Here's the theme of this weekend in MMA: A champion who perhaps bit off more than he could chew in his last outing will return to the cage and try to reassert his dominance.
One night earlier, Bellator MMA welterweight champ Douglas Lima, who was last seen dropping a decision to Gegard Mousasi in a fight for the vacant middleweight title in October, puts his 170-pound belt on the line against undefeated Yaroslav Amosov in the main event of Bellator 260 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Friday's card on Showtime will be Bellator's first in the United States with fans in attendance since the start of the coronavirus pandemic early last year. After canceling five events, beginning in March 2020, the promotion has been holding its fight cards, most of them at Mohegan Sun, with no crowds.
Here are a few questions that might be answered on Friday night:
Will the welterweight division continue to be Lima's domain?
Lima's rise in the Bellator welterweight division began a decade ago, when he won a tournament to earn a matchup with then-champion Ben Askren. That first title shot in 2012 did not go the Brazilian's way, but two years later, after winning another welterweight tourney, Lima defeated Rick Hawn to become champion. It was the first of his three reigns with the belt.
Lima's most recent title-winning fight was in October 2019, when he defeated Rory MacDonald -- the man who had dethroned him a year and a half earlier. Lima was dominant that night. He had the look of someone who could be the face of Bellator for years to come.
Then, last fall, Lima was unsuccessful in his attempt to become a two-division champion. He got off to a rough start against the relentless grappling of Mousasi and could not quite turn things around. The loss was not a blowout, though. They went the distance, and Mousasi was a clear winner, but Lima had his moments and showed he could compete even at the heavier weight class.
Now Lima (32-8) is back at welterweight, facing a challenger who will help define his reign. Amosov (25-0), a three-time combat sambo world champion, has finished 19 of his fights (10 submissions, nine knockouts), although four of his six Bellator bouts have gone the distance. The 26-year-old Ukranian's last win, over Logan Storley in November, came by split decision. This is really a defining moment for both men.
When will Aaron Pico go from prospect to contender?
Pico signed with Bellator in November 2014 amid much promise. He was a former world cadet champion wrestler, a U.S. junior national champ and Olympic hopeful. He also was a Golden Gloves junior national champion in boxing. The 18-year-old was as blue-chip as combat sports prospects get.
"Simply put, Aaron has all the makings of MMA's next great superstar," Bellator president Scott Coker said at the time.
Pico's deal with Bellator was a long-term developmental contract, allowing him to focus on a run at the Olympics (he fell short in 2016), so he did not make his pro MMA debut until June 2017. It was a short appearance. At Bellator 180 at Madison Square Garden in New York, Pico tapped out to a Zach Freeman guillotine choke in just 24 seconds.
The fast finish slowed the hype train a bit, but Pico won his next four fights, his level of opponents increasing each time. Then, in 2019, he dropped two in a row, to Henry Corrales and Adam Borics, and was knocked out in both of those losses. The thinking among many pundits was that Pico had maybe been pushed too fast.
In 2020, however, Pico won all three of his fights, finishing his opponents each time. He was back on a roll.
On Friday, the 24-year-old Californian faces Aiden Lee (9-4), not a name that's going to help elevate Pico (7-3) anywhere near the top of the featherweight division. But let's see if this longtime prospect can edge his way in the direction of being a contender. If he wins, Pico could earn another shot at a top-level 145-pounder.
No need to recklessly rush him, but it's about time to see what we have in Aaron Pico.
Could the timing be more perfect for a Nick Newell fight?
No, it could not. Newell lives and trains in southern Connecticut, just a short ride up I-95 to Uncasville, so it's safe to say there will be a lot of support for Newell at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Watching this athlete, born with a congenital amputation of his left arm, compete in a professional prizefight can be inspiring. But the story of Newell has always been more about ability than disability. He won his first 11 pro bouts, all but one of them by first-round finish, before he ran into a buzzsaw named Justin Gaethje in a 2014 World Series of Fighting lightweight title fight. Newell was knocked out that night, but he has won five of his seven fights since then.
At age 35, Newell (16-3) will be coming off a loss and a year and a half of inactivity when he faces Bobby King (9-3) this weekend. The fight is on the prelims. Way to get the fans in the building early, Bellator.
Friday's fight card
Showtime, 9 p.m. ET
Douglas Lima (c) vs. Yaroslav Amosov | Welterweight
Paul Daley vs. Jason Jackson | Catchweight (175 pounds)
Aaron Pico vs. Aiden Lee | Men's featherweight
Demarques Jackson vs. Mark Lemminger | Welterweight
Bellator and Showtime channels on YouTube, 6 p.m. ET
Kyle Crutchmer vs. Levan Chokheli | Welterweight
Tywan Claxton vs. Justin Gonzales | Men's featherweight
Nick Newell vs. Bobby King | Lightweight
Lucas Brennan vs. Matthew Skibicki | Catchweight (150 pounds)
Amanda Bell vs. Marina Mokhnatkina | Women's featherweight
Alex Polizzi vs. Gustavo Trujillo | Light heavyweight
(c) = defending champion