Bellator Fighting Championships returns to action this Saturday, March 5th as they kick off the first event of season four from the Tachi Palace Resort & Casino in Leemore, California. After an active off-season in which Bellator worked diligently to solve the problems that airing on Fox Sports Net presented, the promotion signed a deal with MTV2 for three years to broadcast a number of events live on the station. Saturday's event will mark the debut of Bellator on MTV2, a station that has served as one of the powerhouses in MMA's targeted demographic.
The event will feature the opening round match-ups of Bellator's welterweight tournament. Former champion Lyman Good, Sengoku veteran Dan Hornbuckle, UFC and IFL veteran Jay Hieron, and highly-touted prospects Jim Wallhead, Rick Hawn, and Chris Lozano round out a spectacular field of fighters. Jaime Jara will battle the always-exciting Waachiim Spiritwolf on the event's undercard, and 2011 World MMA Scouting Report honorable mention Brandon Bender will battle Josh Herrick.
Welterweight Tournament Quarterfinal: Lyman Good (10-1) vs. Chris Lozano (6-0): It's difficult to dismiss what Bellator has done with this card. The match-ups look great on paper, and the main event showdown between Lyman Good and Chris Lozano is one of the most interesting match-ups to go down this month. For fans hoping to eye one of the more promising prospects in the world's 170 lb. weight class, Chris Lozano is must-see TV.
Known for his proven knockout power, Lozano also possesses excellent wrestling skills and an improving Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu base under the guidance of Pablo Castro. His background in boxing and Tae Kwon Do have been the more prevalent skills in his performances, allowing him to out strike and knock out six opponents in six fights.
Good has been impressive in the stand-up department as well, but he hasn't faced an opponent who can end a fight as quickly as Lozano. Good's propensity to strike from range and circle on the outside has been a successful strategy for him in the past, and it will more than likely work on Saturday night against Lozano. The problem, however, is that Lozano is a bit bigger than Good in size, leading me to believe Lozano may be able to quickly get inside and bomb the Tiger Schulmann product. It's a difficult bout to predict, but I'll go with Lozano's proven power via TKO.
Welterweight Tournament Quarterfinal: Dan Hornbuckle (22-3) vs. Brent Weedman (17-5-1): The storyline that Hornbuckle previously defeated Weedman is irrelevant to this match-up. Not only did the fight take place roughly five years ago, but both fighters have improved by leaps and bounds since those early days. Oddly, some fans have focused on that fact in determining the bout's winner.
Weedman is currently riding a nine-fight win streak, blasting his way through the Bellator ranks with three straight wins under the promotion's banner. He knocked off Jacob McClintock in September in an impressive display of power, finishing him in only three minutes of action and earning himself a spot in this season's welterweight tournament. The formidable display of power that Weedman showed fans last year should be enough of a warning to other fighters to take him seriously.
A distance striking strategy should be Hornbuckle's means to victory in this match-up. Weedman is obviously packing a powerful punch in his hands, and Hornbuckle, while proving he's very good at taking shots and evading damage, has been susceptible to more aggressive punchers. To combat those issues, Hornbuckle will use his 6'2" frame to keep Weedman at a distance, a gameplan that we have seen Hornbuckle implement consistently throughout his career. The added threat for Weedman is Hornbuckle's grappling prowess and use of his lengthy frame to smother opponents on the mat. If Weedman wades in too far looking for the knockout, he could be put into a world of hurt on the ground. I'll take Hornbuckle here as he's a proven range striker, but Weedman is a live underdog with an enticing line.
Welterweight Tournament Quarterfinal: Anthony Lapsley (19-4-0-2) vs. Jay Hieron (19-4): Hieron is a potential top ten welterweight in the minds of most fans. His lack of fights in recent years and the fact that he's 34 years of age aren't attractive attributes in determining such a title, but Hieron's list of notable wins is difficult to dismiss. Seven straight victories over notable names such as Jason High, Jesse Taylor, and Joe Riggs puts Hieron in the discussion as a potential tournament champion under the Bellator banner, and his road to the title runs through a rather favorable match-up in Anthony Lapsley.
Lapsley embodies the typical wrestler turned mixed martial artist. He works for takedowns, transitions to more dominant positions, and sinks in the submission. A very basic gameplan that works wonders for many of the sport's most successful fighters. Unfortunately, Hieron is the better wrestler in this match-up. Unless Lapsley can out strike Hieron on the feet, it could be a rough fifteen minutes of being beaten to a pulp from top control for Lapsley. Look for Hieron to blast double and single legs through Lapsley's defenses, gaining top control and smothering Lapsley in strikes for three rounds.
Welterweight Tournament Quarterfinal: Jim Wallhead (21-5) vs. Rick Hawn (9-0): It isn't often that you see two judo black belts meet inside a cage under mixed martial arts rules, but Bellator managed to put it together. And I'm excited to see what happens.
Hawn is the more accomplished judo player, placing 9th in the 2004 Olympics, while Wallhead trained under Olympic judo silver medalist Neil Adams and won various regional tournaments. Judo hasn't proven to be a highly-successful base in mixed martial arts, but it does have its applications when it comes to the clinch and scrambling tactics. As evident in Hawn's win over Levon Maynard, it can end fights spectacularly.
Wallhead's experience and youth should help him edge out Hawn in this match-up. As impressive as Hawn's throws and power have been in the cage, it's difficult to look past Wallhead's streak of wins and extensive experience in the sport at only 26 years of age. He's a scrappy veteran who should be able to work over the older Hawn here, advancing into the semifinals.
Women's (115 lbs.): Zoila Frausto (10-1) vs. Karina Hallinan (3-4): Obviously, the promotion is giving Frausto the opportunity to remain active, and Karina Hallinan, while probably a fantastic gal, is going to get clobbered on Saturday night. Zoila Frausto via TKO.
Catchweight (176 lbs): Waachiim Spiritwolf (8-7) vs. Jaime Jara (29-8): Toss-up. Jara has a lot of wins, but his strength of competition hasn't been comparable to Spiritwolf's opponents as of late. I'll go with Waachim. The man deserves a victory after putting on such exciting performances in the last year. Waachim Spiritwolf via decision.
Featherweight: Josh Herrick (6-1) vs. Brandon Bender (7-0): Bender was a featherweight that we considered for the 2011 World MMA Scouting Report. He didn't quite make the cut, but his skills were promising. He submits Herrick. Brandon Bender via submission.