Five for Fighting: Bellator London / UFC Vegas 38

In what is set to be a monster few days in the world of mixed martials arts with shows coming for Cage Warriors, and the two cards that will be featured here on the latest edition on Five for Fighting. Here are the five fights that I am most looking forward to on both the Bellator London card and the UFC Vegas 38 cards which take place this Friday and Saturday.

Leah McCourt (5-1) vs. Jessica Borga (3-3) – Bellator London

Belfast’s own Leah McCourt returns to the Bellator cage for her seventh professional fight as she takes on Jessica Borga in the featherweight division. McCourt has not tasted defeat since her professional debut against Rizlen Zouak. After that disappointing start it was off to the races for McCort as she picked up 5 straight wins and a wealth of experience along the way. A early win over Manon Fiorot on her second appearance is great to have on your resume, Fiorot has not been beaten since and is tearing it up in the UFC. Hatice Özyurt, Kerry Hughes and Judith Ruis were the next to fall victim of “The Curse” until a shoulder injury put a halt to the progression McCourt.

McCourt faced off against Janay Harding upon returning from her shoulder surgery, the fight was a little over a year since she had headlined Bellator 240 in the 3Arena. The fight against Harding would prove to be of the toughest challenges of Leah’s career to date, but a challenge she overcame. The win from McCourt vs. Harding was a classic come from behind victory which was snatched from the jaws of defeat. It must of been an eye opening experience for the 145 pounder but an experience that almost every fighter needs to happen to them. McCourt answered many lingering questions she may of had after pulling off a sensational triangle submission after having her back against the wall for the most of the fight.

Her next fight on Friday night against Jessica Borga should not be looked at as a backward step but more as a step in the right direction for the SBG Charlestown. Even though she is high in the rankings there is no need to throw Leah to the wolves so early in her career so Borga, for me, is the perfect opponent. Borga drooped a unanimous decision in her last fight, before that she won two straight fights with first round finishes. She will provide a solid, but winnable, test for Leah in the co-main event of Bellator London. I’m excited to see how McCourt has progressed since we have last seen her in action. We have not seen much media from the Belfast woman this time around which mean the focus is clearly on her weight cut, on the fight and her performance and I expect the result to be a very good one as a result.

Douglas Lima (32-9) vs. Michael Page (19-1) – Bellator London

The Bellator London main event is a rematch between two warriors sitting at the top of the welterweight division. Douglas Lima picked up the win in the first encounter with a vicious calf-kick followed by a vicious uppercut that floored Page instantly. It was a knockout that went viral throughout the world. Now Michael “Venom” Page has his change to get that win back and he will get the chance to do it in his own backyard on Friday night. Since the first contest the welterweight landscape has changed somewhat. MVP has fought five times and won five times. Two of his biggest test were against Ross Houston, a fight that he won with relative ease. The other was his last outing with Derek Anderson. MVP was triumphant in that fight, Anderson was unable to continue after suffering a broken nose in the first round. Five straight wins from the Londoner prompted Bellator to set up this rematch.

Douglas Lima has not had it all his own way since the first encounter. After the second round knockout of MVP Lima, who was then champion, defeated Rory MacDonald before suffering losses to both Gegard Mousasi and Yaroslav Amosov. The Mousasi fight was his chance to become double champion of both 170 lbs and 185 lbs but that was not to be. Lima lost his title to undefeated phenom Amosov, he looked a shadow of his former self and I would be worried for him if he comes into this fight with the same mentality. This rematch could go any way, it’s hard to put your finger on the outcome. If you are Douglas Lima, do you engage in a firefight with somebody you have already knocked out? I’m not so sure that will end well this time around. The former champ needs to be the one on the front foot and make this a gritty encounter, mix up his striking and grappling to keep MVP guessing. Page will need to stay as elusive or maybe even more elusive than normal with someone like Lima in front of him. MVP’s wide stance leaves him wide open for leg kicks, I’m wondering does he come in her with a tighter stance and try to box. The outcomes are endless and that why you’ll have to watch this fight. I do feel that the result of this bout will be decided based on which Douglas Lima turns up to fight on the night. Really looking forward to this one.

