In 2018, Bellator President Scott Coker continued with his mission to add young talent to the promotion’s roster, while some fighters already signed in previous years really began to blossom.
Below are 13 fighters to keep a close eye on this coming year.
The 28-year-old Bellator flyweight champion truly broke out in 2018 and cemented herself as one of the faces of the promotion after her thrilling performance on home soil in Hawaii to close out the year. It’ll be interesting to see how she grows with Bellator both in and out of the cage in 2019.
Aaron Pico (red gloves) at Bellator 206.
Since his stunning 24-second submission loss in his debut, Pico has been on an absolute tear, with four consecutive knockout victories – the latest coming against former title-challenger Leandro Higo. Next up for Pico is another veteran in Henry Corrales on Jan. 26. Pico is just 22 years old, but we’re already wondering if 2019 is the year he becomes a Bellator champion.
Speaking of becoming a Bellator champion, McKee has stated it’s “inevitable” for him. He’s still undefeated and also the current owner of the longest winning streak in Bellator history at 13. It’s been a slow build to this point, with McKee’s competition lacking name value. But that should change for the 23-year-old in 2019.
Dillon Danis at Bellator 198.
Even with just one professional MMA fight, Danis is one of the sport’s most compelling figures because of his association with Conor McGregor, as well as the way he portrays himself on social media. And there’s also the fact that he’s the reason Khabib Nurmagomedov jumped the octagon fence at UFC 229.
But let’s not forget about that one fight. Last April, Danis showed what he’s capable of with a toe-hold submission win over Kyle Walker. And that has us wanting to see more from the 25-year-old jiu-jitsu ace.
Here’s the thing about following in the brash, cocky footsteps of McGregor: When you lose, people will relish in it. And that’s what happened after Gallagher was knocked out by Ricky Bandejas last August to end his undefeated record. Still, there’s no denying Gallagher’s talent, what with six of his seven prior wins coming by submission. Set to headline Bellator 217 in February, it’ll be interesting to see how the 22-year-old rebounds from his first loss.
Ricky Bandejas (blue gloves) at Bellator 204.
Speaking of Bandejas, all the 27-year-old did in his Bellator debut was silence Gallagher in a big way, this coming after he went 10-1 under the CFFC banner. A pivotal early career fight with Juan Archuleta awaits him later this month at Bellator 214.
2018 was the first time in Archuleta’s career that he didn’t fight at least four times in a calendar year. He hasn’t lost since his lone WSOF appearance in March 2015. Archuleta, 31, is moving down to bantamweight for his next fight with Bandejas. At 3-0 in Bellator, is he primed for a title run?
Austin Vanderford (red gloves) at Dana White’s Contender Series 13.
Could 2019 be the year we stop making jokes about the 28-year-old welterweight being Mr. VanZant? Despite a win on Dana White’s Contender Series, the undefeated Vanderford fell short in his bid to make the UFC roster. But he was OK with that and now has an opportunity to make a name for himself in Bellator after signing with the promotion late last year.
26 years old. 6-foot-8. Undefeated at 5-0. All by stoppage. Slick finish in his Bellator debut last year. Yeah, you’re going to want to keep an eye on this guy.
A 4th dan taekwando black belt, Loureda is a former member of the U.S. Olympic team and will try to transition to MMA in 2019. She’s been honing her skills at American Top Team.
Storley, a South Dakota wrestling legend, has gone 4-0 in his first two years with Bellator, and the 26-year-old is primed to break out in 2019. If that doesn’t pique your interest, here are three words that might: Brock Lesnar protege.
Tywan Claxton at Bellator 212.
The 26-year-old featherweight certainly doesn’t lack flash or style inside the cage. Claxton burst onto the scene in late 2017 with an incredible flying knee knockout in his professional debut with Bellator, then followed that up with a 3-0 record in 2018. There’s lots to like about this kid.
Undefeated at 8-0, five of Borics’ victories have come by submission. The 25-year-old Hungarian put himself on the map last April with a flying knee knockout that earned him MMAjunkie’s “Submission of the Month” honor, which was a display of just how dangerous this kid can be on both standing and on the mat.
For more on the upcoming Bellator schedule, visit the MMA Rumors section of the site.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: 13 Bellator fighters to watch in 2019