Three things to watch at Bellator 251: Corey Anderson’s debut and a couple of potential breakouts

MMA

Former UFC contender Corey Anderson makes his Bellator debut against Melvin Manhoef in the main event of Bellator 251 on Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Anderson (13-5) is one of the best light heavyweight fighters in the world — and pound for pound one of the best fighters on Bellator’s roster. Anderson, 31, wasn’t happy with how things were working out with the UFC earlier this year and asked for his release, which was granted. Anderson was on a four-fight winning streak before losing a title eliminator to Jan Blachowicz (now the UFC light heavyweight champion) in February.

Manhoef (32-14-1) is a human highlight reel, a tremendous striker and knockout artist who has fought mostly at middleweight in his career. The Netherlands native has 29 KO/TKO wins in 32 career victories. But he is 44 years old and will be the underdog against the bigger, younger Anderson.

Here are the top storylines at play on the Bellator 251 card:

How will Anderson do in his Bellator debut?

This is a showcase fight for Anderson. All respect to Manhoef, who is a legend and one of the most exciting fighters to ever compete. But Manhoef’s strength has always been his electric standup. Anderson can box, but he’s an excellent wrestler and the strategy surely will be to take Manhoef down. Manhoef hasn’t really beaten anyone credible in MMA since maybe a 2015 win over Hisaki Kato. Anderson, meanwhile, was one win away from a UFC light heavyweight title shot before getting knocked out by Blachowicz earlier this year.

Anderson should win here, and if he looks good, there’s a strong case to be made that he should be next up for new 205-pound champion Vadim Nemkov.

Will Tyrell Fortune finally break out?

The “prospect” label has now worn off. Fortune is 30 years old and still trying to find his footing as a Bellator heavyweight contender. The former two-time NJCAA national champion was one of the top amateur wrestlers that Bellator was hoping would grow into the core of its roster. It hasn’t really happened yet for Fortune, who is 0-1 with a no-contest in his last two fights against a step-up in competition. On Thursday, he faces former Titan FC heavyweight champion Said Sowma, which seems like a chance to see who has the brighter future in the heavyweight division. It’s a big one for Fortune and will tell us a lot about what he could still become.

What does Bellator have in Austin Vanderford?

The husband of MMA star Paige VanZant is 3-0 in Bellator with a pair of finishes. He gets short-notice replacement Vinicius de Jesus on Thursday, with original opponent Chris Curtis falling out. Vanderford has some star potential, and if he’s going to break out of the distinction of being VanZant’s significant other, it all starts now. The middleweight fighter was the rare Dana White’s Contender Series winner who finished his bout but was not signed by the UFC. Bellator did a good job scooping him up. It’s way too soon to start talking about Vanderford being a contender for Gegard Mousasi‘s middleweight title, but the Oregon native gaining momentum would give the 185-pound division a lift.

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