Bellator 218: “Sanchez vs. Karakhanyan 2” airs tomorrow night (Fri., March 22, 2019) from WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Oklahoma. The main event is a rematch of a bout from Bellator 170, which ended with a razor-thin majority decision win.
Let’s break it down:
145 lbs.: Emmanuel Sanchez (17-4) vs. Georgi Karakhanyan (28-8-1, 1 NC)
There’s no question this is a bout set up for “El Matador” to rebound from his loss to Patricio “Pitbull” Freire back in Nov. 2018 (recap). Despite his setback against “Pitbull,” we’ve seen Sanchez grow leaps and bounds in Bellator over the last two years. Weight cuts are no longer a problem, he’s gone from a guy who wins split decisions to a guy who finishes fights, and his striking is still catching up to his Brazilian jiu-jitsu (seven submissions), so it’s hard to think he doesn’t get another title shot in the future.
On the other hand, there’s plenty of reason to believe Karakhanyan might have Sanchez’ number. The last time they met their bout was filled with illegal blows and multiple points deducted by referee Blake Grice. Indeed, judging by the first and third rounds, Karakhanyan knows how to takedown Sanchez, but Sanchez came closer to getting submissions and finishing the fight. If Karakhanyan could actually control Sanchez on the ground this time he’d have the edge, but in the run up to his world title shot Sanchez’ ground game evolved and he became a killer on the canvas. Meanwhile, Karakhanyan lost a decision to Henry Corrales, took two fights in Russia, and got disqualified for his first career “No Contest” in the last one. Sanchez, 28, is only getting better, while Karakhanyan, 33, seems to be stagnating.
Final prediction: Emmanuel Sanchez submits Georgi Karakhanyan in round one
265 lbs.: Valentin Moldavsky (7-1) vs. Linton Vassell (18-7, 1 NC)
Moldavsky is a sleeper in Bellator’s Heavyweight division. If you haven’t been following his post-RIZIN career, he took a decision against Carl Seumanutafa in his promotional debut for Bellator. That’s nothing to sneeze at given the underdog, Seumanutafa, once gave Matt Mitrione a concussion so bad he couldn’t remember their fight. He followed that up by dispatching Ernest James in the first round of his first televised fight for Bellator. He shows the potential to go on a run to the top, although he’d have to get past Cheick Kongo to do it.
Meanwhile, we’ve got a surprising turn of direction in the career of “The Swarm” Linton Vassell, a former two-time No. 1 contender for the Light Heavyweight title. Though the tall and lanky Vassell (6’4,” 82” reach) always looked like a man who could go up in weight, he never had any problem making the 205-pound limit and always seemed to be a millimeter or two away from putting the gold belt around his waist. Now, he has seemingly abandoned those plans to try going up in weight, although I’m sure back-to-back knockout losses to Ryan Bader and Phil Davis had something to do with it.
Although Vassell will easily have both size and length over Moldavsky for his Heavyweight re-debut, I’m always suspicious when a fighter jumps up or down in weight after a few losses as to whether that can jumpstart their careers. Vassell may be well suited to the task by the diversity of his offense — six knockouts, eight submissions out of 18 wins. He’s also got an experience edge over Moldavsky given this is only his ninth professional fight. The curious thing is that despite his impressive last performance Moldavsky really isn’t a knockout artist, garnering more wins by submission (three) with James being his lone knockout victory. On paper, this is Vassell’s fight to lose, so I shouldn’t be so reluctant to pick him … but something about him going up in weight after two knockouts nags at me and I just can’t shake it.
Final prediction: Linton Vassell escapes with a split decision
185 lbs.: Anatoly Tokov (27-2) vs. Gerald Harris (25-7-2)
Speaking of Harris, it’s probably about time for him to go back into retirement because nothing has gone his way since he came out of it. Don’t expect Anatoly Tokov to do him any favors in that regard. With 55 percent of his wins coming by knockout (15 of 27) and 22 percent by submission (six of 27) there’s nowhere good for Harris to be in this fight. If he goes for takedowns, Tokov eats his lunch there, and if he stays standing, Tokov eats it even faster. He’s hungry and it’s feeding time.
Final prediction: Anatoly Tokov via second round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Norbert Novenyi (3-0) vs. William Lavine (1-1)
Novenyi is so young in his career it doesn’t even make sense to add “prospect” to his name, but he has two things going for him — he’s undefeated and he’s won his last two fights by first round rear-naked choke. It would be hard to know that given his fight at Bellator 196 didn’t even air. Until checking his record at Sherdog, I couldn’t even have told you it took PLACE. At least he won, though — William Lavine’s fight didn’t air and he lost. If you’re not getting the sense this was a very late addition to the main card you should be. I can’t fathom a good reason to add this one to the broadcast especially when you’ve got “Macapa” John Teixeira on the “Prelims” undercard, but it is what it is.
Final prediction: Norbert Novenyi by first round submission
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 218 tomorrow with a main card on Paramount Network at 9 p.m. ET (and DAZN) with “Prelims” undercard bouts starting at 7 p.m. ET. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.