Bellator is betting that a 40-year-old once-retired fighter who has not competedin the U.S. in more than five years will be able to draw fans in droves to Saturdays Bellator 172 card.Under normal circumstances that would be a laughable. But when the fighter in question is the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, the idea that he will pack San Jose, Calif.s SAP Center and draw more than 2 million fans to the Spike broadcast doesnt seem unreasonable.Emelianenko might not be the fighter he once was, but his name will always ring out as one of the best to ever compete in the sport. Its due to that status and maybe the hope that he still has some of that old Fedor magic left in him that fans will tune in to see him face Matt Mitrione in Bellator 172s main event.In the co-main event, Josh Thomson returns to the Bellator cage for the first time in more than a year and meets recent lightweight title challenger Patricky Freire.
Bellator 172 prelims stream on MMAjunkie before things move to Spike for the main card. Here are five reasons to tune in.
1. Hope vs. realityWe want to see the Emelianenko who defeated Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2004. We want to see the Emelianenko who topped Mirko Filipovic in 2005. We want to see the Emelianenko who submitted Tim Sylvia in 2008. At the very least we want to see the Emelianenko who slept Andrei Arlovski with a big right hand in 2009.Unfortunately, that Emelianenko (36-4 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) only exists in our memories. When he steps into the cage to face Mitrione (11-5 MMA, 2-0 BMMA), who’s No. 15 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA heavyweight rankings, were more likely to see the Emelianenko whose Strikeforce run ended in 2011 with stoppage losses to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson.Yes, Emelianenko is on a five-fight winning streak, but if you saw his most recent fight a debatable victoryover Fabio Maldonado in July you know not to hold out much hope for the man that many consider the greatest heavyweight in MMA history.
Despite this, we will all tune in to see Emelianenko face Mitrione, hoping against hope for one more magical performance from the man who was one the most feared fighter MMA.
Mitrione enters this fight on a two-fight winning streak after posting Bellator wins over Carl Seumanutafa and Oli Thompson.
2. The return of ‘The Punk’Thomson opened his Bellator run with two stoppage wins. Those victories set up a fight with then-former lightweight champion Michael Chandler. Unfortunately, an injury forced Thomson from that bout.While Thomson rehabbed, Bellator released lightweight champ Will Brooks, setting up a fight between Chandler and Patricky Freire for the vacant belt. Chandler won and knocked out Freire in the first round.
Now, more than a year removed from his last fight, Thomson (22-8 MMA, 2-0 BMMA) returns to face Freire (16-8 MMA, 9-7 BMMA) in what could be a title-elimination bout for ThomsonI say “could” because theres been a lot of posturing on both sides when it comes to a possible title fight, but if Thomson gets past Freire, dont be surprised if Chandler and Thomson put the theatrics aside and get down to the business of settling their differences in the Bellator cage.
3. A contender could emergeBellator hasnt had a heavyweight champion since the promotion stripped Vitaly Minakov of the belt in May 2016. In September Bellator President Scott Coker told MMAjunkie Radio the promotion would have a champion in place by the end of the first quarter of 2017.That promise looks like it will go unfulfilled, but when Coker and company decide to book a heavyweight title fight, one of the fighters competing for that belt could emerge from the fight between Cheick Kongo and Oli Thompson, especially if that winner is Kongo.Kongo (25-10-2 MMA, 7-2 BMMA) is currently on a three-fight winning streak and is 7-2 since joining Bellator in 2013, while Thompson (17-9 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) is 0-1 with the promotion after losing his debut to Mitrione by second-round TKO.
4. Looking for progressVeta Arteaga came into Bellator 161 looking to slow the hype train of Anastasia Yankova. She accomplished that goal, and Arteaga swarmed Yankova early and looked like she was on her way to a stoppage win. Yankova, though, managed to stay in the fight and eventually earned a split-decision win that was greeted by boos from the crowd.After the fight an unsatisfied Yankova called for an immediate rematch with Arteaga. That contest went unbooked. Instead, Arteaga (2-1 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) meets Brooke Mayo (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) in a flyweight bout on Bellator 172’s main card.
Arteaga is relatively new to MMA, but she showed promise in her fight against Yankova. Its worth watching this fight to see how Arteaga has progressed since that September matchup and if she can capitalize on the momentum she gained against Yankova.
5. A long, long, long time comingWhen Josh Koscheck signed with Bellator in 2015, hopes were high that we would see him rematch Paul Daley. Alas, injuries have kept Koscheck from competing against anyone.After a layoff of nearly two years, the outspoken Koscheck (17-10 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) returns at Bellator 172, and instead of fighting Daley or another top Bellator welterweight, he meets Mauricio Alonso (12-7 MMA, 0-1 BMMA), who last fought in August, defeating Justin Baesman at Dragon House 23.
This cant be the type of fight Bellator officials envisioned for Koscheck when they brought him on board, yet here they are, booking a fight that feels like the promotion just wants to get a look at how Koscheck performs after five consecutive losses and a long time away from competitive fighting.For more on Bellator 172, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.