Having front loaded their debut season on Spike with title matches and experienced some injuries and upsets, Bellator are left with a very different show this week than might have been prophesied in January.
Featuring the Lightweight and Light Heavyweight tournament finals, we could easily have expected this card to be headlined by Muhammed Lawal vs. Renato Sobral for the 205lb tournament or Patricky Friere vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy for the 155lb honours. Shock defeats for the first pair and injuries to the lightweights mean we have a very different pair of finals, just as compelling for purists but undoubtedly less of a draw for casual fans.
Getting the headline nod is the Lightweight tourney final, where David Rickels (13-1) faces he real story of this competition, Saad Awad (14-4) who was only added to the brackets days before the tournament as a replacement for Friere.
You’ve got to love that kind of underdog story.
Rickels comes in on the back of three decision wins, following his Welterweight semifinal loss to Karl Amoussou at Bellator 69, while Awad boasts a six fight winning streak, all by stoppage. Even more impressively, Awad’s total cage time for this tournament is one minute and fourteen seconds with his quick KO stoppages of Will Brooks and Guilliame de Lorenzini being more impressive, if less educational than Rickels decisions over Lloyd Woodard and Jason Fischer.
However, Awad is still the outsider here as Rickels has the advantage in size and having defeated Lloyd Woodard and taken Amoussou to a split decision, he’s won at a higher level than Awad who looks to be one of those fighters who wins or loses in decisive fashion and his stoppage losses to the likes of Nam Phan and Joe Duarte pose questions about his durability.
Of course, in the name of fun finishes and the underdog story, I want Awad to win.
Our other tournament final, at 205lbs features Emanuele Newton (20-7-1) who is riding not only two stoppage wins in this tournament, including a first round, spinning backfist KO of Mo Lawal but an 8-1 run with the only loss via split decision to now champion Attila Vegh.
Across the cage is Mikhail Zayats (21-6) who also comes into the final with two stoppage wins in the tournament over Renato Sobral and Jacob Noe to make a currently live seven nil streak.
Both of these guys are experienced, well rounded finishers, who have each disposed of one of the tournament favourites apiece. All bets are off here, but I would say I’m not betting against any Russians this year.
The main card is rounded out with a welterweight bout between Trey Houston (10-1) and experienced Brazilian Luis Melo (28-11-3) and a late addition in the shape of Ronnie Mann (21-5-1) making his bantamweight debut against Team Nogueira prospect, Rodrigo Lima (10-1).
Sadly, the two interesting female bouts between top ranked Jessica Aguilar (14-4) and Patricia Vidonic (7-4) and Felice Herrig (8-4) versus Heather Clark (5-3) are stuck on the preliminary card, which affects the girls chances of getting more attention and sponsorship.
That said, the silver lining is that we in the UK will able to see their bouts on spike.com while there will be no legal way to watch the main card. That makes LOADS of sense.
Way to go, Bellator.
MAIN CARD (Spike TV, 10 p.m. ET)
• Saad Awad vs. David Rickels – lightweight tournament final
• Emanuel Newton vs. Mikhail Zayats – light heavyweight tournament final
• Trey Houston vs. Luis Melo
Rodrigo Lima vs. Ronnie Mann
PRELIMINARY CARD (Spike.com, 8 p.m. ET)
• Ivan Devalle vs. Rory Shallcross
• Heather Clark vs. Felice Herrig
• Patrick Cenoble vs. Tony Fryklund
• (James) Edson Berto vs. Bruno Carvalho
• Shah Bobonis vs. Joe Taimanglo
• Rob Horton vs. Augusto Sakai
• Jessica Aguilar vs. Patricia Vidonic
• Kenny Moss vs. Julien Williams