Bellator 48 kicks off this evening at 9 p.m. ET on MTV2, headlined by the blockbuster brawl between Pat Curran and Marlon Sandro in the finals of the Summer Series featherweight tournament. That match up was analyzed in detail earlier today.
In addition to the scorching main event, three former UFC fighters will make their first appearance in the Bellator organization. In a 230-pound catchweight bout, Seth Petruzelli squares off with Ricco Rodriguez, a dominant UFC heavyweight champion circa 2003 who is one of two fighters to hold the prestigious honor of finishing Randy Couture with ground-and-pound.
Petruzelli, a member of The Ultimate Fighter (season two as a heavyweight), is widely recognized as the man who knocked out Kimbo Slice almost immediately in a 2008 EliteXC main event as a replacement for Ken Shamrock. Even though he only has nineteen career fights (13-6), Petruzelli is a wily veteran with performances starting in the year 2000.
Rodriguez began his career in '99 but has a hearty fifty-eight fights to his name (47-11). Ricco "Suave" was a hefty heavyweight with a grappling grace that belied his size. He submitted MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a 2000 ADCC tournament with a kneebar, cementing his skill on the mat.
Petruzelli has a wide range of balanced skill; proficient in everything but not necessarily excelling in any one particular aspect, while Rodriguez will surely be looking to ground the fight and apply his high level submission grappling game. Ricco has never been a strong wrestler and has unremarkable stand up.
Petruzelli has been taken down on many occasions, but that was by powerhouses like Rutgers University wrestler Ricardo Romero, Czech wrestling champion Karlos Vemola and reputable takedown artist Matt Hamill. He's not a power puncher, but his hands are fast, his footwork is fairly agile and Rodriguez's strategy is pretty predictable.
The betting lines have Rodriguez as the heavy favorite. While the submission aficionado could pull something off on Petruzelli, I think he'll struggle to ground the fight when faced with Petruzelli's deft movement and sharp striking and will get out-hustled in a decision.
Cole Konrad is the inaugural Bellator heavyweight champion and a two-time NCAA D1 wrestling champion at 285-pounds.
Konrad trains alongside Brock Lesnar at the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts academy and remains undefeated after seven career fights. He catches flak for winning his first four Bellator fights by decision and relying strongly on the stifling abilities of his powerful wrestling, but Konrad was able to catch a keylock on Neil Grove in his last outing.
Paul "The Headhunter" Buentello is another old schooler with forty-two total fights (29-13) stemming back to 1997. For a heavyweight, Buentello has a mean set of hands and prefers to unfurl crisp boxing combinations all night long, boasting an impressive seventeen wins via TKO.
The strongest aspect of Buentello's grappling and takedown defense is his vast experience. He's a crafty veteran who knows all the tricks of the trade, but physically, he's in big trouble here.
Konrad is a massive heavyweight with elite grappling skills. Buentello will definitely have the edge with his well-honed boxing, but he's not known for his power and really has a puncher's chance against an animal like Konrad. While I wouldn't rule out Buentello loading up everything he's got before the takedown comes, the likely outcome is Konrad wearing him out on the canvas and catching a submission from the top.
Rene Nazare is a promising up and comer who has yet to taste defeat after nine fights. Hailing from New York's Team Bombsquad under renowned trainer and manager Ryan Ciotoli, Nazare is a gifted athlete with a black belt in BJJ, finishing four foes by sub, three by TKO with two decisions.
His opponent, "Juanito" Barrantes (7-5), is a student of Renzo Gracie and a tough cookie who's been in the ring with Bibiano Fernandes, Antonio Carvalho and James Edson Berto. While the -1100 odds for Nazare are a little steep, he's definitely the favorite to take this fight by submission or a commanding decision.
The local fights rounding out the un-televised undercard are:
Nik Fekete vs. Mark Griffin
Saul Almeida vs. Tateki Matsuda
Dan Cramer vs. John Clarke
Ryan Quinn vs. Brett Oteri
Andrew Calandrelli vs. Matt Nice