Eddie Alvarez vs. Josh Neer
It's a "superfight" between a UFC veteran and Bellator's Season 1 lightweight champion. The bout will be contested at a 160 pound catchweight for the simple reason of avoiding the possibility of the "champion" Alvarez losing at his "title weight."
Neer is a solid fighter but is far more dominating from top position on the ground than anywhere else. Off his back Neer can theaten and even catch submissions, but it's not a place that he wants to be against Alvarez who has the ability to work very effectively from the top with heavy hands. There is also the question of the mental game, which is a place one can accuse Josh of having some shortcomings. Neer has been visibly frustrated when taken out of his gameplan and controlled and it's very possible we could see that scenerio repeated Thursday night.
Alvarez is currently the #4 ranked lightweight in the world according to the USA TODAY / SB Nation Consensus MMA Rankings. His arrival was announced with an exciting run through the DREAM lightweight tournament where he made it to the finals before having to withdraw due to injury. The grand prix run proved that Alvarez was a tough fighter able to survive some tough spots to eventually pull out a victory, evidenced perhaps nowhere better in his career than his win over Tatsuya Kawajiri. The biggest knock on Alvarez is the somewhat lacking defensive aspect of his striking game. In the stand-up he has very heavy hands and a solid chin but he does leave himself open to take return fire and it can lead to some problems against the top of the division.
Even though some are suggesting that Neer is going to take a surprising decision, I just don't see it. Alvarez has the better ability to finish the fight and Neer doesn't have the striking prowess to effectively capitalize on the defensive holes of Alvarez. If somehow Neer is able to land meaningful shots standing it will be Alvarez who takes the fight to the ground and works a damaging top game. I don't see much chance of this fight going any way other than Alvarez by TKO.
Roger Huerta vs. Pat Curran
Roger Huerta looked like his old self in dominating Chad Hinton in the first round of the lightweight tournament. Roger was the one landing the better strikes standing up and even when Hinton briefly appeared to find a space to get a takedown it was Huerta who would end up in the better position doing the more meaningful work.
Pat Curran was a significant underdog to GSP protege Mike Ricci but took advantage of the Canadian's hesitance to land a vicious knockout punch. Knowing that he has that kind of power in his hands and knowing that Huerta does leave openings with his attacking style it is hard to write Curran off completely.
Curran is a tough kid and many (myself included) really overlooked him when he stepped in with Ricci, but Huerta is a different animal. Roger is not going to stand back and allow Pat to control the tempo and spacing of the bout. Curran will have to attempt to get his punches off while being pressured with an offensive attack with a lot of variety.
I'll stick to a safe pick here of Huerta by submission after putting Curran in a lot of trouble.
Toby Imada vs. Carey Vanier
I was surprised to see the odds when they were released having Vanier as a reasonably small underdog, but more surprised to see that the odds have continued to shift to the point that this is basically a pick-'em fight. Vanier was able to control Joe Duarte using a very good wrestling game and while not landing a lot of heavy blows he did land enough to add up and force the eventual TKO.
Imada is not taking the fight on late notice like Duarte though, and he is having one of the best runs of his career having gone 10-1 in his last 11. It's easy to look at the 24-12 record and write him off but those losses include names like Eddie Alvarez, Tetsuji Kato, Hermes Franca, Jake Shields, Antonio McKee, Jason Miller, and Joe Stevenson. Imada is a veteran and has faced some very stiff tests in his career.
The gambling love for Vanier no doubt comes from people who know that Imada has had trouble with wrestlers in his career. It would be far from absurd to think that Vanier can't control his way to a win here. I just think Imada is much too tricky for Vanier to be able to sit on top of for three rounds with no problem. I like Imada by decision.
Non-Tournament Heavyweight Bout
Cole Konrad vs. Pat Bennett
If you ever want to see a blown opening gambling line look no further than Konrad opening around -550. He has since jumped up to as high as a -1800 favorite. Konrad is one of the most dominant college wrestlers in recent history compiling a record of 155-13 and putting together two undefeated NCAA championship seasons. He trains out of the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy with Brock lesnar.
Often knocked for his soft build, Konrad is very strong and has very good cardio for a man of his size.
I'd be lying if I said I knew much about Pat Bennett beyond his 1-0 record on Sherdog. There is some video of him in what I'm assuming was an amateur bout in the extended entry and given the short durations of his bouts it looks like he does hit fairly hard. However his technique is sloppy and spastic.
Look for Konrad to get a brutal, impressive win here.