Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix: Three bold predictions as the tournament kicks off

After completing a pair of Grand Prix tournaments and nearly a third, Bellator MMA is ready to kick off this year’s version of its biggest success. With a $1 million prize up for grabs for the winner, the promotion begins this latest incarnation in the bantamweight division. 

This version, however, has a bit of a twist that the featherweight, heavyweight and light heavyweight tournaments did not. Champion Sergio Pettis was forced to withdraw before the Grand Prix even began, meaning that an interim title will be at stake throughout, beginning with Juan Archuleta against Raufeon Stots. 

The other wrinkle is that this tournament will also feature a pair of wild card bouts where four more fighters will have a chance to enter the fray of the quarterfinals. Both of those matchups will take place on Friday night at Bellator 278 before a pair of quarterfinal matches take place on Saturday in Archuleta vs. Stots and Patchy Mix vs. Kyoji Horiguchi.

While it’s tough to predict just who will win it all, our experts took a shot at making a bold guess as to who could make it through the gauntlet and walk away much richer.

Magomed Magomedov becomes the tournament sleeper

In a field this deep, it can become difficult to predict which fighter will get on a hot streak at the right time and make a run at the tournament final. Given he lost a de facto No. 1 contender opportunity against Raufeon Stots in his last appearance, there hasn’t been much talk about Magomedov’s chances. Make no mistake, however, they are very real as the 30-year-old native of Russia brings the perfect mix of toughness, grappling skill and experience to the dance. He handed former UFC champion Petr Yan his first career defeat and was dominant in his first two Bellator appearances until the close loss to Stots. Expect Magomedov to rebound big and do so with a purpose as he makes a run toward a shot at fighting for $1 million and the bantamweight title. — Brian Campbell

Kyoji Horiguchi makes it look easy

I am still a Horiguchi believer through and through. He was handily beating Pettis over the course of four rounds before crumbling to a picturesque spinning back fist. The skill he displayed in that fight should instill confidence in how far Horiguchi can go in the Grand Prix. Finish losses to Pettis, Kai Asakura (which he avenged) and Demetrious Johnson, identify susceptibilities, but the openings are few and far between. Horiguchi has run through bantamweights and flyweights for the better part of 12 years. He should be favored to run through this tournament as well. — Shakiel Mahjouri

Raufeon Stots makes a deep run — and might win it all

In a loaded field, Stots seems to be getting overlooked a bit. That’s a shame because from where I’m sitting, Stots is the favorite on his side of the bracket. The first-round clash with Juan Archuleta is a tricky fight, but Stots’ style is a solid one to take out anyone. He has high-level wrestling and a scrappy striking style that is all enhanced through great cardio. He had a great chance to beat Sergio Pettis in their planned tournament-opening bout, but with Pettis out and Archuleta slotted in — and the interim 135-pound title on the line — Stots is positioned well. We’ve already seen Stots take out Magomed Magomedov in an exciting — and dominant — performance. Stots to the finals seems likely, and him winning the entire tournament should be seen as a real possibility. — Brent Brookhouse

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