Brandon Halsey has his sights set on Bellator gold. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Ability as it relates to Brandon Halsey’s in-cage performance has never been in doubt. The question of commitment and focus outside of competition has become another matter.
Halsey will meet Rafael Carvalho for the vacant Bellator MMA middleweight championship in the Bellator 144 main event on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The 29-year-old Californian was stripped of the 185-pound crown in May, when he missed weight by more than three pounds ahead of his scheduled title defense against “The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner Kendall Grove. Now, the once-beaten Carvalho stands between Halsey and the throne he once occupied.
Operating out of the HB Ultimate camp, Halsey has touched off his career with nine consecutive victories, six of them finishes. He last competed at Bellator 137 on May 15, when he put away Grove with fourth-round punches at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif. Halsey wrestled collegiately at Cal State Bakersfield, where he was Pac-10 conference champion in 2007 and NCAA All-American in 2009. His .788 career winning percentage still ranks in the top 25 on the school’s all-time list. Halsey owns a 7-0 record in Bellator, including wins over Alexander Shlemenko and Brett Cooper.
Carvalho will enter the cage on an 11-fight winning streak. The 29-year-old Brazilian striker last appeared at Bellator 136 in April, when he captured a split decision over Joe Schilling at the Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif. He has secured nine of his 11 professional victories by knockout or technical knockout, five of them inside one round. Carvalho has compiled a perfect 2-0 mark since arriving in Bellator a little more than a year ago.
With the Halsey-Carvalho title fight as the lure, here is what to watch for at Bellator 144:
Michael Page has all the ingredients necessary for superstardom.
The unbeaten Englishman will try to continue his climb on Bellator’s welterweight ladder when he locks horns with Charlie Ontiveros on the main card. A product of the London Shootfighters camp, Page has ridden a combination of talent and charisma to an 8-0 record that includes seven first-round finishes. The flashy karateka last fought at Bellator 140 on July 17, when he needed just 65 seconds to dispose of Strikeforce, M-1 Global and Titan Fighting Championship alum Rudy Bears with punches.
Ontiveros has spent his entire nine-fight career inside the Texas-based Legacy Fighting Championship promotion. The 24-year-old has alternated wins in losses in each of his last six appearances, having last fought at Legacy 44 on Aug. 28, when he picked up a split decision over Bilal Williams at the Arena Theatre in Houston.
Land of the Rising Sun’s Rising Son
The MMA scene in Japan has become something of a wasteland in terms of young talent, with Isao Kobayashi emerging as one of the few bright spots.
The former Pancrase champion will make his promotional debut opposite Goiti Yamauchi, as Bellator showcases two of its most promising featherweights. Kobayashi will enter the match on the strength of back-to-back wins over Will Chope and Marlon Sandro. The 26-year-old Sakaguchi Dojo representative’s only two defeats have come by decision to two-division Deep titleholder Kazunori Yokota and One Championship veteran Koji Oishi.
Yamauchi will be no pushover. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black battle has rattled off 13 wins across his last 14 appearances, including a rear-naked choke submission on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 9 graduate Martin Stapleton at Bellator 125. Yamauchi, 22, sports 13 first-round finishes among his 18 career victories.
A Righteous Villain
Brennan Ward has put down his roots as a fighter fans love to hate.
The long-on-confidence, short-on-humility Bellator Season 9 middleweight tournament winner will duke it out with Dennis Olson in the co-main event, as he tries to build on a modest two-fight winning streak. Ward appears to have shaken off any residual effects from his 21-second knockout loss to Tamdan McCrory in September 2014, having posted subsequent victories over Roger Carroll and Curtis Millender. The 27-year-old wrestled collegiately at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., where he was an All-American and national runner-up in 2010.
Olson has lost six of his last nine fights and has yet to visit the winner’s circle in three Bellator appearances. He last competed at Bellator 140 on July 17, when he succumbed to second-round punches from Paul Daley. Olson has delivered nine of his 14 victories by submission.