Bellator’s three-event run in Milan, Italy comes to a close with Bellator Europe 9 as the promotion features a long-awaited main event clash.
The night’s headliner will see bantamweights James Gallagher and Cal Ellenor finally face off inside the Bellator cage at the fourth time of asking after three previous bookings have fallen foul of bad fortune.
Gallagher will be joined by two of his SBG teammates on the three-fight main card, with Charlie Ward set to face off against Andy Manzolo in a middleweight bout, while lightweight Kiefer Crosbie will bid to continue his winning form against England’s Charlie Leary in the 160-pound main card opener.
Bellator Europe 9 takes place Saturday at Allianz Cloud in Milan, Italy. The event streams live on MMA Junkie and the Bellator YouTube channel.
Here are our five burning questions ahead of fight night in Milan.
Can James Gallagher make a run toward the bantamweight title?
James Gallagher will be hoping his return to action in Milan will kickstart his run toward a title fight as he bids to extend his winning run and continue his solid form after his shock defeat to Ricky Bandejas in at Bellator 204 in August 2018.
That defeat took the 0 from Gallagher’s record and halted his seven-fight win streak. But despite his first-round knockout defeat, the Irishman has bounced back superbly.
Since that defeat, Gallagher (10-1 MMA, 7-1 BMMA) has reeled off three straight victories with wins over Steven Graham, Jeremiah Labiano and, most recently Roman Salazar, who stepped in to replace Ellenor (8-2 MMA, 1-0 BMMA) in the main event of Bellator 227 in Dublin last September after an issue with the Englishman’s medical paperwork meant he could not be cleared to compete.
Bellator has since attempted rebook Gallagher and Ellenor on two further occasions, but injury to Gallagher, then the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, nixed both attempts. Now they’re finally set to face off, and a win for Gallagher will give him the chance to put a long-running saga behind him and finally move on to bigger fights against more established names.
The bantamweight division now has a new champion in Juan Archuleta, and “The Strabanimal” would love nothing more than to score a big win and state his intention to face “The Spaniard” later this year or early in 2021.
Will the Irishman be able to reignite his charge toward the top of the division, or will he hit another roadblock?
Is Cal Ellenor being underestimated?
Fans tuning in to watch Saturday’s main event in Milan will likely be very familiar with Gallagher’s character and ability, but many won’t know too much about the fighting abilities of his opponent.
Put simply, Cal Ellenor is a finisher. The Englishman has finished all eight of his professional wins, with seven of those victories coming inside the first round. Six of those finishes came via submission, three via rear-naked choke and three via guillotine choke. He’s also knocked out two of his opponents.
The big question mark comes when the fight goes past the first round mark. He has one third-round finish to his name, but on both occasions when he went to the judges’ scorecards, he found himself on the losing end of the decision.
We already know that Gallagher is a fighter who loves to chase a fast finish, but in Ellenor, the Irishman is set to face a man who’s every bit as keen to claim a quickfire victory. It means the opening exchanges are likely to be fast and furious, and while Ellenor may not have the same level of notoriety as his Irish rival, the Englishman’s finishing abilities warrant respect ahead of fight night.
The big question is can Ellenor deliver the goods on the biggest stage of his career?
Can Charlie Ward continue his solid form at 185?
Charlie Ward had a rough time of it in the UFC, but since he joined Bellator’s middleweight division, the Irish 185-pounder has been in excellent form.
His unanimous decision loss to Pietro Penini aside, Ward (8-4 MMA, 5-1 BMMA) has looked solid in his recent outings and will look to register his sixth win under the Bellator banner when he takes on Andy Manzolo in the co-main event on Saturday night.
Ward’s in-your-face fighting style and relentless pace have seen him overwhelm John Redmond, Martin Hudson, Jamie Stephenson, Justin Moore and Kyle Kurtz, as he has notched four TKO finishes and one knockout so far as a Bellator athlete.
Another similarly-impressive win on Saturday against Manzolo (23-8 MMA, 0-1 BMMA) could see him handed a shot against one of the division’s bigger names, and an opportunity to gatecrash the championship picture at 185 pounds.
Can Ward serve up another stoppage win and push his claims, or will the tricky Manzolo, who has 16 submission wins to his name, neutralize the Irishman’s threat and score a big win of his own?
Can Kiefer Crosbie score a big finish and make a statement en route to 155 pounds?
Former welterweight Kiefer Crosbie stated last year his plan to keep his winning run going while transitioning from 170 pounds to the 155-pound lightweight division, and he faces a stern test on Saturday night.
Crosbie (8-1 MMA, 4-1 BMMA) will take on England’s Charlie Leary in a main card matchup at 160 pounds as the Irishman looks to claim a statement victory before embarking on a run at 155 pounds. But while Crosbie has managed to keep his winning form rolling, he wasn’t fully satisfied with his last performance inside the Bellator cage.
In a whirlwind week that saw him become a father, Crosbie battled to a split-decision victory over Iamik Furtado in February at Bellator 240 in Dublin on an emotional night for the Irishman. But now, fighting in an arena devoid of crowd atmosphere, he will need to be laser-focused as he takes on the dangerous but inconsistent Leary (16-11-1 MMA, 2-2 BMMA), who has alternated wins and losses through his last eight fights, but has finished 11 of his 16 wins inside the distance.
If Crosbie can get an eye-catching win on Saturday, “Big Daddy” could find himself handed a big-name test as he looks to make an impact in the Bellator lightweight division in the months ahead.
Will Robin van Roosmalen’s kickboxing skills produce a highlight-reel win on his Bellator debut?
The long wait to see former two-division Glory kickboxing champion Robin van Roosmalen’s Bellator debut will finally come to an end on Saturday night when the Dutch striker steps into the Bellator cage for the first time to face debuting Spaniard Nauzet Trujillo on the preliminary card.
Like van Roosmalen, Trujillo (0-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) has a kickboxing background, which should give the Dutchman the perfect opponent to showcase his world-class striking inside the cage. But, of course, striking with four-ounce gloves is a different ball game to striking with kickboxing gloves – just ask K-1 legend and UFC light heavyweight Gokhan Saki.
Van Roosmalen (2-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) has had a couple of MMA fights for the Final Fight Championship promotion, so fighting under MMA rules won’t be a completely alien experience to him. And with a decorated striking career that saw him claim featherweight and lightweight titles for Glory already under his belt, the anticipation is high ahead of the Dutch striker’s debut on the big MMA stage.
Bellator Europe 9: Full fight card and official weights
MAIN CARD (MMA Junkie, 5 p.m. ET)
- James Gallagher (136) vs. Cal Ellenor (135.2)
- Andy Manzolo (184.4) vs. Charlie Ward (186)
- Kiefer Crosbie (159) vs. Charlie Leary (159.2)
PRELIMINARY CARD (MMA Junkie, 12:45 p.m. ET)
- Sinead Kavanagh (145.8) vs. Katharina Lehner (145.4)
- Acoidan Duque (171) vs. Carlo Pedersoli Jr. (170.2)
- Chris Bungard (155.4) vs. Aymard Guih (155.8)
- Robin van Roosmalen (154.4) vs. Nauzet Trujillo (154)
- Joffie Houlton (257.2) vs. Gokhan Saricam (243)
- Andrew Fisher (145.8) vs. Ashleigh Grimshaw (145.6)
- Alessandro Botti (155.4) vs. Kane Mousah (154.6)
- Asael Adjoudj (145.2) vs. Nathan Jessimer (146)
- Curtis Dodge (163.4) vs. Marek Jakimowicz (171)