Thiago Santos (21-9) vs. Johnny Walker (18-5) – UFC Vegas 38

The battle of Brazil is set to headline the UFC Vegas 38 card this Saturday night as former title challenger Thiago Santos takes on Johnny Walker in what will surely be an explosive clash. This is a huge fight for both guys but in reality, Thiago Santos really needs this victory is he is to remain a big player in the 205-pound division. Santos finds himself on a three-fight skid having be beaten in recent fights with Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakić. When he challenged Jon Jones for the title back in 2019 he came out of that fight with two badly injured knees. Since those devastating injuries “Marreta” has done exceptionally well to come back and compete at the highest level but Santos has simply not looked the same since his return. On his day, Thiago is as explosive, and as powerful as they come, his 15 wins by knockout completely back up that statement. Recently the movement and his explosive power of old have not been there. I do hope the Thiago Santos of old shows up because if he does, this will be a cracker.

Johnny Walker needs to approach this fight as if he will be fight the best possible version on Thiago Santos. Speaking ahead of this fight Walker has mentioned that he has introduced many new aspects into his preparations and feels that those kind of decisions will help him move to the next level. Losses to Corey Anderson and Nikita Krylov prompted the SBG man to make those changes and even though he got the win in his last outing against Ryan Spann there were still some improvements to be made. Walker was hurt multiple times, that was before he landed a big elbow whilst defending a takedown to finish the fight in the very first round. If Santos comes in at the top of his game Walker simply can not make those same mistakes or he will be having an early night. If both of these athletes start swinging from the get go this fight might be over before it even starts. This fight has fireworks written all over it.

Antonina Shevchenko (9-3) vs. Casey O’Neill (7-0) – UFC Vegas 38

Antonina Shevchenko will look to match her sister Valentina’s recent success when she steps in to take on undefeated prospect Casey O’Neill on the prelims section of the card. This fight is well worth tuning in early for. O’Neill has looked great in opening two UFC fights as she took home two finishes against Shana Dobson and Lara Procópio. Born in Scotland, O’Neill moved to Australia but now trains out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas The flyweight likes to make use of her grappling skills once the cage door closes. That is likely to be no different in this contest as Shevchenko can be quite dangerous on the feet.

Coming off of a an armbar loss you don’t want to be facing another strong grappler but that’s what is facing Antonina Shevchenko on Saturday night. Her last win came against Ariane Lipski, a second round TKO, but Shevchenko failed to make two wins in a row when she was submitted by Andrea Lee in her last outing. Unless her grappling has improved massively, I feel that Shevchenko will have it all to do to try an stop that O’Neill takedown. At 23, Casey O’Neill is an uber prospect in the women’s flyweight division and she certainly has a bright future in the UFC. I can see her taking home the win in this fight, after that she will be taking on the top-15 in the division. I hope that we don’t see her rushed up the rankings, at only seven fights she still has plenty of developing to do. This is her chance to take out a known name and I think she will go out there and pull off a statement finish.

Luke Trainer (4-0) vs. Yannick Bahati (9-5) – Bellator London

Luke Trainer is one of the hottest prospects coming out of the UK MMA scene right now. The light-heavyweight is undefeated in four fights and will face his toughest test to date as he takes on Yannick Bahati. Yannick was born Democratic Republic of Congo but is now fighting out of Birmingham. He has shared the cage with such names as Dalcha Lungiambula, Dricus Du Plessis, Mike Shipman and Melvin Manhoef. He was left disappointed in his last encounter, which was against Dutch legend Manhoef, suffering a TKO loss half way through round one. Bahati scored his last win right in his own backyard when he took out Amir Dadovic with a beautiful kimura in round one and “Black Mamba” will be eager to get back inside the win column when he steps in to face Trainer.

It’s been four fights, four wins, with four finishes and you couldn’t ask for a better start to your professional career than that for Luke Trainer. “The Gent” os a specimen at 205-pounds and nobody has been able to match his powerful grappling as of yet. It’s no secret what the Londoner wants to do to his opponents, Trainer looks to get his rivals to the mat and either lay some savage ground and pound down or look to take the back and snatch the neck. That’s what he has done so well in his first four fights and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Bahati will have the experience advantage here and that can not be thought in the gym, that comes from time in the cage and Bahati has had plenty of that. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Trainer deals with an opponent that has that much experience and I’m really excited to see the progression of his career.

Bellator London will air on Virgin Media Sports and will also be streamed on the BBC iPlayer. Anybody from Canada and other part of the world can view the event on YouTube at 1pm ET and the main card is set to begin at 4pm ET. The card can been seen on Showtime in the United States.

UFC Vegas 38 will air on BT Sports in Ireland and the UK. The early prelims can be seen on UFC Fight Pass and the card will be streamed on ESPN+ Stateside

Ian O'Neill is a Kilkenny man living in Canada. You can catch him on Twitter most of the time talking all things MMA. Follow me on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma.