Bellator MMA returns to action after a four-month absence tonight with up and coming fighters in explosive match-ups live on Sky Sports
Ricky Bandejas is plotting for a Dublin headline rematch against James Gallagher if the New Jersey native can deal effectively with Sergio Pettis tonight at Mohegan Sun, Conn. as Bellator MMA returns to action tonight after a hiatus of four months due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
The fight league has packed its event with explosive match-ups between its young guns, with Jordan Mein, Tywan Claxton and the highly-touted Aaron Pico also on the main card, facing Solo Hatley.
“I’m super excited, I hope to keep the knockout streak going. Fighting a name like Pettis will be big for me in this division,” said Bandejas, with the card live on Sky Sports Action HD from 3am tonight in the UK.
“Pettis is another name with another big following and hype and I’ll put an end to that” said Bandejas of the man from Milwaukee. “He’s tough, he’s well rounded, experienced and a gamer. I know I’ve got to go out there and give it 100 per cent.”
Fight week has had its differences, explained Bandejas, masked up at the virtual video media conference, with an intense testing process as the fight league feels its way back, having announced Benson Henderson against Michael Chandler and Matt Mitrione against Tim Johnson for up and coming events next month, all to be held at the huge Casino Resort. It is their likely base for several months.
“It’s definitely different, not a typical fight week. But it’s part of fighting and I’ll get used to it. But this is a huge opportunity,” explained Bandejas. “I’m excited to be the main event and to capitalise on this. Title elimination is in my head but I’m focusing on beating Pettis.”
Bandejas has a “berserker style” at times, and he may need to be less frenetic against Pettis. “I know he’s sharp and he’s a good counter-fighter so I definitely won’t be too wild. But I’m ready for whatever happens, if we have to slug it out, wrestle, stand, I’m ready for whatever it is. He folds under pressure a little bit. If I come forward on him and put pressure on him, I think he’ll fold. We’ll see but I hope I’m right.”
But there is also the rematch with Gallagher in Dublin – having knocked out the Irishman in the USA last year – also on his mind as he widens his fighting portfolio. “I think that’d be awesome to headline in Ireland. If I beat Pettis, a rematch with Gallagher in Dublin would be massive. It’ll only help my style.”
Had Bandejas learned anything about himself in lockdown ? “Nothing really changed for me. I trained everyday. I know some people have jobs pulling 40 hours a week, luckily I hang out at home and work out. My life was no different. I’m used to taking a couple of months off so this worked out well for me.”
Aaron Pico, meanwhile is learning. He must. The 23-year-old Californian who was earmarked for marked success in MMA even before his professional debut took place just needs to put matters into practise. Pico has lost three of his first eight fights, but for me he is finally saying the right things. So right for him; so right for his fledgling career. He is talking of the influence on his fighting style of Kamaru Usman and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Perfect.
An alternate for the US Olympic wrestling team aged 19, Pico has been reckless in his first couple of years as a professional, but under the tutelage of the renowned Albuquerque trio of Mike Winkeljohn, Greg Jackson and Brandon Gibson, strategy is to the fore. “Really good knockouts are awesome and the fans love them, but I’ve got to do what’s best for me and my career. There’s always risk involved in anything. I really want to be smart in my fighting career,” explained Pico. “I’ve taken some lumps along the way and I’ve had to learn quick at a very young age. Knockouts are cool but winning is the most important thing. I want to use my skills and be smart. Not be so macho man that I have to get the knockout.”
He added: “Every fight I’m in there will be a target on my back. It’s something that I’ve had to deal with since my Bellator debut. It’s nothing new to me. I’ve just got to go out there and compete. There is a target on my back. For him he has nothing to lose but everything to gain. I don’t pay too much attention to him.”
“My top three favourite fighters are No 1 is Kamaru Usman. No.2 is Khabib. No.3 is Valentina,” offered Pico. “I love those fighters. Of course there’s a lot of great fighters but those are my top three fighters that I watch a lot. I love Kamaru Usman’s style. People think his last fight was boring but I thought it was beautiful and he got the W.”
It means that Pico is taking note. So too, of fellow Bellator fighter Patricio Pitbull, the two-weight champion. “I think Patricio’s top three in the world in all organisations. When we have to fight him, I’ll be very well prepared. I’ll be in the lab with my coaches studying that guy. He’s no slouch. There’s a reason he’s where he’s at. I feel he’s one of the top three pound for pound fighters at 145lbs in the world. He’s up there with the best of them.”
The first bell cannot come quickly enough, and the fight league has made sure, explained Pico, that the health and safety of the fighters has been to the fore. “It feels good. One thing I will say is I like this way better than actual fight week. Bellator has done a really good job with making sure we’re all safe. We have our own saunas, workout room and everything. When all this craziness is over I hope we still do it this way. I don’t have to be in the sauna with my opponent. It’s more private. I like this way a lot better.”
Now all Pico has to do is go out and deliver. “He’s a strong wrestler and he’s taken a lot of his opponents down. I think a lot of the guys I fight forget I was a world champion in wrestling. I won three world medals. I was an Olympian alternate at 19. If he thinks he’s going to come and take me down, we’ll have to see. He’s a tough guy and has a better record than me. He’s got power in his hands. I’ve not underestimated him at all and he’ll be a tough guy. He’ll come out very strong and it’ll be a fun fight.”