The stars have aligned for Bellator MMA President Scott Coker.
Michael Chandler will defend his lightweight crown against former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder Benson Henderson in a blockbuster Bellator 165 main event on Saturday (current odds) at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. In the co-headliner, surging welterweight Michael Page faces perhaps his most difficult test to date in a three-round battle with Fernando Gonzalez.
In wake of Eddie Alvarez’s departure, Chandler has once again risen to the top of Bellator’s stout lightweight division. The 30-year-old High Ridge, Missouri, native will carry a three-fight winning streak into the cage, having last appeared at Bellator 157 on June 24, when he knocked out Patricky Freire to capture the vacant lightweight crown at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Now operating out of the powerhouse Blackzilians camp, Chandler owns victories over Alvarez, David Rickels (twice), Polish leg lock specialist Marcin Held, Pride Fighting Championships veteran Akihiro Gono and onetime Olympian Rick Hawn. He was an NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri.
Henderson has experienced something of a lukewarm reception since joining the Bellator roster. He made his organizational debut on April 22, losing a lopsided decision to then-welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov, and then benefitted from a Patricio Freire leg injury four months later at Bellator 160. Nevertheless, Henderson remains one of the most accomplished lightweights in the sport, wins over Frankie Edgar (twice), Donald Cerrone (twice), Jim Miller, Clay Guida, Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson anchoring his stellar resume.
With the Chandler-Henderson title clash on the marquee, here is what to watch for at Bellator 165:
A Breathtaking Rise
Page’s rise through the welterweight ranks has been nothing short of breathtaking.
At 11-0, the London Shootfighters star has won all seven of his fights inside the Bellator cage, six of them finishes. Page has not fought since he disposed of Evangelista Santos with a sensational second-round flying knee at Bellator 158 on July 16. The blow left “Cyborg” with a fractured skull and sent shockwaves through the MMA community. The charismatic Page has gone the distance only once as a professional and has a 10-second and two 65-second finishes to his credit.
A five-fight winning streak will propel Gonzalez into the match. The well-traveled Escondido, California, native last competed at Bellator 151 in March, when he claimed a split decision over former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Gilbert Smith. Gonzalez, 33, has also defeated Curtis Millender, Marius Zaromskis, Karo Parisyan and Karl Amoussou during his current tear.
Walk the Line
Linton Vassell and Francis Carmont are part of the line forming behind recently crowned light heavyweight champion Phil Davis, so it should come as little surprise that their paths would cross in a featured battle at 205 pounds.
Vassell, 33, has rattled off 11 wins in his past 13 outings, losing only to Emanuel Newton and Muhammed Lawal. “The Swarm” has proven an equal-opportunity finisher throughout his career, with six victories by knockout or technical knockout and seven more by submission. The Englishman last set foot in the cage at Bellator 149 on Feb. 19, when he was awarded a unanimous decision over Newton and avenged his 2014 loss to “The Hardcore Kid.” Vassell had held regional titles in the Olympian MMA Championships and Ultimate Challenge MMA promotions prior to signing with Bellator.
A Tristar Gym rep, Carmont has gone a disappointing 3-4 since winning his first six bouts in the UFC between Oct. 29, 2011 and Sept. 21, 2013. Victories over Lukasz Klinger, Anthony Ruiz and Guilherme Viana have been offset by losses to Davis, Thales Leites, C.B. Dollaway and Ronaldo Souza. Where the 35-year-old fits in Bellator’s light heavyweight puzzle remains to be seen.
Keri Anne Taylor-Melendez has looked to this moment for quite a while.
The wife of former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, she will climb into the cage for the first time when she faces Sheila Padilla in a women’s flyweight showcase. An accomplished kickboxer and muay Thai stylist, Melendez made two appearances in conjunction with the Glory-Bellator partnership. The 32-year-old earned a unanimous decision over Hadley Griffith in September 2015 and did the same against Sarah Howell on June 24. Now, she will give MMA a whirl.
Padilla has touched off her career with back-to-back victories. She last fought under the Tachi Palace Fights banner on Aug. 4, when she outpointed Corina Herrera across three rounds.
Kevin Ferguson Jr., the man also known as “Baby Slice,” will make his twice-delayed professional mixed martial arts debut against Aaron Hamilton on the undercard.
Ferguson is the 24-year-old son of the late “Kimbo Slice” -- a Miami street-fighter who rose to prominence through a series of YouTube videos and later competed in EliteXC, the UFC and Bellator. He died in June at the age of 42. The younger Ferguson operates out of the Team Bodyshop outfit in California, where he trains under former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder Antonio McKee. He has one amateur bout under his belt, an 83-second knockout against Tom Brink on March 12. Ferguson had fights postponed at Bellator 160 and Bellator 162.
Hamilton wields a 0-2 record. He last competed inside the King of the Cage organization in March, when he submitted to a second-round rear-naked choke from Richard Dusio.