Before this weekend's star attraction in UFC 112, mixed martial arts fans will get to peep some great action on Thursday evening at 8:00 PM EST on many of their local Fox Sports Network affiliates as the Bellator Fighting Championships presents Bellator XIII from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. The event will feature two quarterfinal match-ups in both the lightweight and featherweight tournaments that are the cornerstone of the promotion's appeal. Former UFC lightweight Roger Huerta will headline the event with "Kid" Yamamoto-killer and 2006 World Champion Greco-Roman wrestler Joe Warren also appearing on the card.
Interestingly enough, the fighters that Bellator was able to acquire over the offseason has put quite a lot of hype around the upcoming season. This season's welterweight tournament is heavy with talent as Ben Askren, Steve Carl, Brett Cooper, Dan Hornbuckle, Jacob McClintock, Sean Pierson, Ryan Thomas, and Jimmy Wallhead will all vie for a chance to take the title from current champion Lyman Good. Lightweights will battle for a shot at Eddie Alvarez, and featherweight battles include Thursday's match-ups along with Wilson Reis vs. Shad Lierley and Patricio "Pitbull" Freire vs. William Romero on April 15th.
Here's a brief rundown of the action you can watch on Thursday night if you happen to be in the lucky few that will be within a market not showing a baseball game. If you can't watch it live, most affiliates are showing it on two or three-hour tape delays following the market sports.
2010 Bellator Tournament Quarter-Finals
Obviously, the clear cut favorite is Roger Huerta in this fight. Not only does he have the vast experience against some of the top lightweights in the world, but he has a solid conditioning, good grappling abilities, and above average striking. While most people might be a bit down on his boxing due to his losses to Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard, his time in Thailand should have improved his already solid repertoire of strikes. Hopefully we can see some of that improvement in this fight, although Chad Hinton does possess some knockout power that could change the gameplan for Huerta. Nonetheless, Huerta should come out on top in this tilt.
This is somewhat of an interesting match-up due to the wrestler vs. grappler storyline to this fight. Vanier comes from a heavy wrestling background while Tulirinta sports a grappling background coupled with an improving striking game. Tulirinta went 6-1 with M-1, demolishing five out of his six opponents via TKO or submission in the first round.
Tulirinta is a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Lucio Linhares, and he actually started in wrestling. He also happens to Olympic weight-lift as a hobby. His boxing has been a major focal point in his training over the years, and he's improved it enough to become a very solid complimentary offensive weapon to his grappling acumen.
Vanier's background in wrestling is the key to his success in this opening round, but Tulirinta is just too well-rounded and experienced to be overwhelmed by Vanier in this fight. Look for Tulirinta to continue his success, although meeting a guy like Huerta in the next round will surely be his toughest challenge in his career.
The one thing I really enjoy with Bellator is that they aren't protecting their prize possessions that could potentially become huge stars. While Warren did manage to defeat "Kid" Yamamoto at DREAM 9, he's still a green fighter in that he can be submitted (see Bibiano Fernandes submitting him in 0:14 seconds at DREAM 11) and his striking needs a lot of work.
John Eric Marriott has been a rising star within the featherweight circuit, and at first glance -- his record would indicate that he's probably ready for the bigger fights with the WEC. A more meticulous look would lead me to believe that Bellator is the perfect proving ground for him to shut up his doubters, and I'd be one of those doubters.
While 17-3 looks impressive, so did Jason Reinhardt's record before he was pummeled by Joe Lauzon. Strength of record isn't something a lot of fans look at extensively, but it's a good statistic to use when we see match-ups like this on regional cards. Marriott hasn't battled the garbage records like that of Reinhardt, but he hasn't progressively moved up in quality of competition. Of course, that could be due to the fact he fought ELEVEN times in 2009 and NINE times in 2008.
Marriott has some submission ability, but I think Warren is going to just wreck him from top control with power. Warren also isn't completely deficient in the striking game for a guy who only has three professional bouts. Look for Warren to press forward with the tenacity of a rabid dog and bomb Marriott to a victory.
A very interesting fight rounds out the featherweight quarterfinals at prospect Georgi Karakhanyan battles Strikeforce, EliteXC veteran Bao Quach. Quach always seems to be a guy who can bring the excitement to fights, and his stand-up can be pretty effective. Unfortunately, he's just never been able to break through the pack and push himself into the spotlight as a top fighter.
That could have a lot to do with his immense size disadvantage, but that seems to come with the territory when you weigh a buck forty-five. Karakhanyan is a purple belt under Javier Vazquez, so be aware of the a quick transitioning style of grappling from him. He's also surprisingly athletic as he was a professional soccer player in his earlier years and even played for Spartak Moscow (Yeah, for those of you who hate the beautiful game... they used to be REALLY GOOD).
I'll take Karakhanyan in this fight as I think his improvements in the stand-up game will be noticeable in this match-up. His submission game is obviously his bread and butter, but I think Quach is capable of avoiding those dangers. Karakhanyan via decision.
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