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Road To Bellator 197: Fight Card

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

The April Bellator MMA 197 card is starting to take shape.

Michael Chandler will headline the April 13 event, which will air on the Paramount Network. Chandler faces Brett Primus in a lightweight championship bout as Bellator MMA makes its fourth visit in three years to the St. Louis area and first time at the Family Arena.

Primus (8-0) won the title against Chandler (17-4) last June at Bellator NYC after Chandler suffered a sprained foot in the first round of their fight. Chandler, who grew up in High Ridge, was a Northwest High grad, and went on to excel in wrestling at the University of Missouri, got back on track at Bellator 192 when he defeated Goiti Yamauchi via unanimous decision. Primus has yet to fight since becoming champion.

The co-main event will see the return of Justin Lawrence in his tallest task to date. Lawrence, a Pacific native who nows longed-trained in California, will take on a crackerjack prospect in A.J. McKee. The 22-year-old McKee has the longest winning streak in Bellator history. His 10-0 stretch have all come under the Bellator banner. He has finished seven of his opponents, the latest coming in a third-round submission of Brian Moore in November's Bellator 187. Lawrence is 11-4 and riding a two-fight winning streak into April and has won seven of his past nine bouts overall.

Rebecca Ruth, who is coached by Lawrence's father, Benny Voyles at 21st Century MMA, is also on the card.

Ruth, who last fought in June 2016, will take on undefeated Juliana Velasquez. Velasquez is unbeaten at 6-0, the latest win by an armbar in December for her Bellator debut.

Ruth is coming off a loss to Ilima-Lei Macfarlane at Bellator 157: Dynamite 2 in June 2016. She had won four-straight before that. This fight will be her third fight under the Bellator banner, and she is a former Shamrock FC flyweight champ.

Two fighters are getting their main card debut, Joaquin Buckley will take on four-time NCAA All-American Logan Storley at welterweight. Storley has won both of his Bellator appearances to take his record to 8-0. After a rocky start with the promotion, Buckley would win his next two by decision taking his tally to 8-1.

Prelims for Bellator 197 will be streamed on

Zak Bucia has gotten the better of two of St. Louis's top welterweights. Now, Bucia will drop down to either lightweight or to a catchweight to face another STL stalwart, Zach Freeman.

Most recently, Bucia (17-9) has knocked off Adam Meredith, then defeated Bobby Voelker to win the Shamrock FC welterweight title, and then successfully defended it against Aaron Highfill. Less than a month later, he took a short notice fight at Bellator 185. Bucia was eventually tapped by Neiman Gracie in the second round.

Freeman (9-3) fought twice in 2017 but barely eclipsed 90 seconds of cage time. He needed 24 seconds to tap out Aaron Picco in the fight that garnered national attention and earned him the 2017 STL MMA Story of the Year. Then in November, Saad Awad made it a quick night when he clipped Freeman and finished Freeman by TKO at 1:07 in the first round at Bellator 186.

It had been five-and-a-half years since bantamweight Jordan Howard tasted defeat. In his last time out, Howard lost a unanimous decision to Brandon Black in December at Bellator 189. Howard was dropped early in that contest but toughed his way through. Howard, a former Shamrock FC title holder, is 10-4 and had put together a nine-fight win streak. Howard will face undefeated local bantamweight Eric Ellingon (4-0) who has been red hot since turning pro a year ago.

Jordan Dowdy (5-4), fresh from his win at Shamrock FC 301 where he stopped Eddie Larea, will face Jeff Crotty. Crotty (1-1) is no stranger to the Bellator cage having tangled with Garrett Gross at Bellator 145 in November of 2015. He evened his record the following summer against Kirk Huff and has been on the shelf since.

A winner of two in a row, "El Natural" Adam Cella will face Dewayne Diggs in a middleweight bout. In 2016, Diggs played spoiler in his professional debut at Bellator 157 submitting the heavy favorite Jason Christensen with a rear naked choke. He would follow that up with another underdog performance against Kyle Walker, whom he also submitted. The hot streak ended at two when Aaron Highfill returned the favor with a rear naked choke of his own in April 2017. Diggs has been on the shelf since.

Rounding out the prelims is AJ Siscoe taking on Justin Robbins and Cort Wahle facing Joe Roye.

Tickets for Bellator 197 are available from the Family Arena box office:

Full fight card:

Michael Chandler vs. Brent Primus
Bellator Lightweight Title

Justin Lawrence vs. A.J. Mckee
Joaquin Buckley vs. Logan Storley
Kevin Ferguson Jr vs. Devon Brock

Zach Freeman vs. Zak Bucia
Jordan Howard vs Eric Ellington
Rebecca Ruth vs. Juliana Velasquez
AJ Siscoe vs. Justin Robbins
Jordan Dowdy vs. Jeff Crotty
Adam Cella vs. Dewayne Diggs
Cort Wahle vs. Joe Roye

Bellator 197: Chandler vs. Primus
Friday, April 13th
The Family Arena, St. Charles, MO