Can Aaron Pico make another comeback? | Bellator 294 & 295 preview

Bellator title fights and a bunch of action bouts? I'll take two, thank you very much.

By: Victor Rodriguez | 1 month ago
Can Aaron Pico make another comeback? | Bellator 294 & 295 preview
Raufeon Stotts at the Bellator 294/295 press conference. IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Bellator heads back to Hawaii for a doubleheader featuring a championship on each card this weekend, with a little bit of local flavor mixed in. The first night is a bit more of a straightforward affair featuring some divisionally relevant bouts, with more action fights on the second night.

That’s a quality setup. Taken in together, these cards deliver on showing an all-around vision of what Bellator does best. Quality matchmaking and some potential for action, even if the star-power isn’t as strong as some fans might like.

Bellator 294: Carmouche vs Bennett 2

Bellator 294 has a nice headliner that’s a rematch between flyweight champion Liz Carmouche (18-7) facing former Invicta standout Deanna Bennett (13-7, 1 draw). Bennett is currently fourth in the Bellator rankings. Carmouche winning their last meeting may have been a bit of a surprise to some, yet she’s been on a tear since leaving the UFC and making some strides this late in her career. Her Bellator debut was a submission win over Bennett herself, followed by a win over Vanessa Porto and a sensational finish over Kana Watanabe. As an underdog against Juliana Velasquez, she managed to finish her not once, but twice.

Her striking is much improved, her power is still there, her wrestling is more streamlined and her submission game is way better. This may be the best she’s ever looked, and that’s a big problem for Bennett. Bennett’s won three straight since her loss to Carmouche, all decision wins. Her two wins over Justine Kish saw her struggle a bit with output and get into a few brawls. However, she managed to make it out the other end. She’s going to need some strong preparation to contend with Carmouche’s grappling chops and find holes in her defense to get over that hump and win that belt.

Tim Johnson’s back, and still has that patented KO ability. Despite being on a three-fight losing skid, Johnson (15-9) is scheduled to fight fellow power striker Said Sowma (8-4). Sowma is coming into this one with back-to-back losses in very tough fights. Despite their bad runs lately, this is clearly an action matchup with very high potential for an impressive finish.

Former UFC title challenger Sara McMann (13-6) makes her Bellator debut, and it’s not an easy welcome for her. McMann is set to face big striker Arlene Blencowe (15-9) at featherweight. This could get very ugly. Blencowe gave Cris Cyborg some fits before, but it’s a different proposition to face an Olympic wrestler like McMann.

Danny Sabatello (13-2) aims to bounce back from his loss in a grudge match to Raufeon Stots (trust me, more on him later) in the bantamweight tournament semifinals. He’ll be meeting Glover Teixeira protégé Marcos Breno (15-2). Breno is coming off a win against Josh Hill in his Bellator debut, and he packs a hell of a punch with lanky guy submission grappling in his back pocket.

Levan Chokheli (11-2) tries to break out of alternating wins and losses as he faces Michael Lombardo (13-3). Killys Mota (14-3) takes on the very tough Kenneth Cross (13-3), while RCC vet Sergey Bilostenniy (10-2) makes his Bellator debut against wrestling standout and Bellator mainstay Tyrell Fortune (12-3).

You can check out the weigh-ins here:

Bellator 294: Carmouche vs Bennett 2 takes place this Friday night, live from Honolulu, HI. Prelims start at 8:30pm EST for us mainlanders and will be streaming via YouTube. Main card starts at 10:00pm exclusively on Showtime.

Bellator 294: Stots vs Mix

The second night features even more recognizable talent and is capped off with the bantamweight tournament final. This tournament has been absolute fireworks for the most part, and it’s an interesting finale between two certified elite fighters.

Raufeon Stots (19-1) managed to make a massive statement when he won the interim bantamweight title against Juan Archuleta. He remains undefeated under the Bellator banner, utilizing his athleticism, wrestling and striking to great effect. He’s still capable with his submission offense, and it’s about to get tested big time against Patchy Mix.

Mix (17-1) suffered his only pro loss against Archuleta in 2020 and hasn’t looked back since. Back to back submission wins against Albert Morales and James Gallagher, a shocking upset win against Kyoji Horiguchi, then another submission win against Magomed Magomedov made four straight and led him here. Making adjustments to his striking and takedown game, he’s also still one of the most dangerous submission fighters in the world of MMA right now. While not quite as well-rounded as Stots, he’s got a deep pocket to draw from the moment he grabs onto something. And the winner gets all the marbles with the million dollar purse.

Former champ Ilima-Lei MacFarlane (12-2) is fighting in her native Hawaii again, and that means we’re going to get another dazzling and unforgettable entrance. This weekend she faces Kana Watanabe (11-1, 1 draw), who has a strong grappling base and a good pop on her strikes, despite being susceptible to incoming damage herself. MacFarlane has great pressure and volume striking to go with her excellent submission transitions, making this a fight to really look forward to.

Aaron Pico (10-4) is back in the saddle after a horrific shoulder injury in his last outing, and has the unenviable task of facing former Ring of Combat and Cage Fury featherweight champ James Gonzalez (10-5). That’s a strong pedigree, and James just won two straight against Cody Law and Vikas Singh.

Remember how we mentioned Kyoji Horiguchi (31-5)? The former champ is back and gets to welcome Ray Borg (16-5) to the Bellator cage. Mads Burnell (16-5) will be in a potential banger against Justin Gonzales (14-1), while Yancy Medeiros (15-8) is in another action bout against Charlie Leary (17-13, 1 draw).

Sumiko Inaba (5-0) might get dragged into deep water against smash-mouth flyweight Veta Arteaga (7-4), and Keoni Diggs (10-2) gets to tango with Brazilian Weber Almeida (7-1).

Finally, Davion Franklin (5-1) is a man to watch. He’ll be paired up against wrestler Kasim Aras (7-1) in a battle of stout heavyweights.

You can watch the weigh-ins for it when the happen, right here:

Bellator 295: Stots vs Mix takes place Saturday night, with prelims streaming live on YouTube starting at 8:00pm EST. The main card will also be exclusively on Showtime starting at 11:00pm.

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About the author
Victor Rodriguez
Victor Rodriguez

Victor Rodriguez has been a writer and podcaster for Bloody Elbow since 2015. He started his way as a lowly commenter and moderator to become the miscreant he is now. He often does weekly bits on fringe martial arts items across the globe, oddball street combat pieces, previews, analysis, and some behind-the-scenes support. He has trained in wrestling, Karate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the occasional Muay Thai and Judo lesson here and there. Victor has also been involved with acting and audio editing projects. He lives in Pennsylvania where he plays way too many video games and is an S-rank dad.

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