From a ratings standpoint, Bellator going head-to-head tonight with UFC 220 is of course a curious and particularly unwise thing to do. Then again, this isn’t yesterday’s Bellator, nor even yesterday’s UFC. This is a New Day Bellator premiering on the Paramount Network, with Mike Goldberg on the call with Mauro and Big John, and Rory MacDonald , a 253-pound Rampage and a 222-pound Chael. Even for UFC snobs who have for so long refused to cast an eye Bellator’s way, that’s a lot to ignore.
From the UFC side, it’s a little different too. Matt Bessette , a Bellator staple for New England-based cards, is fighting on the UFC 220 prelims. So is Calvin Kattar taking on Shane Burgos in the swing bout on the pay-per-view. Realistically, UFC 220 is a top-heavy affair, with a light heavyweight title fight between Daniel Cormier and Volkan Oezdemir and the heavyweight clash of the titans between Francis Ngannou and Stipe Miocic . Those fights are the pay-per-view. And fortunately, they won’t start until around 11:30 ET.
So here’s what you do when the two biggest MMA promotions are going up against each other and there’s equal intrigue on both sides: Treat it as one crazy-ass mega card. No need to decide between the two so long as you have the Internet and a “back” button on your remote control.
Thought of like that, Bellator’s prelims (which are streaming on mmafighting.com) have a couple of nice table-setters in the way of prospects. Joey Davis is fighting in his third pro bout against Ian Butler , and Royce Gracie ’s son Khonry is taking on Devon Brock . The Bellator main card begins at 9 p.m. ET, meaning Aaron Pico ’s fight against Shane Kruchten and Georgi Karakhanyan ’s bout with Henry Corrales will be done by the time the UFC card kicks off.
From here it’s just curating your druthers. But the top three Bellator fights — Michael Chandler vs. Goiti Yamauchi , the welterweight title bout between Douglas Lima vs. Rory MacDonald , and the heavyweight grand prix quarterfinals fight between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson — are better than the bottom three of the UFC PPV (Kattar-Burgos, Gian Villante vs. Francimar Barroso , Thomas Almeida vs. Rob Font ).
If you play this right, the line-up for tonight’s mega Bellator/UFC joint main card looks impressive — and there’s a lot to love about each fight.
1) Chandler vs. Yamauchi : What does Chandler look like in his first fight back since losing his lightweight title to Brent Primus back at Madison Square Garden last summer? And is this the final time we see him at 155 pounds?
2) Douglas Lima vs. Rory MacDonald: Almost too good to be true. MacDonald, who owns a victory over current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley , tries to win the Bellator 170 -pound title. Lima is perhaps the most underrated champion in either promotion, looks to make it four wins in a row in his toughest challenge to date. This is the real main event for Bellator, even if Paramount doesn’t think so.
3) Quinton Jackson vs. Chael Sonnen : Hey, they are kicking off this Kafkaesque heavyweight tournament. It’s like watching two legends battle it out for the last piece of Salisbury steak at the buffet. And it’s our natural swing bout before switching to the UFC.
4) Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir : Cormier gets the chance to defend the belt that keeps falling back in his lap, and Oezdemir once again looks to spoil another man’s homecoming. He did it twice already against Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa , and needed only a minute and 10 seconds to get it done.
5) Francis Ngannou vs. Stipe Miocic: The granddaddy of them all (to borrow from the late Keith Jackson), and the perfect crescendo to ridiculous night of fights. Either Miocic will make his bit of UFC history by defending the heavyweight title a record third time, or Ngannou will dethrone him and give the division a makeover. In either case, the fight could well be over within the first three minutes, because each likes to chuck power bombs.
That’s one hell of a main card, so long as you don’t mind splitting your loyalties. Perhaps the spiciest (and spliciest) dueling opposite coast cards since Nov. 19, 2011, when Chandler and Eddie Alvarez threw down in a Fight of the Year candidate in Florida only to be outdone later on by Dan Henderson ’s legendary bout with Mauricio Rua at UFC 139 in San Jose.
Should be a fun night of fights.