Bellator return with the second of this year’s summer series shows and ridiculously stacked card featuring two title matches, two tournament finals and the return of a fan favourite on the main card, we are left with Bantamweight tournament semi finals on the preliminary card, which does beg the question as to why they couldn’t have run the planned card in August as well and actually given their potential 135lb title contenders some TV airtime.
Seriously, boost Askren-Koreshkov and Lawal-Noe to August, put the bantamweight semis on the main card here and you’ve got an August event with a title match and two tournament finals… that would draw, give your big names some much needed breathing room and shine extra light on some guys who really need it…
Oh, I forget… we need to clear the decks for the pay per view later in the year and can’t actually do things like build the brand or promote the roster when the priority has to be setting up Ramoage vs. Roy Jones Jnr. in a vain attempt to show that they can offer similar terms to the UFC in terms of PPV cut etc.
Cynicism aside… this is a hell of a card.
Topping the bill, undefeated champion Michael Chandler (11-0) looks to defend his Lightweight title for the second time and again justify his lofty #4 ranking (from FightMatrix) when he defends against ‘the Caveman’ David Rickels (14-1) who’s only career defeat came via super fine split decision against Karl Amoussou up at 170lbs.
Both of these guys combine awesome wrestling with the ability to finish fights (18 stoppages over 26 combined bouts) and Rickels is undoubtedly a serious threat to Chandler’s title and reputation, even if I have to expect Chandler to take this.
Our co-main event sees an equally dominant young champion, Ben Askren (11-0) fixing to defend his Welterweight belt against one of Bellator’s seemingly inexhaustible production line of Russian destroyers as Andrey Koreshkov (13-0) steps up to challenge for the belt.
Both unbeaten, both excellent grapplers and while Askren broke a long run of less than entertaining decision victories with his January decimation of Karl Amoussou, Koreshkov has always been a finisher, never yet going to a decision in consecutive matches.
Essentially a battle between Askren’s good old fashioned freestyle wrestling and Koreshkov’s world champion level Pankration, with the added promise of definite KO and submission skills, this promises to be a very tasty fight, we’ll worthy of a main event slot in its own right…
It’s hard to look past Askren, aside from any opponent not named George’s St-Pierre but I’ve learned that you DON’T BET AGAINST RUSSIANS IN BELLATOR.
Next up sees the final of the curtailed Light Heavyweight tournament with big signing Muhammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal (10-2) looking to make back to back wins for the first time since 2009 when he faces Jacob Noe (12-2) who is fresh off retiring Renato Sobral in the semi-finals.
Lawal is highly regarded, mixing deadly boxing with top notch wrestling skills, but Noe is no slouch, has nine first round stoppage victories split pretty evenly between strikes and submissions and hasn’t been knocked out since 2008.
Bellator clearly want Lawal holding gold, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they inveigled him to the front of the queue with a win here, as Vegh-Lawal followed by Lawal-Newton II would be the biggest drawing options for them.
As such, I want Noe to win, just to mess up their big plans. Again.
Across in the heavyweight final, we have slugger Ryan Martinez (10-2) coming off the two best performances of his career, taking a total of 2:37 to dispose of Travis Wiuff and Rich Hale set to face Bellator’s latest SCARY RUSSIAN, in the shape of Vitaly Minakov (11-0) who is riding an right fight streak of stoppage victories.
My usual policy of backing Russians in Bellator is given some pause by Martinez’ size advantage and known power, but Minakov looks like the real deal and I’d be astonished if this leaves the first round either way.
Rounding off the main card, the always exciting Patricio Friere (17-2) faces Jared Downing (7-2) in a sure fire Featherweight barn burner, looking to rebound from his achingly narrow split decision loss to Pat Curran ahead of his tournament bout against Diego Nunes in September.
Downing is no makeweight, being perfect in two prior Bellator appearances and 3-1 in RFA Despite coming off a narrow lost to potential-next-big-thing Lance Palmer in June.
The undercard features the Bantamweight tournament semi finals in what I have to put down to some very short sighted and hypocritical booking by Bellator, and I urge you to check out Rodrigo Lima (11-1) vs. Rafael Silva (19-3) and Frank Baca (16-2) vs. Anthony Leone (12-5) on the http://www.spike.com prelims because its not their fault that their bosses persist in burying quality talent in meaningful bouts on the undercard.
Seriously, how do they expect anyone to give a shit about the next challenger to ‘Dudu’ Dantas when they don’t even promote the tournament on the main card?
Anyway, such gripes aside, it’s a great card, so check it out…
A midweek Bellator also allowed us to double head our predictions this week, and this is how we think the main card will go…
Ross goes with…
Chandler via UD
Askren via UD
Lawal via KO Rd. 1
Minakov KO Rd. 1
Freire TKO Rd. 2
Iain goes with –
Chandler via Sub Rd2
Askren via UD
King Mo via KO rd 3
Minakov via Sub Rd 1
Downing via Decision
and I (Chris) am picking –
Chandler via KO Rd 3
Koreshkov via Sub Rd 4
Lawal via UD
Martinez via KO Rd 1
Friere via SD
Feel free to point and laugh at me tomorrow…
Bellator 97 is broadcast live on SPIKE TV and SPIKE.com in the USA and the main card will be shown on tape delay at 11pm BST on Friday on digital channel VIVA in the UK.
• Michael Chandler vs. David Rickels – for lightweight title
• Ben Askren vs. Andrey Koreshkov – for welterweight title
• Muhammed Lawal vs. Jacob Noe – Summer Series light-heavyweight tourney final
• Ryan Martinez vs. Vitaly Minakov – Summer Series heavyweight tourney final
• Jared Downing vs. Patricio Freire
• Will Brooks vs. Cris Leyva
• Rodrigo Lima vs. Rafael Silva – bantamweight tournament semifinal
• Frank Baca vs. Anthony Leone – bantamweight tournament semifinal
• Mike Barreras vs. Bubba Jenkins
• Keith Berry vs. Jeremy Kimball
• Shawn Bunch vs. Russell Wilson
• Richard Jacquez vs. Javier Palacios
• Felipe Chavez vs. Adrian Cruz
• Donald Sanchez vs. Cliff Wright