Bellator 222 Preview: Lyoto Machida vs. Chael Sonnen, Darrion Caldwell vs. Kyoji Horiguchi

Bellator 222 Preview: Lyoto Machida vs. Chael Sonnen, Darrion Caldwell vs. Kyoji Horiguchi article feature image

Ed Mulholland, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Chael Sonnen

  • Legendary middleweights Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida (-340) and Chael Sonnen (+260) meet in a light heavyweight co-main event.
  • Bantamweight champion Darrion "The Wolf" Caldwell (-160) looks to avenge his loss to Kyoji Horiguchi (+135).

Bellator 222 Betting Odds, Preview

  • Date: Friday, June 14
  • Preliminary Card:  6:30 p.m. ET on MMA Junkie
  • Main Card: 10 p.m. ET on DAZN

When Bellator returns to Madison Square Garden, they’re bringing something for every type of fight fan. There are two title fights, future hall-of-famers, hot prospects, and one notorious submission grappler.

Let’s look at the betting angles for two of the highest-profile fights on the undercard.

Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida (-340) vs. “The American Gangster” Chael Sonnen (+260)

With a combined 81 fights between them, two men who made their hay in the UFC will put on a showcase fight in Bellator’s light heavyweight division.

Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida (25-8) first came onto the scene as an enigmatic karate stylist. The 3rd degree Shotokan black belt blitzed through the UFC’s light heavyweight division, gaining a reputation as an unsolvable puzzle.

Though the “Machida Era” only wound up lasting for one title defense, the Brazilian etched his name in the history books nonetheless. Among all light heavyweights in UFC history, “The Dragon” ranks:

  • No. 1 in takedown accuracy minimum 5 UFC fights and 20 takedown attempts (65.0%).
  • No. 3 in knockdowns landed (11).
  • No. 4 in strikes absorbed per minutes minimum 5 UFC fights (1.41).
  • No. 5 in significant strike accuracy (56.0%).
  • No. 6 in submission attempts (8).
  • No. 6 in takedown defense (81.8%).
  • No. 7 in total fight time (2:58:54).
  • No. 9 in significant strike defense (65.0%).

Machida’s athleticism has been on the decline in recent years, but “The Dragon” has still shown flashes of the venomous counter-striker he was in his prime. The Brazilian is 1-0 in Bellator, on a 3-0 run, and returning to light heavyweight for the first time since 2013.

Known as “The American Gangster” and hailing from West Linn, Oregon,  Chael Sonnen (31-16-1) rose to prominence when he challenged Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight Championship in 2010. Sonnen’s bombastic promos outside of the cage were the polar opposite of his grueling style inside of it.

Despite falling heart-breakingly short against Silva, Sonnen has remained a staple in the consciousness of MMA fans. Across three weight classes (middleweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight), two promotions (UFC, Bellator), and countless media obligations, Sonnen is still one of the most prominent figures in MMA.

Inside the cage, “The American Gangster” is a rinse-and-repeat wrestler. He has one of the best blast double leg takedowns in MMA history and is a control-oriented grappler. In the history of the UFC’s middleweight division, Sonnen is ranked:

  • No. 1 in strikes absorbed per minute (1.12).
  • No. 1 in significant strike defense minimum 5 UFC fights and 350 strike attempts by opponents (67.7%).
  • No. 3 in total strikes landed (1300).
  • No. 4 in takedowns landed (35).
  • No. 4 in takedown accuracy (56.5%).
  • No. 8 in strike differential (+2.01).

Sonnen is coming off a loss to Fedor Emelianenko last October and is 2-2 in Bellator.

Current and Past Odds

Machida enters as a heavy favorite, the widest he’s been since 2014.

Sonnen is the underdog for the third time in a row. The American hasn’t been this wide an underdog since he fought Jon Jones in 2013.

Fight Prediction

Pinning Machida as the favorite makes sense. He’s the more experienced light heavyweight, has been more successful at a higher level in recent fights and has a favorable style-matchup. Machida has historically great takedown defense and Sonnen tends to fall apart when faced with adversity.

However, I’m picking Sonnen. When betting on fighters at this stage of their careers, I can’t touch a favorite as heavy as Machida is here. “The American Gangster” has a clear path to victory and has proven he can effectively use his wrestling against larger men.

I can’t say I expect Sonnen to win, but there’s way more value on the American here.

The Pick: Chael Sonnen (+340)

Darrion “The Wolf” Caldwell (c) (-160) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (+135)

Back in December 2018, Bellator’s Bantamweight World Champion Darrion “The Wolf” Caldwell (13-2) made the trek to Japan for RIZIN 14. There, he fought native star Kyoji Horiguchi (27-2) for the Japanese promotion’s inaugural bantamweight championship.

With a six-inch height advantage and an eight-inch reach advantage, the American utilized his collegiate wrestling background to control the first 15 minutes or so of the fight.  However, early in the third round, Caldwell got careless while in Horiguchi’s guard and was forced to tap to a guillotine choke.

The big difference in the rematch is that this fight will take place in a cage versus in a ring. Horiguchi has much more experience fighting in a ring and it showed.

The fighters were caught in the ropes multiple times and Horiguchi was constantly able to use this to his advantage. It’s also worth noting the finish happened against the ropes.

In the cage, Caldwell will be able to better control Horiguchi with the aid of the fence. The walls will allow the American to pin Horiguchi and maintain dominant positions.

Aside from the change of scenery, the striker versus grappler dynamic we saw in the first fight should remain more or less the same.

The smaller Horiguchi will look to utilize his darting striking style to hit Caldwell without getting tied up. The second degree Shotokan black belt is the faster fighter of the two men and better at covering distance.

Caldwell, a former NCAA wrestling champion, will look to wrestle, wrestle, and wrestle some more. In the first fight, “The Wolf” pursued the takedown from the opening bell with little pretense that he’d engage in striking exchanges. On the ground, Caldwell was focused almost exclusively on control and never threatened to finish the fight.

Current and Past Betting Odds

The champion Caldwell is again the favorite against Horiguchi, though the odds are a bit closer this time. Aside from the Dantas fight which was virtually even, Caldwell has been the favorite in every bout of his MMA career.

Horiguchi, looking to once again win as the underdog, was a sizable favorite for every bout between his loss to Demetrious Johnson in 2015 and the first Caldwell fight.

Fight Prediction

Given the size discrepancy and the style-matchup, it made sense for Caldwell to be the favorite in the first fight. However, after seeing their first bout, I can’t back “The Wolf” this time out.

Prior to the finish, Caldwell was able to control Horiguchi but did minimal damage. Horiguchi was the more dangerous fighter both on the feet and the ground.

The cage is a boon for Caldwell, but the American’s grinding style allows little room for error and I can’t trust “The Wolf” to fight perfectly for 25 minutes.

The Pick: Kyoji Horiguchi (+135)

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