Airing tonight at 9 p.m. ET on MTV2 and Epix, Bellator 51 unfolds the opening quarterfinal round of this year's bantamweight tournament. The eventual winner earns a crack at current Bellator 135-pound champion Zach Makovsky.
Vying for the strap in two different weight classes, reigning featherweight champion Joe Warren joins the bantamweight ranks to take on undefeated Cuban Olympic wrestler Alexis Vila. Marcos Galvao, the Nova Uniao scrapper who gave Warren a run for his money at Bellator 41, returns to face former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe.
The undercard shapes up like this:
Alexis Vila's Olympic wrestling pedigree presents Joe Warren with the rare circumstance of facing someone with superior credentials. Warren was a 2006 Pan Am champion and Greco-Roman Olympic hopeful. Vila, an American Top Team product, amplified the excitement of his debut by stirring the pot on his Twitter account:
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Joe Warren (7-1) vs. Alexis Vila (9-0)
The appeal of Vila's potential is that Warren thrives on having his way in the clinch.
The sequence to the right versus Galvao is a fitting example of Warren's grinding and overwhelming style.
Warren lays out the jab to set up his rifling overhand right, epitomizing the Team Quest philosophy by following closely behind the big punch to tangle against the cage.
Warren had one of the most memorable MMA debuts in history, clipping Chase Beebe for a TKO and upsetting Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto in Dream circa 2009.
Here we see a carbon copy of Warren's go-to technique.
It's the type of rugged advance that's difficult to stop even if you know it's coming. The overhand right has enough heat to require your full attention and basic human nature suggests you pull your head back from the missile.
This puts the defender quite literally on his heels, and Warren is always clever enough to steer them against the cage wall, further limiting their options for escape.
The options to counter this onslaught are either to circle hard away from Warren's power hand or confront the bull-rush head on.
To the right, Galvao takes the ballsy approach of the latter.
Galvo turned the tide by whittling his selection of strikes down to those that rend upward through the pocket to discourage aspiring takedown artists: heavy uppercuts, the short, spearing knee and the flying knee. Galvao executes each in sequential order here.
Obviously, Alexis Vila's lofty wrestling accolades endow him with a base like a battleship anchor and overpowering clinch and takedown skills. He's meshed that foundation with simple and nasty dirty boxing, ground and pound and clinch knees.
If anything, the pattern Vila has shown has been the opposite of Warren's: he encroaches in a lower stance as if ready to shoot, then pelts the body with knees and the head with punches as his opponent crouches down to defend. Like Warren, his striking rhythm in free movement is a little awkward and his preferred zone is at close range or tied up.
These are two vastly talented and aggressive grapplers who thrive on man-handling their adversaries, so expect an enormous collision when they lock horns. This is Vila's first taste of the elite level and his submission game is slightly more advanced, but Warren's hands might be a nudge sharper and he'll be motivated to defend his home turf.
Marcos Galvao (9-4-1) vs. Chase Beebe (19-7)
I consider "Louro" one of the most overlooked bantamweights. Losing only one of his first seven fights earned him a shot in the WEC.
In between those two performances he drew with Masakatsu Ueda (#10 ranked bantamweight) and almost upset Warren in his last outing at Bellator 41.
Like just about every fighter under the great Andre "Dede" Pederneiras, Galvao is a BJJ black belt.
His true potential shines through in these animations, not only holding his own in the clinch with an Olympic-rate Greco-Roman wrestler, but dragging him to the floor on multiple occasions.
In standing tangles and scrambles on the floor, Galvao is a hard-nosed technician with suffocating tendencies.
He has a longer and thinner frame to apply massive leverage and boasts spidery guard passing wit.
His weakness is striking, both offensively and defensively, thus the brutal knockouts to power punchers in Bowles and Page.
Chase Beebe was a four-time high school state wrestling champion and WEC lightweight title holder. He has explosive takedowns and a relentlessly unforgiving top game, chalking up sixteen career victories by submission.
In a shocking statistic, all but one of those sixteen catches were either a rear-naked choke (9 total) or guillotine choke (10 total). This signifies the way his wrestling -- particularly his dominant positions and excellent head control -- sparks the openings where he snatches submissions.
Beebe has a balanced blend of takedowns and submission grappling with exceptional quickness and decent boxing. His quickly sprung, straight punches, though not quite his specialty, could cause problems for Galvao's defense.
Luiz Alberto "Betao" Nogueira (11-1) vs. Ed West (16-5)
The Renovacao Fight Team in Brazil is a Luta Livre specialty school run by the respected Marcio "Cromado" Barbosa.
In addition to their submission wrestling proficiency, RFT has a rep for breeding ferociously aggressive strikers such as former Pride fighter Luciano Azevedo and Genair da Silva, who is better known as "Junior PQD" or the unknown kickboxer that almost defeated Marlon Sandro at Bellator 46.
"Betao" also embodies that purely tenacious style.
Fans who appreciate a fighter that throws caution to the wind and is willing to take risks in order to inflict great bodily harm should gravitate to Nogueira.
With half of his wins coming by way of decision, his nonstop and frenetically paced pursuit while whirling every strike in the book is his most feared trait.
His stand up game drowns his retreating foe under unending waves of violence that never stop coming.
As with any other striker who prioritizes raw aggression over eveherything else, he's open to accurate counters on occasion. However, his chin has been resilient so far and needling a counter-strike means stepping directly inside his wheelhouse.
Ed West's only loss in his last seven fights was to Bellator champ Zach Makovsky in a title fight at Bellator 32. Reputable names like Savant Young and Chris Horodecki dot his resume. He scored consecutive decisions over Jose Vega and Bryan Goldsby before facing Makovsky.
West will probably have the strength and wrestling advantage over Nogueira but will be hard-pressed to match him standing.
Wilson Reis (12-3) vs. Eduardo "Dudu" Dantas (10-2)
Dantas is the second Nova Uniao black belt on the card who was also defeated by the aforementioned Masakatsu Ueda. The gist of his career was spent in the Shooto promotion where he defeated fellow tournament participant "Betao" by armbar and heralded flyweight Shinichi Kojima by decision. Half of Dantas' wins are submissions while the remaining four are split evenly between TKO and decision.
Wilson Reis matches the black belt credentials of Dantas and is no stranger to Bellator. In fact, all three of his career losses were registered in the promotion (Joe Soto by decision and Patricio Freire by decision and knockout). Reis also holds a win over current champ Makovsky on a 2008 ShoXC card.
Dantas is not terrible standing, but the difference-maker here should be the adept striking of Reis. Based on his performance against the ever-game "Pitbull", I expect Reis to have comparable ground and scrambling abilities while taking control with his adequate Thai game.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com