The Bellator Light Heavyweight Grand Prix has some of the most interesting storylines in MMA this month, and the tournament continues Friday at Bellator 257 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Bellator light heavyweight champion Vadim Nemkov will defend his title against the always tough Phil Davis in the main event. That bout will double as a first-round matchup in the Grand Prix. The co-main event will be another tournament first-round fight, pitting former UFC contender Corey Anderson against the debuting former ACA champion Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov.
Last week, the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix kicked off with former champion Ryan Bader beating legend Lyoto Machida in the first round. After Friday, the tournament semifinals will have taken shape and there might even be a new Bellator champion to boot.
Here's what's at stake in those tournament matchups, as well as other important bouts on the card:
Can Nemkov establish himself as one of the truly elite light heavyweights in the world?
The newly crowned Bellator light heavyweight champion has a historically difficult road ahead of him. Nemkov, a protégé of the great Fedor Emelianenko, knocked out Bader last August to win the title. Now, he must defend the belt in the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix, beginning with Davis in the first round.
Davis gave Nemkov perhaps the toughest fight of his career in November 2018. Nemkov won a split decision, but many people thought Davis was the true victor. Nemkov is an excellent, versatile striker with stopping power, but anyone who has seen Davis -- going back to his UFC days -- knows he is an oppressive wrestler who will have a size advantage.
If Nemkov, 28, does get by Davis, it won't get any easier. He'll face the winner of a first-round matchup between former UFC title contenders Anthony "Rumble" Johnson and Yoel Romero. That's quite the challenge for any young champion. But if Nemkov does make it through to win this tournament, there will be no denying that he is among the best light heavyweight fighters in the world -- in any organization.
What can we expect from Anderson in the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix first round?
In his Bellator debut in November, Anderson expectedly ran through veteran Melvin Manhoef via second-round TKO. It was a clear showcase fight, a way to get the Bellator audience familiar with Anderson and his ability. On top of that, Anderson was coming off a knockout loss to Jan Blachowicz (now the UFC champion), so it doubled as a tuneup to get his confidence back. The level of competition gets steeper now as Anderson will face the unknown member of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix in the first round: Yagshimuradov.
Anderson is an accomplished wrestler who also showed off some knockout power in the UFC. It's easy to forget that Anderson had won four in a row and was on the cusp of a UFC light heavyweight title shot before the Blachowicz loss. Yagshimuradov, a Turkmenistan native, brings a wrestling pedigree of his own into his Bellator debut. He's the former ACA light heavyweight champion, and the competition is far from easy in the Russia-based promotion.
This should be a legitimate test for Anderson, and the winner will get Bader in the semifinals.
Which surging veteran will creep closer to a title shot?
The always exciting British knockout artist Paul Daley will finally take on UFC veteran Sabah Homasi at Bellator 257 after the bout previously fell apart twice. Daley has won two straight, while Homasi has won four in a row. Homasi's coaches at American Top Team are very high on his potential, and a win over Daley would be one of the biggest of his career. The winner would creep closer to a title shot against dominant champion Douglas Lima.
In addition to that matchup, former Bellator women's featherweight champion Julia Budd will try to win her second in a row after dropping the belt in January 2020 to Cris Cyborg. Budd will face Dayana Silva, who boasts a 9-5 record and will be making her Bellator debut. Budd, still one of the best women's 145-pound fighters in the world, would be very much in the title mix with a victory.
Bellator 257 also features the promotional debut of Swedish submission specialist Mads Burnell, who has won five in a row after being released by the UFC in 2018. It'll be a difficult first Bellator fight for Burnell, against The Ultimate Fighter veteran Saul Rogers.