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5 reasons to watch Bellator 170, including an Ortiz-Sonnen rivalry that goes back to 1998

(This story was originally published on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.)

Officials are giving tonight’s Bellator 170 fight card a big push, and deservedly so; it’s the promotion’s first card of 2017, and it also has the potential to be one of the biggest events in Bellator history.

While neither of the two men fighting in the main event – former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen – is in the prime of his fighting career, they both have the type of high-level name recognition that draws fans. They also have the ability to promote a fight, as anyone who watched the pre-Bellator 170 press conference earlier this week can attest.

Sonnen and Ortiz are the big draws, but Bellator has put together a solid five-fight main card for this event. Especially appealing are the co-main event between welterweight sluggers Paul Daley and Brennan Ward, and the main-card opener between surging lightweights Derek Anderson and Derek Campos.

Bellator 170 takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Prelims stream on MMAjunkie before things move to Spike for the main card. Here are five reasons to tune in.

1. Couldn’t have scripted it any better

Bellator 170’s main event comes with a backstory that reads like a Hollywood script.

The first meeting between Ortiz (29-14-1 MMA, 2-1 BMMA) and Sonnen (18-12-1 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) came in 1998, when they were collegiate wrestlers. In that bout, Sonnen pinned Ortiz in 44 seconds. Two years later, Ortiz captured the vacant UFC light heavyweight title by defeating Wanderlei Silva by unanimous decision. Two years after that, Sonnen promised his dying father he would beat Ortiz and become UFC champion. Sonnen said that promise is the only one he’s failed to keep in his life.

But wait: There’s more.

Ortiz has acknowledged that will be the final fight of his career. Oh, and there’s also the fact that this is Sonnen’s first fight since he served a two-year suspension and was released from the UFC after two failed drug tests.

So, while this fight does qualify as another of Bellator’s old-timer bookings, it has enough of a story behind it to put the stakes a little higher than simple bragging rights.

2. No questions asked

There was a moment in Ward’s Bellator 163 fight in which he had a brief conversation as he held opponent Saad Awad against the cage. At that point, Ward stepped back, and the two began slinging leather. Less than a minute later, Awad toppled face first to the ground to give Ward the knockout victory.

After the fight, Ward said Awad had asked him, “Do you want to wrestle, or do you want to bang?”

It’s a safe bet that conversation won’t take place when Ward meets Daley in Inglewood. Both of these men love to throw hands.

This is an important fight for Ward. Despite a 5-1 record as a Bellator welterweight, he’s struggled to establish himself as a title contender in the division. That could all change if he gets a victory over an established and recognized fighter such as Daley.

Meanwhile, Daley is in the midst of a rough patch. He dropped a decision to Douglas Lima in July and was pulled from a November bout against Anderson on fight day. Before those setbacks, Daley had won five straight.

3. A Gracie returns

The MMA bug recently bit Ralek Gracie again, so he’ll compete in an MMA fight for the first time in nearly seven years when he faces Hisaki Kato in a middleweight contest.

Gracie has three professional MMA fights and three wins, the most recent a May 2010 unanimous-decision victory over Kazushi Sakuraba.

The Gracie family name is synonymous with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so it’s no secret that Gracie (3-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) will want to get Kato (7-2 MMA, 2-1 BMMA) to the mat.

Kato, making his fourth appearance with Bellator, is a striker. Each of his career wins has come way knockout, including his spectacular Bellator 139 Superman-punch finish of Joe Schilling.

Kato is on a two-fight winning streak since losing to Melvin Manhoef by knockout in November 2015. A win over a Gracie, even one that hasn’t fought for a long time, would look good on Kato’s resume. It’s a fact Kato is well aware of.

“He’s really famous so it’s a good matchup,” Kato told MMAjunkie. “I was not expecting to fight him, but it’s a good matchup, so it’s OK for me. If I have a good win and I can knock him out or something, then I will really push to have a title shot because I think I would deserve it.”

4. Closing in

Georgi Karakhanyan

Georgi Karakhanyan

The featherweight fight between Georgi Karakhanyan and Emmanuel Sanchez probably won’t earn the winner a title shot, but it should, at the very least, put the victor in the mix for a title eliminator.

Karakhanyan had a rough go when he returned to Bellator in 2015. After a technical submission win over Bubba Jenkins, he dropped decisions to title contender Daniel Weichel and former champion Pat Curran. He recently righted the ship, stopping Jenkins and Kirill Medveodovsky in the first round.

Sanchez had won three straight fights by split decision and looked poised to break into the top tier of Bellator’s featherweight division before a split-decision loss to Weichel halted his progress.

Sanchez is entertaining, but as his four consecutive split decisions show, he hasn’t been a finisher. He tends to keep the same pace throughout his fights, and that may be something Sanchez (13-3 MMA, 5-2 BMMA) has to change after the loss to Weichel, especially knowing that Karakhanyan (26-6-1 MMA, 5-4 BMMA) is always looking for a finish.

5. First things first

Derek Campos

Derek Campos

Campos and Anderson have combined for 17 fights in Bellator’s lightweight division. Surprisingly, they’ve never fought each other. That changes at Bellator 170.

Both of these Bellator veterans are on two-fight winning streaks, and a win here is likely to land the victor a fight against a big-name opponent.

Anderson (14-2 MMA, 5-2 BMMA) told MMAjunkie he has his eyes on lightweight champion Michael Chandler, Benson Henderson or Josh Thomson if he’s able to earn a victory over Campos (17-6 MMA, 6-4 BMMA). For Campos, he’s also interested in those three gentlemen but wouldn’t rule out matching up against Brent Primus or Adam Piccolotti, both of whom are unbeaten.

For more on Bellator 170, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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