilian holds an impressive record of 6-2 in Bellator including two wins over Melvin Manhoef and other notable wins over Joe Schilling and Alessio Sakara. However, he lost his title to Gegard Mousasi in 2018 and then dropped a split decision against Lyoto Machida. Njokuani (18-6) is looking to become a title contender at 185lbs. The 30-year-old American is 5-2 overall in Bellator with notable wins over Hisaki Kato and Melvin Guillard. However, he has lost two of his last three fights against John Salter and Andrey Koreshkov by stoppage. Both guys are on losing skids and desperately need a win here but Carvalho is the more proven fighter and I believe he will be able to outpoint Njokuani en route to a decision win.
Pick: Rafael Carvalho
Women’s Flyweight Bout: Juliana Velasquez vs. Kristina Williams
Velasquez (8-0) is an undefeated flyweight hoping to get a title shot against Bellator champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane. The 32-year-old Brazilian has won her first three fights in Bellator and overall has finished 50 percent of her fights since making her pro debut in 2014. Williams (3-1) is also hoping to jump into title contention. The 29-year-old American made her pro debut in 2017 in Bellator with an upset TKO win over Heather Hardy and has overall racked up a 3-1 win in the promotion. She holds a notable win over Bruna Ellen in her last fight with her lone career loss coming against veteran Valerie Letourneau. Velasquez may be undefeated but I like the striking acumen of Williams in this matchup. The pick is Williams to outstrike Velasquez and pick up a decision win.
Pick: Kristina Williams
Welterweight Bout: Ed Ruth vs. Kiichi Kunimoto
Ruth (6-1) has fought his entire career in Bellator since making his pro MMA debut in 2016. The 28-year-old American won six fights to begin his career, five by stoppage, before losing by submission to Neiman Gracie in the first round of the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix. He is an excellent wrestler with heavy ground-and-pound and despite the loss to Gracie remains one of Bellator’s top welterweights. Kunimoto (20-7-2) is making his Bellator debut. The 38-year-old native of Japan is a former UFC fighter who went 3-2 in the Octagon. Since then he has fought for RIZIN and won both of his fights back home in Japan. He is a submission expert with 10 wins by tapout. Despite coming off of a submission loss and facing a ground ace, I expect Ruth to evade Kunimoto’s submission attempts, control him on the mat in top position, and likely get the finish with heavy ground-and-pound.
Pick: Ed Ruth
What are your picks for the Bellator 224 main card?