Bellator Fighting Championships have been on the air in their new time slot for three weeks and have delivered action in groves creating some unforgettable moments but the season hasn’t even got into the thick of things yet.
This Friday night the welterweight tournament kicks off with the top eight challengers on the roster battling it out to challenge for the Bellator welterweight title, currently held by world-class wrestler Ben Askren.
Askren is one of the best freestyle wrestlers that the University of Missouri has produced and a member of the 2008 United States Olympic squad and has parlayed his abilities on the mat with his developing game to earn a perfect 9-0 record.
Before Askren can give a thought to the current crop of challengers fighting this Friday he needs to worry about former MFC welterweight champ Douglas Lima who rides a nine-bout win streak into the biggest opportunity of his career at Bellator 64 on April 6.
Despite two setbacks with UFC & Strikeforce veteran Jay Heiron and The Ultimate Fighter cast-off War Machine not being a part of this series their slots have been filled and it’s time to separate the men from the boys, let’s take a look at the cast.
Baker is a five year veteran who has competed most of his career as a middleweight; the former tournament finalist brings a wealth of experience into the cage having locked horns with the likes of Alexander Shlemenko, Jeremy Horn, Vitor Vianna and Chael Sonnen.
Baker is a legitimate threat to anyone in this series; he has a well-rounded game and has finished eleven of his opponents in the cage – The heavy-handed Californian will has a tendency to rush his opponents, catch them off guard and knock them out early with nine first round stoppages to his credit.
The real test with Baker is how he will adapt at a new weight-class, we have seen great fighters be sucking wind and on the ropes within minutes at a new class while others have looked better than ever, that will be the real test for Baker this Friday.
Carlos Alexndre Pereira
Pereira has served his career as the ultimate Brazilian journeyman, having locked horns with the likes of Thiago Alves and Gleison Tibau he has been the man to call upon when you have a skilled, young fighter and you wanted to know how he stacks up against some quality opposition.
But now at 32-years-of-age he has an opportunity to put that behind him in this series, the Brazilian Shooto champ will get his biggest mainstream exposure from the Chicago-based organization and a chance for redemption.
Pereira is a heavy-handed fighter notching 22 knockouts in his career, now training part-time with the Nova Uniao crew with the likes of Jose Aldo and Marlon Sandro his tools will be as sharp as ever and despite being a longshot in this series has proven he can put you to sleep if you make one little mistake.
Smith was once one of the most hopeful prospects on the market, going undefeated in his first fifteen professional bouts, along that track he also made a brief appearance on the eleventh installment of The Ultimate Fighter but didn’t make it past phase one.
Currently riding a two bout win streak into his promotional debut the Victory MMA product trains alongside Bellator veterans in Rad Martinez and Toby Imada.
Currently sporting a two-bout win streak he collected the biggest victory of his career this past September when he defeated former WEC champion and fourteen time UFC veteran Karo Parisyan which earned him his spot in this eight-man bill.
At 27-years-of-age he is a well-rounded fighter with a lot of experience behind him, if you sleep on him he could surprise you.
Rickles is another product that Bellator officials have seen promise in, nabbed early and given them experience on the undercard before prepping them for tournaments much like they did with Alexandre Bezerra who competes in the semi-finals of the featherweight tournament next week.
The 23-year-old raised a few eyebrows winning five-straight bouts in a little over a year with four of them coming by stoppage – Since joining Bellator last year he has notched three more victories, all by triangle choke.
This submission magician has forced 6 opponents to call it quits in his career which serves as his biggest strength but he has a developing game, whether or not his striking is clean enough to hang with those in the tournament is the big question.
Small-time MMA organization Art of fighting based out of Florida have groomed Amaya into one of the best welterweight prospects out there, beginning his career in 2009 the Champions MMA product has collected nine-straight victories.
Competing in the Art of Fighting organization his entire career he has never been to the judges cards with five submissions and four knockouts to his credit.
Much like a lot of the fighters that Bellator pick up out of the local circuit, they have some clear talent and have impressed in hoards against lesser competition, it’s just a matter of whether they can hang with the big boys.
Typically my gauge on where a fighter stacks up as a prospect when faced limited competition is if he struggles against the lower competition and Amaya has embarrassed his opponents to date so he could be someone to watch in this series.
Saunders is a familiar face to most fight fans, becoming a fan-favorite in the UFC for his high-tempo violent performances that kept him in the organization for almost four years beginning on The Ultimate Fighter before joining the pack at 170-pounds.
Back-to-back defeats of high-level combatants Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman signaled the end of his UFC career but since then has looked great collecting five-straight victories that included a bloodbath Beatdown on Matt Lee and back-to-back stoppages on Chris Cisneros and Luis Santos to get to the season five semi-finals.
Unfortunately, Douglas Lima, who will challenge for the Bellator title next week got the upper hand on Saunders and now it’s time for him to seek redemption in this tournament and if all cards line-up he could meet Lima down the line as well.
Lozano has all the tools on paper, an NCAA wrestler who has been on the mats since the fifth grade and has dabbled in taekwondo and jiu-jitsu since his teens, sounds like a next level prodigy right? Not quite.
On paper he has all the tools he could need but he hasn’t reached that next level yet, he began his career fighting in Ohio notching five-straight victories before joining the Bellator season four tournament, losing in the quarter-finals to Lyman Good.
His next run at a Bellator tournament championship was cut short also losing to Douglas Lima in the semi-finals last October.
Lozano has a great skill set, all he needs now is to put it all together and kick it into overdrive, hopefully he can do it in this tournament in his third attempt.
Amoussou is the odds-on favorite to win this series, first gaining recognition in the M-1 Global organization for his brutal acts inside the fighting circle smashing skulls and blistering bodies he was one of the most entertaining fighters on the market.
Compared to a smaller Wanderlei Silva he has competed in Strikeforce, M-1 and DREAM before joining Bellator where he blistered Jesus Martinez in a little over two minutes to earn a shot in the tournament.
Most fans and industry insiders are pegging him as the winner of this series, if he can keep his cool and not get buck-wild throwing leather he could be and he could be immortalized in highlight-reel fashion because that’s the type of excitement he brings to the Bellator circular cage.
All the action kicks off tomorrow night on MTV2 and Epix as well as Spike.com for preliminary fights, keep it locked to MMASucka.com for your full coverage.