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.
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 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.