Bellator 194 Betting Preview: Finding Value in Nelson vs. Mitrione

Bellator 194 Betting Preview: Finding Value in Nelson vs. Mitrione article feature image
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Roy Nelson and Matt Mitrione

The opening round of Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament continues on Friday night in Uncasville, Connecticut, as former UFC heavyweights Roy “Big Country” Nelson and Matt Mitrione meet in a rematch seeking to progress to the semifinals.

Here’s everything you need to know about Friday night’s clash.

Recent form

Since leaving the UFC, it’s been up, up, up for Mitrione. He claimed a first-round KO over the unheralded Carl Seumanutafa in his Bellator debut in June 2016, then followed up the following month with a second-round TKO of Brit Oli Thompson at Bellator 158.

His most recent performance saw him take on a legend, as he faced consensus all-time great heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko at Bellator NYC last June.

Emelianenko is (and was) a shadow of the man who was undefeated for a decade during the peak years of the spectacular PRIDE Fighting Championships in Japan, but his name still holds significant weight. And Mitrione finished him by first-round KO

Nelson hasn’t been as impressive recently, though he’s generally been keeping higher-caliber company.

After alternating wins and losses in the UFC through 2016 and the first half of 2017, Nelson signed with Bellator and scored an uninspiring unanimous decision win over largely unknown Javy Ayala, who has a TKO loss to the aforementioned Seumanutafa on his record.

Nelson’s KO power wasn’t on display that night, but he’s still capable of finishing fights. He holds KO/TKOs over the likes of Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Cheick Kongo, Mirko Cro Cop and Mitrione himself during his 37-fight career.


The law of rematches may not apply here

The common rule of thumb with rematches is that whoever wins the first bout tends to repeat the trick in the second, but often in more emphatic fashion. A look back at Max Holloway’s dismantling of Jose Aldo in their rematch is the perfect example.

But the outcome is likely to be markedly different here.

Nelson was a 25-fight veteran when he fought Mitrione at The Ultimate Fighter Finale back in December 2012, but at that point Mitrione was only starting out in his career. Mitrione was a 5-1 prospect at the time, coming into the bout off a decision loss to Cheick Kongo.

Both men have gone on to have their successes (and failures) since, but Mitrione was badly outmatched in the experience category the first time around.

On Friday night we’ll see two seasoned operators going head to head, so the first result — a first-round TKO win for Nelson — may not be as relevant to this weekend’s result.


The odds

Nelson vs Mitrione Win Inside The Distance Decision
Roy Nelson +160 +250 +550
Matt Mitrione -185 +120 +350
Odds retrieved at time of writing from 5Dimes via BestFightOdds.com

Market moves

The odds for this fight have held steady since the bookmakers released their lines in late November, with Nelson holding firm at around +150 and Mitrione drifting slightly between the -175 and -185 mark.

At the time of writing, the best available odds have Mitrione a -175 favorite (BookMaker, Sportsbook), with Nelson’s best odds currently at +164 (SportBet).


Finding value

The natural direction to take with heavyweights is to expect a finish. With the small four-ounce gloves and the sheer size of the participants (Mitrione weighed in at 255 pounds on Thursday, Nelson at 265), the thought of two men hurling leather for the duration of the fight without one of them getting a KO seems far-fetched.

However, in this case, there’s a serious possibility the judges may be called into play.

Nelson has one of the toughest chins in heavyweight MMA. He’s been stopped with strikes just TWICE in his 37-fight career — by a peak Andrei Arlovski in 2008 and by the hardest hitter in the sport, Mark Hunt, in 2014.

Mitrione hits hard, but he’s more of a volume striker who likes to establish a rhythm; he’ll work off his jab, then come in behind it with heavier shots. Additionally, in light Mitrione’s first-round stoppage at the hands of Nelson earlier in his career, it’s likely that he’ll be particularly respectful of Big Country’s power.

The 41-year-old Nelson, meanwhile, clearly has the power to finish Mitrione, but his explosiveness and snap have waned slightly in recent years. His money punch, the looping overhand right, isn’t as crisp as it once was. Providing Mitrione stays alert, he should be able to stay clear, work from range and use his five-inch reach advantage over the shorter Nelson. (Mitrione is listed at 6-foot-3, Nelson 6-foot.)

With all that in mind, backing a decision result offers the best value play here, with the odds on a decision win for either man significantly larger than for a KO victory. A knockout is always possible — this is heavyweight MMA, after all — but the best value lies in the fight making it to the scorecards.


The pick

Mitrione is the hot hand here. He’s in form, he’s faster, he’s bigger, he has the reach advantage, and he should be the better conditioned of the two.

The bookies haven’t offered the same range of markets that we usually see for a UFC fight, so we can’t bet specifically on a KO/TKO. But you can take Mitrione to win inside the distance at +120, and that’s a nice insurance bet to cover us in the event of a finish.

Our main selection here, however, is for Mitrione to take the victory by decision, at +350.

FIGHT PICK: Mitrione by decision @ +350 (5Dimes)
INSURANCE: Mitrione inside the distance @ +120 (5Dimes)

[Top photo: Roy Nelson (L), Matt Mitrione (R) | Credit: © Dave Mandel / Ed Mulholland – USA TODAY Sports]