Bellator returns this week with arguably its best card yet. Top welterweight prospects Dan Hornbuckle and Jacob McClintock are in action, Ryan Thomas attempts to right the wrongs of his last fight, Tylor Stinson gets a chance to shock the world after fate placed him against the tournament favorite, top featherweight prospect Patricio Pitbull jumps in the cage, and two heavy handed welterweights aim to steal the show.
Let's break it down.
WELTERWEIGHT TOURNAMENT BOUTS
Dan Hornbuckle vs. Tylor Stinson
Dan Hornbuckle made quite the name for himself in 2009, scoring stoppages in DREAM over Akihiro Gono and Nick Thompson. Possessing good height for 170 pounds at 6'2" Dan is able to use his long limbs to unleash damaging strikes from a distance. His willingness to dictate the fight by using aggressive striking has been a major benefit in his career to this point. With the recent string of stoppages via strike, some are overlooking that Hornbuckle also has a solid ground game that helps round out his game and makes him one of the top prospects in all of MMA.
Tylor Stinson won the open tryout for a spot fighting on this card. It wasn't originally supposed to land him in the tournament, but when Sean Pierson was forced to pull out of the fight Stinson was given the chance to make a huge splash against the tournament favorite.
Stinson has good height himself, and as a southpaw he can provide some difficulties for opponents. In his fight with Drew Fickett he was able to showcase some very good takedown defense and positional awareness as well as powerful left hooks that repeatedly dropped the more experienced Fickett.
Stinson is no slouch but I just don't see him as being on Hornbuckle's level quite yet. Still, he's a kid who may make a little noise and if he can find a way to land a left hand maybe he can change the entire tournament.
Ryan Thomas vs. Jacob McClintock
Ryan Thomas gets his second opportunity in the Bellator welterweight tournament after losing in controversial fashion to Ben Askren. In the first fight Thomas was able to land a few punches while the fight was standing prior to being taken down by the former Olympian. Thomas was able to threaten from his back including a brief moment where it looked as though he may finish Askren with a deep triangle choke. In the end Askren was able to lock up a "Japanese Necktie" and the ref stopped the fight despite Thomas being concious and not tapping out.
Thomas will face a similar opponent Thursday evening in Jacob "Tick Tock" McClintock. McClintock has many of the same holes in his striking game that plague Askren. McClintock's ground game is extremely good though. He can play off his back well looking for submissions or sweeps and when he is on top he can dominate positionally en route to stopping his opponent with strikes.
This is a very big test for McClintock. Thomas isn't great standing but he is better than Jacob. If McClintock can find a way to get the fight to the ground he should have the advantage. But Thomas isn't likely to make things easy when it's time for grappling either.
If it wasn't for the very quick turnaround and late notice for Thomas I'd be interested in him as an upset pick, but there is just too much going on with everything over the past week and as such I'll have to take McClintock to advance.
Brett Cooper vs. Steve Carl
Brett Cooper trains with Antonio McKee but has an extremely different style from his head trainer. Cooper has solid hands and throws powerful strikes. Brett has been able to add solid wrestling to his striking which enables him to control the placement of the fight. Since starting his career 2-3 he has gone on a run of 9 wins and 2 losses. In his last loss Cooper fell via TKO to Spiritwolf in what amounted to little more than a trap fight. Without that loss it's possible that we'd be seeing Cooper getting a crack in the UFC.
There is one thing that stands out as a place where Brett can get caught in this fight and that is his defensive striking. When pressured Cooper tends to fall into the trap of going straight backward which can lead to bad, bad things.
Steve Carl has solid wrestling and a good killer instinct. Carl has one career loss, which came to the UFC's Brian Foster. He has heavy hands but does leave himself a bit wide open when throwing. Carl's top control is also solid and he works a good ground and pound game while looking for openings for a submission.
Carl certainly has the ability to win here but this fight could come down to who can land the heavy shot first. I'm seeing a TKO victory for Cooper.
FEATHERWEIGHT TOURNAMENT BOUT
Patricio "Pitbull" Freire vs. William Romero
A battle of unbeatens that could be one of the sleepers for the best fights of the first round. Romero is a finisher, he hits hard and once he has you in trouble he will find a way to finish you off. Patricio Pitbull is also a finisher, once he locks in a submission it is very hard to get out. Also, Pitbull has the ability to explode with strikes.
Romero comes out of the gates ready to go all out while Freire usually takes a good three minutes or so to get going. If Romero can pressure him early he may be able to find some success.
I've been saying that Pitbull is my pick to win the tournament and I'll ride with that pick, especially after seeing Joe Warren look less than great in his first round fight. However, Romero is a very dangerous opponent and could make something happen.
Your homework for these fights is after the jump. Study up and we'll see you on the liveblog!-- photos via bellator.com
Brett Cooper vs. Rory Markham - Round 2
Dan Hornbuckle vs. Joe Alexander
Dan Hornbuckle's KO of Akihiro Gono
Tyler Stinson vs. Drew Fickett
Patricio Pitbull vs. Jhonny Iwasaki
Jacob McClintock vs. Sultan Tikhaev
William Romero vs. Guillaume Lamarche