The second week of Bellator's second season is here and with it comes the first fight of the much anticipated welterweight tournament. So let's all step back from the week of emotionally draining stories and just enjoy a fight card where the stories are "who will win?"
Ben Askren (3-0) -280 vs. Ryan Thomas (10-3) +210
Askren is clearly one of (if not the) hottest prospects in the sport. Everyone is aware of his high level wrestling what with his being a two-time national champion, four-time All American and 153-8 record before making a trip to the olympics. Askren has appeared to have taken to the submission aspects of the game quite well also. The biggest question in Askren's game is going to be how effectively he can execute his grappling game against higher end opponents.
Ryan Thomas isn't exactly at the top end of the 170 pound class but he's close to that "just good enough to not be in the UFC" class that should be able to test a guy like Askren. Ryan was able to give Matt Brown some problems in their UFC 91 bout but that fight showed the big flaws in his game. Thomas' striking is a bit too wide and sloppy and while he has good submissions and wrestling he allows himself to fall into a lot of submissions.
In the end Askren's wrestling is better than Thomas' and when Thomas can't get on top he is much less effective. I'm still not 100% sold on Askren as being a future top 5 guy but given Thomas' shortcomings in the striking department it comes down to Askren being better where it matters. I like Askren to take a submission sometime in the second round.
Wilson Reis (9-1) -315 vs. Shad Lierley (5-2) +255
If you're looking for a big first round upset this year, this may be the best fight to take a look at. The blueprint for beating Reis was laid out by Joe Soto in last year's tournament. Lierley has the tools to duplicate that strategy. He's long and able to use his decent striking to keep Wilson on the outside. Once Reis got frustrated against Soto he resorted to flailing desperate shots which only made Soto's job easier.
Reis is understandably the favorite, but I really think we're going to see Shad use a disciplined outside striking game and working to a decision. That being said, if Reis can get top position on the ground he'll likely get a stoppage win.
Toby Imada (23-13) -190 vs. James Krause (11-2) +150
Krause is a late replacement but he's a talented enough guy to give Imada some fits. Toby came out of nowhere to make some big noise in the first season of Bellator and the opportunity for a deep tournament run exists for him this year as well.
Krause is a good fighter, and a WEC veteran having gone 0-2 in the Zuffa owned promotion. He's a very good finisher having 9 submission wins and 2 TKO wins on his record. It comes down to if he can find a way to put Imada in the bad decisions that allow for the finish.
With both guys being adapt at submissions look for this to be a fight fought on the feet where I think IMada may actually have a few more tricks up his sleeve. This should be an exciting fight that goes to a decision.
Pat Curran (9-3) +195 vs. Mike Ricci (5-0) -245
Pat Curran is a good midwest regional fighter, but he's far from great. He shares some of his cousin's inconsistency problems without the big upside that Jeff has.
Ricci is a GSP protege and many have already deemed him the "Lightweight GSP." He's still learning the game but has tremendous upside. Ricci's well rounded game should be enough to take this fight and if he can avoid being matched up with Huerta in the semi-finals I could see him making a trip to the finals with a high paced control game.
Make Bloody Elbow your home to discuss live results for Bellator Fighting Championships as the event happens tonight at 8:00pm ET.
Check the extended entry for all your homework.
Mike Ricci vs Jean-Marc Lalonde:
Highlights from Toby Imada vs. Jorge Masvidal:
Shad Lierley vs. Chris Horodecki Part 1:
Ryan Thomas vs. Ryan Stout: