UFC vs. Bellator: Handicapping a hypothetical fantasy fight card

Bellator MMA welterweight champion Yaroslav Amosov, left, is 26-0 in mixed martial arts and UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, right, is a perfect 14-0 in the UFC. (Images courtesy of Bellator MMA and Associated Press)

It took many years, fight fans, but it actually happened.

Yes, Bellator MMA finally caught up to and will leapfrog the UFC in terms of its numbered events with Friday’s Bellator 267 taking place one week after UFC 266.

Now, is there any real significance or correlation to each promotion’s event number momentarily being the same or one being higher than the other? Absolutely not. After all, both promotions have held more than 266 events – Bellator has held five non-numbered international events in recent years, while the UFC has held a whopping 573 total events since 1993.

Will we use this random moment in time as an excuse to assemble a hypothetical super-card featuring athletes from both rosters? Absolutely!

Bellator’s cultural cachet is clearly not on the same level as the UFC’s, however the ViacomCBS-owned organization also has deep pockets and elite production value as its international fan base continues to grow.

Roster expansion and talent development are at the root of Bellator’s recent success and much of that credit goes to former Strikeforce founder Scott Coker who was named Bellator’s CEO in 2014.

"We've got the greatest roster in the history of this company, but this roster took six years to get to this point,” Coker told Insider back in April. “One thing I learned from Strikeforce -- you have to build from the bottom up. And you have to buy free agents from the top down. But free agents alone aren't going to make your business. They'll come and go. The health of your company is about the fighters you build.”

Coker helped groom former UFC champions Ronda Rousey, Daniel Cormier and Tyron Woodley among others on their rise to stardom, so his track record is long proven.

There have been dozens of stars compete in both organizations over the years and as you’ll see below four of Bellator’s current champions previously had success in the UFC.

“It’s not going to happen because it’s not the UFC’s business model to do it,” Coker told reporters in August when asked about a hypothetical co-promoted event. “(But) if they want to get it on, we’d do it in a second. That’s how I feel.”

It sure is a fun thought experiment, so we figured why not play matchmaker and piece together a fantasy fight card featuring each organization’s current champions? Best on best.

Bellator doesn’t have women’s bantamweight or strawweight champions right now, or a men’s flyweight champ, so that would leave Rose Namajunas and Brandon Moreno without opponents, plus it would save UFC double champ Amanda Nunes from having to defend both of her belts in the same night – although it’s not crazy to think Nunes could literally win two title fights in one night if it were sanctioned.

We’ll separate these hypothetical bouts into a five-fight main and five-fight preliminary card before handicapping these dream matchups.

(UFC champions are on the left and Bellator’s champs on the right.)

MAIN CARD
-- Kamaru Usman (19-1) vs. Yaroslav Amosov (26-0)
-- Alexander Volkanovski (23-1) vs. A.J. McKee (18-0)
-- Israel Adesanya (21-1) vs. Gegard Mousasi (48–7–2)
-- Jan Blachowicz (28-8) vs. Vadim Nemkov (14-2)
-- Amanda Nunes (21-4) vs. Cris “Cyborg” Justino (24-2)

These would potentially be the five most competitive bouts on the card as each champ from the Bellator side would hold certain stylistic advantages over their UFC foes and pose a legitimate upset threat.

In terms of bout order, the main and co-main events were relatively easy choices since the combined record of the four competitors is 86-2 (42-2 on the UFC side and 44-0 on Bellator’s).

PRELIMINARY CARD
-- Francis Ngannou (16-3) vs. Ryan Bader (28-6)
-- Charles Oliveira (31-8) vs. Patricio Freire (32-5)
-- Valentina Shevchenko (22-3) vs. Juliana Velasquez (12-0)
-- Aljamain Sterling (19-4) vs. Sergio Pettis (21-5)
-- Ciryl Gane (10-0) vs. Valentin Moldavsky (11-1)

We’d bookend the prelims with a pair of heavyweight tilts. Since a handful of divisions aren’t represented, we figured why not add a bonus bout and kick off the night with a matchup of interim titleholders? Oliveira-Freire and Sterling-Pettis would be wildly entertaining, while feared UFC champs Shevchenko and Ngannou would be expected to deliver highlight finishes against overmatched opponents.

Would the UFC roster simply have a field day with the smaller competitor’s champions, or might Bellator’s belt holders be able to hang with their counterparts and a few of them even win?

Let’s take a closer look at each hypothetical matchup and set some corresponding fantasy betting odds.

Kamaru Usman (-290) vs. Yaroslav Amosov (+215)

Usman can make a legitimate claim he’s the top pound-for-pound fighter in MMA right now, so who better to headline the card. He’d be at least a two-to-one favourite against any top-ranked welterweight, many of whom he has already beaten, but because of that there’d be some nice value on Amosov.

While these odds are fair, they don’t indicate how competitive this matchup could be. Amosov, unfortunately not well known among mainstream MMA fans, is a multiple-time World Combat Sambo and Combat Jiu-Jitsu World Cup champion and may not be bullied by Usman in the grappling department the same way others are.

Alexander Volkanovski (-210) vs. A.J. McKee (+175)

We recently saw Volkanovski’s outstanding title defence against Brian Ortega at UFC 266 and a fight with Bellator’s youngest champion could deliver similar mayhem. McKee became Bellator’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter earlier this year when he finished two-weight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire in less than two minutes. McKee has finished six of his last seven opponents, but Volkanovski’s durability is undeniable at this point. Volkanovski would need to be favoured but McKee would be a live dog.

Israel Adesanya (-225) vs. Gegard Mousasi (+185)

Mousasi is one of four Bellator champions to have previously fought in the UFC. Adesanya hadn’t yet debuted in the UFC when Mousasi left he organization in 2017 in the midst of a five-fight winning streak. The well-rounded veteran middleweight has only lost once in the past six years and would be a threat to take Adesanya down to the canvas and employ a similar strategy to the one that saw Adesanya suffer his first loss back in March, granted that one was up a weight class.

Jan Blachowicz (-140) vs. Vadim Nemkov (+125)

Blachowicz has gotten better with age. He can knock you out, submit you or grind out a decision…just like Nemkov. This would be a back-and-forth battle between two of Europe’s best and Nemkov would be a popular underdog pick at these close odds. Remember, Blachowicz never had to beat Jon Jones to earn his light-heavyweight title so there is an unofficial asterisk beside his claim to being the top fighter in the 205-pound division.

Amanda Nunes (-235) vs. Cris “Cyborg” Justino (+190)

Sure, we saw Nunes finish Cyborg in a mere 51 seconds at UFC 232 three years ago, but Cyborg is 4-0 since the loss and is one of only a handful of women on the planet that has a legitimate chance of ending Nunes’s winning streak. It would be familiar fireworks to kick off the main card. Cyborg closed as roughly a two-to-one favourite ahead of their first meeting, so we’ll more or less flip those odds for the rematch.

https://youtu.be/CEA7fasR4pg?t=257

Francis Ngannou (-800) vs. Ryan Bader (+475)

Bader is a former two-weight Bellator champion and even though the natural light-heavyweight recently lost his 205-pound division title to Nemkov, Bader remains Bellator’s heavyweight champ. Bader has only lost four times in the past decade and all four were via strikes which wouldn’t bode well against Ngannou, the consensus hardest puncher in the sport. Bader also has one-shot KO power but his best chance at beating Ngannou might be to utilize his NCAA Division 1 wrestling and implement a similar game plan to the one we saw Stipe Miocic the first time he fought Ngannou.

Charles Oliveira (-350) vs. Patricio Freire (+250)

Freire would be in a tough spot here coming off his loss to McKee, his first in nearly five years. He’s more of a natural featherweight and even though Oliveira also used to compete at 145 pounds Freire would be at a significant size disadvantage. Both champions knocked out Michael Chandler to win their lightweight belts and Freire’s win was more convincing. Who knows how long Oliveira’s reign over the UFC’s lightweight division might last, but right now he’s at the top of his game. A phenomenal talent. The odds of this matchup producing a finish would be astronomical.

Valentina Shevchenko (-1200) vs. Juliana Velasquez (+900)

This is no different than any of Shevchenko’s UFC matchups. She has closed each of her past four bouts as at least -1100 chalk. Velasquez does boast a perfect record yet the level of competition she has faced is nowhere near Shevchenko’s and not all of Velasquez’s wins in the Bellator cage have been overly convincing. This would be another one-sided drubbing.

Aljamain Sterling (-175) vs. Sergio Pettis (+135)

Sterling, the lone American men’s UFC champ at the moment, has had more success and faced tougher competition at 135 pounds than Pettis has so we’d give him an edge – especially if he took Pettis down – but the younger brother of former UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis has really come into his own and would have an advantage in the striking department.

Ciryl Gane (-1100) vs. Valentin Moldavsky (+800)

Gane’s current odds for his upcoming unification bout with Ngannou is listed at about a pick’em so it’s no surprise he’d be a heavy favourite over Moldavsky, who won his belt in June with a decision over Timothy Johnson. Stylistically, Moldavsky beating Gane would be more surprising than Bader upsetting Ngannou and these odds reflect that.

As you can see, every champ on the Bellator side would be up against the odds yet there’d be certain matchups to target for value if you were looking to bet this dream event. Nemkov, McKee, Mousasi and Pettis would each pose a legitimate threat to their respective UFC counterpart and could warrant an underdog bet. Amosov, Cyborg and Freire would be your more longshot underdogs, while Shevchenko, Gane or Ngannou would be all worth tacking onto a parlay for a slight odds boost.

Would Dana White be laughing all the way to the bank or would Coker & Co. produce a few statement wins?

How many Bellator champions do you think could pull off the upset on a card like this?

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