At Bellator 215, Matt Mitrione (13-6) will be returning from a loss and that must feel odd for him.
After moving on from the UFC in 2016, Mitrione won four consecutive fights under the Bellator banner. The streak was snapped last October, losing by wide decision to Ryan Bader in the promotion’s Heavyweight Grand Prix semifinals.
On Friday, Feb. 15, Mitrione returns to the cage to battle veteran puncher Sergei Kharitonov (28-6-0-1) The pair headline one of the two events Bellator is putting on over the weekend at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
On the following day, Michael Page and Paul Daley will be staging a grand prix quarterfinals matchup at the same venue.
Bellator president Scott Coker has long been a proponent of tournament-style matchmaking since he founded Strikeforce in 2009. There, Coker and Co. staged a heavyweight grand prix in 2011 that was eventually won by UFC champion Daniel Cormier. So the Bellator tourney was only natural. Mitrione earned a seeding after knockout out the legendary Fedor Emelianenko at Bellator NYC.
In 2018, Mitrione won his quarterfinals matchup against another household name and fellow The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 competitor (and winner) Roy Nelson, winning by majority decision. Months later, Bader bounced Mitrione from competition.
Opposite Kharitonov, Mitrione is entering his 20th professional bout. The 40-year-old American has steadily improved with each outing. Though at his age, Mitrione’s skillset has likely plateaued. But he remains a threat, always just a few thudding blows away from victory. Eleven of his 13 wins have come by way of knockout. In addition to stopping Emelianenko in one round, Mitrione also holds KO victories over UFC title challengers Derrick Lewis and Gabriel Gonzaga.
Kharitonov can crack too. The 38-year-old Russian is from the old guard of the division’s history. He competed in a couple of grand prix tournaments himself, reaching the semifinals of both the PRIDE 2004 GP and that Strikeforce Grand Prix.
In 2005, he won a split-decision over former world champion Fabricio Werdum. He also smashed another UFC champion in Andrei Arlovski in 2011. All told, he’s unbeaten in his last six bouts—that includes three fights for M-1 Global.
Like Mitrione, Kharitonov has lost just once during his tenure with Bellator. Last time out, at Bellator 207, he blew away Nelson in under five minutes, winning by first-round knockout. That was the night Mitrione lost to Bader.
Heading into the weekend, Karitonov’s recent success makes Mitrione the underdog (+110). But few counted on him finding the kind of success he did since ending his UFC run on back-to-back losses. In other words, he can’t be counted out—with the kind of concussive punches that go off in the sport’s maximum division, few heavyweights can be.
Bellator 215 will be broadcast live on DAZN at 9 p.m. ET.