Bellator 292 preview: Nurmagomedov vs Henderson

The opening round of the Bellator Lightweight World Grand Prix will take place this Friday from the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Photo Credit: Bellator MMA.

Bellator 292 is a historic night as undefeated Lightweight champion Usman Nurmagomedov (16-0) faces former UFC title holder Benson Henderson (30-11). Nurmagomedov is the newly crowned 155-pound champion after his recent win over Patricky “Pitbull” Freire, and his title will be on the line this weekend. In the Co-Main Event, Bellator newcomer Tofiq Musayev (20-4) takes on Russian prospect Alexandr Shabliy (22-3). Musayev is a former Lightweight tournament winner in Rizin and brutally finished Sidney Outlaw 27 seconds into his Bellator debut. Shabliy is on a seven-fight win streak and has not lost since 2017. Also on the card, the always exciting Michael “Venom” Page returns to the promotion against rising contender Goiti Yamauchi.

(C) Usman Nurmagomedov (16-0) vs #3 Benson Henderson (30-11)

Bellator 292’s Main Event will represent the opening round of the Lightweight World Grand Prix. This tournament is one of the deepest in Mixed Martial Arts history, with five current or former world champions in its field. Current champion Usman Nurmagomedov (24 years old) is one of the most talented young fighters in the sport and trains at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. At his gym Nurmagomedov receives top-of-the-line coaching under Javier Mendez and his cousin UFC Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Nurmagomedov fighting family is currently (60-0) between Khabib, Umar, and Usman.

Title challenger Benson Henderson will represent the most experienced and well-rounded fighter Nurmagomedov has faced. In 2012, Henderson was on top of the world as the UFC Lightweight champion and a top five pound-for-pound fighter in the promotion’s rankings. That was a long time ago, however, and Henderson will enter this contest as a (+1100) underdog at online sportsbooks. Nurmagomedov is a coordinated and accurate kickboxer for a lifelong grappler and has tremendous reflexes defensively. When on the ground, Nurmagomedov has a dominant sambo style that no one has yet figured out. Henderson has excellent takedown defense and is still a fiery competitor at 39 years old.

My prediction for this title matchup is Nurmagomedov to win by decision. I feel that the age discrepancy will play a factor, giving Nurmagomedov a significant advantage in speed. Henderson’s chin, toughness, and experience will be able to keep him in the fight, but Nurmagomedov will be too slick defensively for Henderson to land significantly on the champion. This compelling matchup could be the last title run for Henderson but also the most significant challenge to Nurmagomedov in his young career.

#2 Tofiq Musayev (20-4) vs #4 Alexandr Shabliy (22-3)

A Lightweight world Grand Prix contest between Tofiq Musayev and Alexandr Shabliy should be highly competitive. Musayev is a dangerous striker who possesses one-punch knockout power in his hands. Shabliy is (3-0) inside the Bellator cage and is exceptionally well rounded, with many knockouts and submissions on his record. In his last fight, Shabliy earned the biggest win of his career, finishing former Bellator Lightweight champion Brent Primus by TKO.

This is an exciting opening-round matchup between two fighters that easily could have ended up in the final four if seeded differently. Musayev is a feared striker who has earned knockouts in 16 of his 20 professional victories. In his most recent loss, Musayev was submitted by Rizin Lightweight Champion Roberto de Souza in Japan. Shabliy and his coaches may form a game plan to take this fight to the ground. Musayev is not a one-dimensional fighter but can leave himself open for submissions at times with his overly aggressive style.

Shabliy will have to be ready at the beginning of this matchup because Musayev is usually a speedy starter who looks to end the fight early. In his career, Musayev has had 14 first-round finishes. As this fight goes longer, it will favor Shabliy, who has shown impressive cardio at times and should be the fresher fighter after round one. The winner of this fight will face the winner of Patricky “Pitbull” Freire and A.J. Mckee.

#2 Michael Page (20-2) vs #5 Goiti Yamauchi (28-5)

Top five ranked Welterweights collide this weekend as dynamic striker Michael Page fights submission ace Goiti Yamauchi. Page is returning to the Bellator cage for the first time since May of last year. Although he took a short break from MMA, Page recently competed in a bare-knuckle boxing match against former UFC veteran Mike Perry in August. Yamauchi is Bellator’s all-time leader in submissions (9) and recently knocked out famed Jiu-Jitsu artist Neiman Gracie with an uppercut in his last fight.

Since moving up to Welterweight, Yamauchi has gone (2-0) and is already on the doorstep of a Welterweight title opportunity after back-to-back finishes. The page should have an advantage in the striking, while Yamauchi will have superior skills on the ground. Page has twelve knockout victories on his record and is an extremely tall (6’3) and rangy fighter at 170 pounds. This seems to be a classic striker vs grappler matchup and should be very intriguing stylistically.

Bellator 292 Prelims:

The Bellator 292 prelims will feature many rising contenders and competitive fights. Valentin Moldavsky (11-2) will take on Linton Vassell (22-8) in a Heavyweight contest between top-five ranked contenders. Moldavsky is the former Interim Bellator Heavyweight champion and is looking to rebound from his loss to Ryan Bader in January of 2022. Moldavsky was involved in a fight with Steve Mowry last August, although that fight ended due to an accidental eye poke in under a minute. Vassell has won four in a row at Heavyweight with impressive stoppage wins over Sergei Kharitonov and Timothy Johnson.

Also, on the Bellator 292 prelims, former title challenger and Missouri native Julius Anglickas (10-3) face Turkish-born fighter Dovletdzhan Yagshimuradov (19-7). The Bellator 292 prelims will be live on YouTube. The Main Card will air on Showtime starting at 8 p.m. CT.

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