Ranking the best UFC, Bellator fights this weekend – ESPN (blog)

 In Sports
Hope you’re ready for a loaded schedule of fights.

Bellator MMA and the UFC will host live events this weekend. Bellator NYC will take place Saturday inside Madison Square Garden and be available on pay-per-view. The following day, UFC Fight Night will go down in Oklahoma City.

A combined 27 bouts, including three championship fights (all Bellator). That’s 89 scheduled rounds and nearly 7.5 hours of potential fight time.

What are the must-see matchups in all this? Here are my top 10 fights to keep an eye on during this stacked weekend.

1. Aaron Pico (0-0) vs. Zach Freeman (8-2), lightweight, Bellator MMA

I understand I might lose you right off the bat by ranking Pico’s professional debut as No. 1 on this list. But honestly, nothing else this weekend intrigues me more.

Pico is a 20-year-old prospect out of Southern California who missed making the U.S. Olympic wrestling team last year by one point. He was boxing at age 7 and has won a junior Golden Gloves amateur title.

Bellator executives thought so highly of Pico that they signed him in 2014, when he was 18. Maybe it’s hyperbole to call him the greatest prospect of all time — then again, maybe it’s dead on. It’s not every day this kind of prospect makes his debut at Madison Square Garden.

2. Michael Chiesa (14-2) vs. Kevin Lee (15-2), lightweight, UFC

A scuffle between these two during a news conference in May was a nice touch for the cameras, but this fight really shouldn’t need any special effects to get your attention.

Last summer, Chiesa was scheduled to fight Tony Ferguson in a five-round main event but was forced to pull out with a back injury. The fact the UFC wanted that matchup in the first place suggests how high Chiesa’s stock has been. Lee, meanwhile, has remained one of the division’s best kept secrets, although word is starting to get out now, thanks to his 8-2 record in the UFC.

These two lightweights are at the top of their games and carrying a lot of momentum. All “mom comments” aside, this is a main event worth watching.

Longtime rivals Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva will meet at Bellator NYC on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

3. Chael Sonnen (28-15-1) vs. Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1), light heavyweight, Bellator MMA

Even when it was originally supposed to happen back in 2014, it didn’t really mean a whole lot. It was a Sonnen-esque beef story, perpetuated by a gym brawl caught on the UFC’s reality television cameras.

Fate — or random drug tests, to be more specific — intervened and delayed this fight until now. On paper, it’s not the most compelling matchup, especially considering how poor Sonnen looked recently against Tito Ortiz. Silva hasn’t fought since 2013.

Sonnen has joked (?) this fight will determine whom the worst fighter in the world is. Ultimately, it’s a throwback to a different time, and something about this particular clash of personalities has always worked. Don’t take this one too seriously. Just enjoy.

4. Douglas Lima (28-6) vs. Lorenz Larkin (18-5), welterweight championship, Bellator MMA

One of three Bellator championship fights. And for my money, it’s the most intriguing stylistic matchup of them all.

Larkin hasn’t fought in nearly one year, thanks to lengthy contract negotiations between Bellator and the UFC in 2016. It’s worth remembering what he’d done back then though, including wins over Jorge Masvidal and Neil Magny, two highly ranked contenders in the UFC.

Lima, with his 24 finishes in 28 career wins, is a perfect way to introduce Larkin to his new home. And in a division that features Rory MacDonald, Paul Daley, Michael Page, Brennan Ward and Andrey Koreshkov, this Bellator title means something.

5. Phil Davis (17-3) vs. Ryan Bader (22-5), light heavyweight championship, Bellator MMA

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