Just In 6 burning questions at Bellator 222: Does the fire still blaze inside ‘The Red King?’ MMA Life

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NEW YORK – On Friday night, the Bellator cage opens for business at Madison Square Garden as a stacked card of fights lands in New York for Bellator 222.

The main event features a welterweight title fight and Bellator welterweight grand prix semifinal, as undefeated Brazilian Neiman Gracie challenges Canada’s Rory MacDonald, while the co-main event may also have potential world title implications, as fellow veterans Lyoto Machida and Chael Sonnen go head to head with a possible shot at two-division champ Ryan Bader awaiting the winner.

There’s a world title rematch, as Bellator bantamweight champ Darrion Caldwell looks to avenge his loss to Rizin champion Kyoji Horiguchi and retain his Bellator strap.

And there are intriguing matchups further down the card, with the return to action of Aaron Pico, a pivotal clash at bantamweight between Eduardo Dantas and Juan Archuleta, plus a matchup between elite taekwondo striker Valerie Loureda and Michigan mixed martial artist – and Hooters waitress – Larkyn Dasch.

In short, there’s a little something for everyone on this weekend’s card in “The Big Apple.” Here are our burning questions ahead of what looks set to be a lively night at The Garden:

1. Does the fire still burn inside ‘The Red King?’

Perhaps the biggest burning question heading into Bellator 222 this weekend is whether MacDonald (20-5-1 MMA, 2-1-1 BMMA) still has what it takes to keep his place at the top.

MacDonald has been through some of the sport’s most incredible wars – most notably his UFC 189 slobberknocker against Robbie Lawler – but, as they often say, those wars take something out of you.

And after MacDonald admitted he found it hard to pull the trigger during his Bellator 220 draw with Jon Fitch, the alarm bells started to ring. MMA is the toughest sport on the planet, and competing while battling mental uncertainties can’t be conducive to a great performance.

Some wondered if MacDonald’s comments might lead to retirement, but the Canadian confirmed he would carry on in the Bellator’s welterweight grand prix and now faces undefeated Brazilian Gracie (9-0 MMA, 7-0 BMMA), who said he thought MacDonald’s supposed doubts were, to quote, “bull(expletive).”

Gracie’s biggest win to date came in his last bout against Ed Ruth, and he hasn’t yet reached the level of competition MacDonald has been facing during his career.


MacDonald has been fighting world-class opposition for the last nine years. That could be an advantage, or could all those wars with the likes of Lawler, Tyron Woodley, Carlos Condit and many others have worn down “The Red King,” physically or mentally?

It’s fair to say that on Friday night at The Garden, MacDonald faces two fights. He has to not only beat Gracie, he also has to beat his own demons.

2. Will Kyoji Horiguchi repeat the feat and snag another belt?

We’re living in the “champ-champ” era, and Japanese star Horiguchi (27-2 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) plans on adding his name to the ever-growing “champ-champ” list, but with a twist.

Unlike other fighters, who successfully captured their titles in two different weight classes, Horiguchi is bidding to achieve a first – holding world titles in two major organizations simultaneously.

He won the inaugural Rizin bantamweight title by defeating Bellator 135-pound champ Caldwell (12-2 MMA, 9-1 BMMA) back at Rizin 14 on New Year’s Eve last year. Now the Japanese ace is heading to New York in a bid to repeat the feat and steal away Caldwell’s Bellator bantamweight title in the process.

If he’s successful, he’ll be the first fighter to hold titles in two of the world’s major organizations at the same time. Then he’ll face a challenge that has no other fighter has had to cope with before – the challenge of defending two world titles for two different organizations on opposite sides of the world.

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