Two title fights are confirmed for Bellator’s return to Madison Square Garden on Friday, June 14 – an event to be streamed exclusively on DAZN.
Bellator 222: Machida vs. Sonnen will see current Bellator welterweight world champion Rory MacDonald (20-5-1) put his title on the line in the semi-finals of the Welterweight World Grand Prix against the unbeaten Renzo Gracie-trained Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Neiman Gracie (9-0). In addition, Darrion Caldwell (13-2) will defend his Bellator bantamweight world title against Rizin Fighting Federation’s bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi (27-2) in a true “champion vs. champion” matchup, following a Horiguchi submission victory when the two met in Rizin’s ring this past December.
The event also includes two of the sport’s biggest names in Lyoto Machida (25-8) and Chael Sonnen (31-16-1) headlining the card in a light heavyeight bout, who will finally meet after years of parallel MMA careers. Additionally, a 175-pound catchweight contest between polarizing grappling ace Dillon Danis (1-0) and Max Humphrey (3-2) is scheduled, while Heather Hardy (2-1), fresh off two boxing wins in 2018 to remain undefeated at 22-0, is ready to return to the site of her mixed martial arts debut and bring her exciting style back to the Bellator cage against a soon-to-be-announced opponent.
Tickets to Bellator 222: Machida vs. Sonnen are on sale now and can be purchased online fromTicketmaster.com, MSG.com and Bellator.com.The event will stream live exclusively onDAZN, the fastest-growing sports streaming service in the world, at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, while preliminary action will stream on Bellator.com and globally on the Bellator Mobile App.
Caldwell, a 31-year-old Rahway, N.J.-native and the current Bellator bantamweight champion, has emerged as one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world, collecting 10 victories since signing with Bellator in 2013. The 2009 NCAA D-1 National Champion wrestler from NC State boasts a resume that includes five first-round finishes, a 25-minute war against Eduardo Dantas to claim the world title and a textbook guillotine choke submission victory over Leandro Higo in his first career title defense last year. Caldwell will look to avenge his submission loss when he enters the cage against Kyoji Horiguchi in June at MSG.
Bellator President Scott Coker had this to say about the upcoming Caldwell and Horiguchi rematch:
“I know Darrion has been itching to show the world that his first matchup with Horiguchi was a fluke. I think there will be an added level of intensity from Darrion now that the first fight is in the books and he’s getting a shot at redemption in the U.S., inside the Bellator cage and just a short ride away from where he grew up in New Jersey. I’m excited to continue our collaboration with Rizin and to bring one of their highest profile fighters to Bellator.”
Kyoji Horiguchi is widely regarded as one of the best fighters in the world at 125 or 135 pounds. He amassed a 7-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming to Demetrious Johnson. Since signing with Rizin in 2017, he’s gone 9-0, winning both the promotion’s bantamweight Grand Prix and the bantamweight title, which he defended against Caldwell in December. He most recently defended the title against Ben Nguyen earlier this month.
Rizin President Nobuyuki Sakakibara added this about the matchup:
“I am very happy and excited to see Rizin champion Kyoji Horiguchi fight Bellator champion Darrion Caldwell for the prestigious Bellator world bantamweight title,” Sakakibara said. “The fans have always wanted to see who is the best in the world, and now they will get opportunities to see who really is the world’s best with this rematch. We hope this action between Bellator and Rizin can provide the industry with more thrilling and appealing matchups, eventually leading to the popularity gain of this sport.”
Inarguably one of the greatest 170-pound fighters walking the planet, Rory MacDonald makes a quick six-week turnaround following his hard-fought contest with Jon Fitch last weekend. Now, “The Red King” sets his sights on one million dollars and clearing the landscape at welterweight and continuing on in a tournament where he must defend his belt each and every time he steps inside the cage. Next up for the British Columbia, Canada-native is Neiman Gracie, an undefeated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist who has submitted nearly everyone to stand in his way.
Bellator welterweight world champion Rory MacDonald shared these words about his upcoming bout:
“I want to take the time to thank everybody who had the chance to see my fight last weekend and share that candid moment I had in the Bellator cage with John McCarthy.
“I felt an internal struggle during the fight I never experienced before. I have always enjoyed my time in the cage by expressing my techniques in full out combat against another top-level fighter, but this time I wasn’t enjoying it. It felt more like a job than the satisfaction I am used to feeling by being dominant and applying what I have practiced to defeat someone.”
“Even during my dominant moments, I felt I was completing a task and these feelings were a bit confusing to me because it’s new. I used to fight with anger I held within myself from pain I had experienced in my past. To be honest, I believe this comes from my heart changing as I’m walking a new life as a Christian. The Lord has given me peace and freedom from the pain that haunted me in my heart from my younger years. I would only satisfy myself for a short period of time from winning fights until the feeling would resonate in me again. So, now I don’t feel the same emotions I have in the past while competing.
“I still and will always have a passion for martial arts and do not believe, as a Christian, that it’s wrong for myself to compete in a professional sport that is violent. In fact, I’m happy to testify about being a Christian on this platform I’ve been given.
“To be clear, I am not retiring from my professional MMA career, I’ve always been true and honest in the sport and I spoke from the heart.
“As for my career at the moment. I am going to move forward in this tournament and compete boldly against Neiman Gracie in New York at MSG on June 14.
“Thank you for your support and all the kind messages I’ve received after this sentimental moment I had for all to see after 14 years of being in this sport.”
Neiman Gracie has laced up the Bellator gloves seven times in his nine-fight professional career, but no victory has been as impressive as his most recent win against Ed Ruth in the opening round of the Bellator Welterweight World Grand Prix. With the submission win over Ruth, the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt has now submitted opponents in five straight contests, including a submission win over Dave Marfone that took place during Bellator’s inaugural event at MSG, Bellator NYC. Now, with championship gold on the line, Gracie looks to keep his streak alive and take home the upset victory in his hometown.
Updated Bellator 222: Machida vs. Sonnen Fight Card:
Light Heavyweight Main Event Bout: Lyoto Machida (25-8) vs. Chael Sonnen (31-16-1)
Welterweight World Grand Prix Semifinal Title Bout: Rory MacDonald (20-5-1) vs. Neiman Gracie (9-0)
Bantamweight World Title Bout: Darrion Caldwell (13-2) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (27-2)
175-Pound Catchweight Bout: Dillon Danis (1-0) vs. Max Humphrey (3-2)
Women’s Flyweight Bout: Heather Hardy (2-1) vs. TBD
Flyweight Bout: Brandon Polcare (1-2) vs. Brandon Medina (Pro Debut)
*Card subject to change.