The tournament train rolls on as Bellator 55 unfolds the bantamweight tournament semifinals tonight from the Cocopah Resort and Casino in Yuma, AZ. Adhering to the standard format, the preliminary card will stream live and free on Spike.com at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the main card broadcast on MTV2 and the Epix network at 9 p.m. ET.
The prelims will feature new Bellator acquisition Efrain Escudero (17-3). The Arizona based lightweight wrestler won season eight of The Ultimate Fighter with a decision over Phillipe Nover. Escudero went on to alternate wins and losses against his next four UFC opponents: Cole Miller (TKO win), Evan Dunham (submission loss), Dan Lauzon (decision win) and Charles Oliveira (submission loss).
He's won four of his five fights since, his sole defeat dealt by another former UFC lightweight in Fabricio Camoes, who outworked him to a decision at Tachi Palace Fights 9. Escudero draws Ceasar Avila (6-1), another Bellator newcomer fighting out of Team United in California. Avila is a young fighter who's finished five of his six wins and is getting his first taste of top competition against Escudero.
Another noteworthy undercard competitor is Richard Hale (17-4), last season's light-heavyweight tournament finalist. Hale latched an inverted triangle on Nik Fekete and eked out a split decision over D.J. Linderman but, in the battle to crown Bellator's first 205-pound champion, was clipped by a Christian M'Pumbu combination in the third round. In a qualifier bout for the next light-heavyweight tournament, Hale squares off with Carlos Flores (5-0).
Captained by the duplex of bantamweight tournament bouts, the MTV2 broadcast shakes out like this:
Match up analysis for the main card awaits in the full entry.
In one of the promotion's most memorable debut performances, former Cuban Olympic wrestler Alexis Vila (10-0) maintained his perfect record and dashed featherweight champion Joe Warren's hopes of holding gold in two weight classes with a first round knockout in the quarterfinals.
It's creepy to see a natural flyweight with a background in wrestling swinging that boat anchor of a left hook.
Vila's last six wins were all crippling knockouts and he's only allowed one opponent (Tyler Weathers) to survive to a decision.
Vila was laying into Warren before delivering the final dagger as well.
Preying on his tendency for straight-line retreats, you can see Vila measure the range with his left hand before winging a huge overhand right in this sequence.
The two left hooks he pounces with afterward signify his killer instincts, accuracy and power. This is a top-of-the-food-chain fighter with elite grappling accolades and dynamite in both hands.
The only downside for Vila is that he's surging a bit late at age forty.
Marcos Galvao (7-4-1) gets my vote for the most under-rated bantamweight around.
He's pretty tall and gangly for the weight class, his guard and scrambling game are ravenous, his clinch is deceivingly strong and he's tough as nails in general.
His stand up is a little awkward but rapidly improving, as the animation to the right against Chase Beebe shows.
"Louro" fought to a draw with tenth-ranked bantamweight Masakatsu Ueda, has wins over former WEC fighter Fredson Paixao and Jacob Kirwan (the lightweight that just beat Rene Nazare) and got jobbed by the judges in his fight with Warren.
Unfortunately, that slice of history does not bode well for Galvao against Vila's heavy artillery.
He tends to drop his hands and leave his chin exposed when committing to combinations, and doesn't necessarily compensate for the flaw with dedicated head movement.
Historically, even though his chin isn't fragile and he's only been caught by acclaimed knockout artists, he absorbs way too many punches.
I am interested to see him tangle with Vila in the clinch and on the mat. Galvao was a handful in tie-ups with Warren and, even though he hails from the creditable American Top Team, Vila hasn't really proven himself against top-notch submission fighters. All signs point to Vila by TKO but I wouldn't rule out Galvao surprising him with his wiry strength and feisty ground acumen.
The second bantamweight semifinal pits Ed West (17-5) vs. Eduardo "Dudu" Dantas (11-2).
Dantas and Galvao are both Nova Uniao fighters under Andre Pederneiras; a team whose presence continues to loom heavily over MMA's lighter weight classes.
In the quarterfinals, Dantas took flight and gored staunch BJJ black belt Wilson Reis with a crippling knee.
Reis was a pertinent litmus test for Dantas, who'd spent the majority of his career overseas, mostly as a staple in Shooto.
One of the two losses on Dantas' record is a DQ, leaving a decision to the aforementioned Ueda as his only legit defeat. In that bout, Dantas laid into Ueda with a storm of strikes but was penalized one point for grabbing the ropes. Were it not for the point deduction the match would have resulted in a majority draw.
Still in his early twenties, "Dudu" could prove to be another flourishing prospect on the Bellator roster.
West's record is plagued by a three-fight skid in the IFL where he dropped decisions to Chris Horodecki, Erik Owings and Savant Young back in 2006-2007.
His two remaining defeats are to Harris Sarmiento -- a deceivingly reputable opponent despite his 33-22 rap sheet -- and Makovsky at Bellator 32.
Though his stand up is highly effective, West has never won via TKO (9 submissions, 8 decisions).
His wrist control is excellent from all positions, enabling him to constantly threaten to torque a limb anytime he's connected.
To the left, West holds the kimura throughout the takedown and craftily uses it to sweep Nogueira.
This should be a pure dogfight between two diverse fighters who like to push the pace aggressively.
Like his teammate Galvao, Dantas is considerably tall for a 135-pounder at 5'10" and fundamentally sound in the clinch or on the mat, but doesn't seem to suffer from the technical deficiencies Galvao does and has much more power.
I expect this to be a crowd-pleaser with Dantas' fierce striking and relentless pace being just a little too much for West to overcome.
Bellator light-heavyweight champ Christian M'Pumbu returns for the first time since snaring the strap, but the belt will not be up for grabs against veteran Travis Wiuff and I can understand why.
Typifying the problem that most champions and top-ranked fighters in Bellator are facing, Wiuff represents a lose-lose opportunity. His experience, wrestling and general toughness give him a great chance to smother M'Pumbu or finish him with ground-and-pound. While his record may not be pretty, each defeat is to upper-echelon fighters and M'Pumbu will probably have to finish him to win.
M'Pumbu definitely has the submission and striking blend to expose the holes in Wiuff's game, but it's a risky opponent and my instincts lean toward Wiuff souring the 205-pound division's legitimacy by beating the newly crowned champ in this non-title affair.
The final pairing on the main card is Steve Gable (5-1) vs. Ricardo Tirloni (13-1); a curious choice considering the name recognition and entertaining style of Escudero, who's relegated to the prelims.
I believe the intention is to showcase Tirloni, the number-two candidate on the BloodyElbow Lightweight Scouting Report and a training partner of Thiago Tavares at Ataque Duplo in Brazil.
Tirloni has a penchant for first round stoppages (5 TKOs, 6 submissions, 8 in the first round) as the devastating high kick to the right depicts.
Tirloni holds a sub-win over Brian Cobb, a knockout over former WEC fighter Anthony "Cheesesteak" Morrison and has only lost to Ben Henderson. He stands as yet another intriguing prospect under the Bellator banner.
All gifs via FightLinker.com
Update: Tirloni gif via DamnSevern
Main Card (MTV2 and Epix at 9 p.m. ET)
Preliminary Card (Spike.com at 7 p.m. ET)