Cris Cyborg makes the third defence of her featherweight belt against Sinead Kavanagh when Bellator 271 rolls into Florida on Friday.
Cyborg and Kavanagh top the bill as Bellator heads back to US soil after an exciting card in Dublin, Ireland last weekend.
There’s also a double-header in the heavyweight division as Linton Vassell and Tyrell Fortune square off in the co-main, while Steve Mowry and Rakim Cleveland open the main card.
#1 contender Arlene Blencowe and #7 Pam Sorenson also meet in an intriguing featherweight bout, before Aaron Pico and Justin Gonzales battle it out at the same weight.
Lights Out for Kavanagh
Kavanagh made her professional MMA debut in 2015, beating Hatice Ozyurt in BAMMA and she won her first four fights, including a unanimous decision victory over Elina Kallionidou on debut for Bellator.
But the Irishwoman was unable to maintain those levels and lost four of her following five trips to the cage, overcoming just Maria Casanova during that sequence.
With a 5-4 record and at risk of being cut from the roster, Kavanagh pulled out two crucial victories over Olga Rubin and Katharina Lehner to earn a shot at champion Cyborg.
Curitiba-born Cyborg won the belt on debut for Bellator courtesy of a TKO victory over Julia Budd after making the switch from UFC.
Cyborg has won her following two trips to the cage, seeing off Blencowe courtesy of a submission and defeating Leslie Smith via TKO.
She is 24-2-1 overall, earning 19 of those wins by way of KO or TKO, with her only loss coming at the hands of two-weight UFC champion Amanda Nunes.
There’s undoubtedly a gulf in class between the pair as the market suggests with Kavanagh a huge 11/1 outsider and Cyborg priced at 1/100 to have her arm raised.
Another stoppage looks the most likely outcome this weekend and it could also be profitable to get behind a first-round win for Cyborg.
Heavyweight Picture Taking Shape
Friday’s co-main event offers Vassell and Fortune the opportunity to stake their claim for a shot at the heavyweight title in 2022.
Vassell returned to heavyweight in 2019, having lost to Ryan Bader for the light heavyweight title, and he’s riding a two-fight winning streak.
The Englishman is currently #6 in the rankings with a 20-8-1 record, but he faces his toughest test this weekend since losing to interim champion Valentin Moldavsky.
#5 Fortune is 11-1-1 and has won each of his last three trips to the cage with the last two coming inside the distance.
It could be argued that Vassell is the more well-rounded competitor, winning eight by knockout, eight via submission and four courtesy of a decision.
Fortune, meanwhile, relies heavily on his hands and will hope to keep this one standing for as long as possible.
Vassell’s wrestling background should stand him in good stead for this bout and he’s the pick at 29/20.
J-Train to Keep Title Hopes on Track
Gonzales sealed a split decision victory over Tywan Claxton on Bellator debut in June to extend his impressive record to 12-0.
He already sits #8 in the featherweight division and needs to follow up that win this weekend to prove his credentials for a future title shot.
The American’s next assignment comes against countryman 8-3 Aaron Pico at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
After successive losses, Pico has won his last four fights, ending each of them inside the distance, but his winning streak looks under threat.
J-Train is the 12/5 underdog, but he’s passed every test up to this point and should have the tools to deliver once again.
*All odds correct at time of writing