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Bellator MMA returns to the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma, with Bellator 233. The card is topped by a middleweight showdown between John Salter and Costello van Steenis, which may carry title implications. The main card also features the last fight for a legendary star, an action-packed women’s featherweight scrap and a rising prospect receiving possibly his stiffest toughest test to date.
Let’s take a closer look at the four main card bouts, shall we?
Salter enters the main event showdown victorious in eight out of his last nine. The only roadblock he hit on this streak was a third-round submission loss to current division champion, Rafael Lovato Jr. in a fight where Salter may have won the first two rounds. The North Carolina native is a veteran having competed in both Strikeforce and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The 34-year-old is a member of the Gym-O team, which has helped the likes of Bryan Barberena, Scott Holtzman, Ricky Rainey, Chris Honeycutt and Justin Kish develop their skills. The southpaw leaves a lot to be desired on the feet. He is burdened with rudimentary striking, carrying his hands low and throwing slow hooks to march down his opponent and help him close the distance. He has recently added calf kicks to his game, but still needs a lot of work to be considered a striking threat. What he lacks in the striking department, he makes up with his grappling. The former NAIA National Champion wrestler has great drop-step entries and is relentless in pursuing the takedown once he gets on his opponent’s hips. He has great top control and an innate ability to take his opponent’s back and is a serious submission threat. Salter is a decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and a former Abu Dhabi North American no-gi champion. Nine of his 16 wins have come by way of submission.
Van Steenis is considered to be one of, if not the, best prospect in Bellator’s middleweight division. He was born in the Netherlands and spent 20 years in Spain before returning to his home country to train, where he is a teammate of Gegard Mousasi. The Spaniard is 12-1 in his surging young career and is on a six-fight winning streak. He has won all four of his appearances in the Bellator cage. His last two wins came over fellow top prospect Mike Shipman and Bellator standout, Chris Honeycutt; his win over Honeycutt was highly controversial, which I scored for the former Edinboro University wrestler. The 27-year-old is a well-rounded fighter, who has scored wins on the feet and the ground. In the standup game, he uses his long length to work behind a jab, hard leg kicks, and sneaky high kick. He has already displayed power which should increase now that he is in his late 20s. Though he doesn’t come from a strong wrestling background, the European fighter has great timing on his drop-step entries. Once on top, he likes to hold his foes down using the Dagestani handcuff and has great strength. He punches his adversaries with brutal ground-and-pound. He is a submission threat, having five victorious by that method prior to his time in Bellator. While he wins most scrambles, he can be a bit reckless, finding himself in some compromised positions. He was taken down in his last three bouts but showed great ability to get back to his feet.
This is legit matchmaking and is a perfect test for both fighters at this point of their respected careers. Van Steenis has more avenues for victory and could show large improvements since his last outing, while Salter has the most direct way of winning. I expect Van Steenis to have some good moments in this fight, but his lack of takedown defense is troublesome against the level of grappler that Salter is. While he does find a way to get back to his feet, Van Steenis has exposed his back in the past to get there. This would be a very costly mistake to make in this matchup and a lesson I think Salter teaches him. Give me Salter by second-round submission via rear naked choke.
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