The broad shoulders of Muhammed Lawal have been tapped to carry the Bellator MMA flag into uncharted territory, as the organization continues a global tour that has seen it visit Israel, Italy and England over the past eight months.
Lawal will lock horns with 2008 Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii in the Bellator 169 main event on Friday at the 3Arena in Dublin, with the Scott Coker-led promotion pitching its tent in Ireland for the first time. Meanwhile, undefeated Irish prospect James Gallagher confronts Anthony Taylor in the featherweight co-headliner.
A three-time NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, Lawal has rattled off seven wins across his past eight appearances. The 35-year-old American Top Team representative last competed at Bellator 154 on May 14, when he wound up on the wrong side of a contentious split decision against Phil Davis at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Victories over Gegard Mousasi, Cheick Kongo, Linton Vassell and Jiri Prochazka anchor the Lawal resume. The former Strikeforce champion won the 2015 Rizin Fighting Federation heavyweight grand prix.
Ishii will enter the cage on a two-fight losing streak. The decorated judo black belt last appeared at Bellator 157 on June 24, when he dropped a split decision to former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder Quinton Jackson. Ishii’s six career losses have come at the hands of five men: Jackson, Prochazka, Mirko Filipovic (twice), Fedor Emelianenko and Hidehiko Yoshida.
With the Lawal-Ishii battle front and center, here is what to watch for at Bellator 169:
Bellator has great expectations for Gallagher.
The unbeaten Irishman was 19 years old when he made his promotional debut at Bellator 158 on July 16, as he outpointed Mike Cutting across three rounds to improve to 4-0. It marked the first time he had gone the distance as a professional, the victory following consecutive first-round submissions against Gerard Gilmore, Declan McAleenan and Denis Ahern. Gallagher trains under John Kavanagh at the SBG Ireland camp, where he sharpens his skills alongside reigning UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor.
In Taylor, he will encounter an unproven commodity with only two pro bouts under his belt. The 27-year-old Antonio McKee protégé has not fought since he blew away Victor Jones with punches in a mere 27 seconds at Bellator 154 some seven months ago.
Daniel Weichel has picked up the pieces in the wake of a devastating knockout.
The former M-1 Global champion has recorded back-to-back victories over onetime World Series of Fighting titleholder Georgi Karakhanyan and Roufusport’s Emmanuel Sanchez following his ill-fated encounter with a Patricio Freire left hook at Bellator 138 in June 2015. Weichel remains one of the most consistent and accomplished featherweights on the Bellator roster, having compiled a 6-1 record since arriving in the organization a little less than three years ago. The Team MMA Spirit export holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has secured 21 of his 37 career victories by submission.
A replacement for the injured Paul Redmond, Brian Moore and his two-fight winning streak await Weichel on the main card. The SBG Ireland rep last competed at a regional event in February, when he disposed of Mick Brennan with first-round punches.
Sinead Kavanagh’s MMA leap has thus far gone according to plan.
A five-time national boxing champion in her native Ireland, Kavanagh will make her Bellator debut opposite Elina Kallionidou in a women’s bantamweight showcase. She has touched off her pro mixed martial arts career with three straight wins, two of them finishes, and continues to show signs of development under the SBG Ireland banner. Kavanagh last competed at a British Association of Mixed Martial Arts event on Sept. 10, when she knocked out Katarzyna Sadura 2:46 into the first round of their matchup.
Just 18 years of age, Kallionidou owns a perfect 5-0 record.
Bellator 169 will serve as a staging point for Shay Walsh.
The former BAMMA champion will make his organizational debut against London Shootfighters veteran Luiz Tosta in a featured clash at 135 pounds. Walsh saw a four-fight winning streak snapped at BAMMA 25 on May 14, when he was victimized by a Tom Duquesnoy elbow strike in one of the year’s best knockouts. The Lancaster MMA and Tiger Muay Thai standout boasts nine finishes among his 14 career victories.
Unbeaten over his last eight fights (7-0-1), Tosta has not tasted defeat since he lost a majority decision to Mark Chen on Nov. 8, 2004.