Bellator MMA heads to Ireland for Bellator 217 on February 23, 2019, at the 3Arena in Dublin, Ireland. The main event pits Ireland’s own James Gallagher taking on American Steven Graham in a bantamweight scrap.

Gallagher is Bellator’s version of Conor McGregor. With a brash personality and dynamic fighting skills, James Gallagher has been heavily pushed by Scott Coker to become a star. But after a string of seven victories, everything fell apart when the 22 year-old Gallagher was knocked out by Ricky Bandejas in his last fight at Bellator 204. Back to the drawing board, Bellator is giving the SBG Ireland-affiliated fighter a chance to regroup and they’re helping him out by giving him a main event bout in his home country.

Facing the Irish sensation is Steven “Golden” Graham who is fighting out of Kansas City, Missouri in the United States. Graham is affiliated with the American Top Team HD and is coached by fellow Kansas native and former UFC fighter Jason High. Graham is a relative unknown who has fought in regional promotions and last four under Walkout FC. He will be making his Bellator debut on the big stage and against the promotion’s favorite prospect.

Graham is 28 years old and stands 5-7 with a record of 5-3 with 1 win by knockout and four by submission. On the other hand, the 22 year old Gallagher is 5-9 tall and has a record of 7-1 with six victories by way of submission. The fight will be at bantamweight and it will be gallagher’s second bout at 135 pounds with the first his loss to Bandejas as his bantamweight debut.

James Gallagher vs Steven Graham Odds

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Odds from as of 2/21/19

“Fighting" Who Wins?

Despite his surprise knockout loss to Ricky Bandejas, Gallagher remains as one of Bellator’s top prospects and their top Irish fighter. He’s only 22 with plenty of upside and his recent loss will not really derail the Irish hype train but will probably just cause it to be delayed in arriving at its destination.

Putting up a card in Dublin and letting him headline the event is Bellator showing its faith in its young prospect. Because of that and the thousands of Irish fans who will be cheering him on on fight night, this will be Gallagher’s fight to lose and it should put added pressure on the young man aside from him trying to bounce back from his first MMA loss. But this fight is what’s going to define Gallagher. If he’s the real deal, he’s going to come up with a huge win on the big stage.

Prior to that loss, the Stabanimal recorded seven consecutive wins to start his MMA career. Six of those wins came via submission, with Gallagher choking out all six opponents. This one should be no different with Gallagher opening the match striking on his feet and slowly but surely looking for the opportunity to take the fight to the ground.

But Gallagher will have to be careful in this match because while Steven Graham has a 5-3 record, all of his fights have ended in a stoppage. Four of Graham’s wins have also come via chokes so if Gallagher makes a mistake on the ground, expect Graham to take advantage and go for his own choke as well. The fact that Graham’s bouts have ended prematurely shows that the American Top Team fighter isn’t shy to engage his opponent in action, whether it’s striking on the feet or grappling on the ground.

The Strabanimal has shown some improvement in his striking, most notably in his leg kicks. But his hands and his use of range still have a long way to go. We saw him very vulnerable against Bandejas as he got tagged and countered almost at will. Good thing for the Irish is that Graham isn’t the same striker as Bandejas. Or at least that’s what we saw from the few footages of his fights in YouTube. While Graham is going to take this fight to Gallagher, I don’t think he has the tools to beat him.

I see both men trying to go for their own submission but Gallagher, for all his flaws, is better on the ground and should get a submission win. As for Graham, I’m not saying he is a knockout artist but knowing Gallagher’s weaknesses on his feet, he will always have a puncher’s chance to win this fight. Those said, this fight should be both entertaining and interesting.

Prediction: I’m picking James Gallagher to win this fight by submission, most probably in the first round. You know he wants a big win in front of his home crowd and he’s probably going to get it.

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