After a lengthy absence, the Bellator promotion came back with a bang last week. The show was headlined by a rollicking clash between Pat Curran and Joe Warren and the opening round of the 2012 featherweight tournament.
Bellator 61 on Friday night (March 16) marks Bellator's second entry of 2012 and features a rematch between Eric Prindle and Thiago Santos for the heavyweight strap and the middleweight tournament quarterfinals. The main card will be televised on MTV2 and the EPIX network at 8 p.m. ET with one hour of preliminary fights streaming on Spike.com and Bellator.com at 7 p.m. ET. The televised broadcast shapes up like this:
The finalists of last year's heavyweight tournament are engaging in a rematch after their initial meeting ended in a No Contest. In the first round of their Bellator 59 affair, Thiago Santos punted the prone Eric Prindle square in the nether regions and the fouled fighter was unable to continue despite his allotted five-minute respite.
Prindle, a mammoth heavyweight who barely sneaks in under the 265-pound limit, was an amateur boxer in the military. He's finished five of his seven victories, all via strikes, and hasn't lost since his MMA debut in 2008; a 1st-round submission against Jimmy Ambriz, the former King of the Cage Super-Heavyweight champion. His tenure in Bellator consists of three straight wins (Josh Burns and Ron Sparks by KO, Abe Wagner via decision) leading up to the No Contest with Santos.
"Big Monster" is just that -- like Prindle, he also tips the scales at the heavyweight maximum, but his BJJ black belt and heavy hands give him a dual-pronged approach (2 TKOs, 5 subs). Hailing from Brazil, Santos was a strong new acquisition for Bellator but struggled to make a timely entrance. An undisclosed injury forced him to withdraw from his anticipated premiere against Derrick Lewis at Bellator 45 and visa issues prevented his participation in the heavyweight tournament at Bellator 52.
He finally made an appearance at Bellator 53 in a bout to determine a standby replacement in the tournament and tapped out Josh Burns with a first-round rear-naked choke. Inserted into the brackets after tournament competitor Mike Hayes suffered an injury, Santos was slated to face Blagoi Ivanov -- his originally intended opponent -- but Ivanov was removed due to injury as well. Veteran Neil Grove was the selected replacement and Santos duplicated the outcome of his promotional debut with a quick submission to advance to the finals against Prindle.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Both men are leviathans with huge punching power. They share boxing as their main style of striking, and Prindle is a little more polished in his technique, throwing tighter punches with a better defensive guard and footwork. That slight advantage could easily be outweighed by the strong submission acumen of Santos. Though he's not an accomplished wrestler, Santos still has decent takedowns. His malicious striking complements his ground game nicely, as opponents are often lured into a standing brawl and become susceptible to takedowns or, as the video depicts, Santos will pounce with submission attempts after scoring a knockdown on the feet.
The betting lines recognize Santos' diversity and hold him as a big favorite at -425 odds. While Prindle's ability to end the fight at any time with his hands makes that rating a little steep, Santos is my pick as well. The Brazilian should be able to avoid the haymaker and eventually force Prindle to the mat to open up a submission.
My Prediction: Thiago Santos by rear-naked choke.
Falcao had a brief stint in the UFC that was riddled by unusual circumstances. In his Octagon debut at UFC 123, he blitzed Gerald Harris with combinations and won the first two rounds handily, but the showcase performance was marred by prolonged hesitancy from both fighters in the third round. Falcao locked in a deep rear-naked choke to close out the first round, but the horn sounded seven seconds earlier than it was supposed to; an error by the attending official that very well may have robbed Falcao of the finish (below).
Falcao was pulled from his scheduled UFC 134 bout against Tom Lawlor in Rio and subsequently released by the UFC for some old legal troubles that sprang back up. Since that departure, he's won two of three in Brazil with two first-round knockouts and a submission loss to Antonio Braga Neto -- a Gracie Fusion talent who also just kneebarred Brock Larson -- on the Amazon Forest Combat card. Two of his four career losses came at the hands of the UFC's Fabio Maldonado.
Falcao boasts a shocking twenty-four wins via utterly violent striking, all but one of which were delivered within the first five minutes of the contest.
He's a head-hunter with blazing hand-speed, a solid Thai game in the clinch, good trips and throws, and overwhelming ground-and-pound.
Formerly a Chute Boxe product, Falcao now trains with the Luta Livre based Renovacao Fight Team under Marcelo Brigadeiro.
His opponent, Norman Paraisy, is another compelling prospect returning to Bellator for the first time since losing to former UFC champion Dave Menne by submission at Bellator 4 in 2009. Along with one No Contest and draw apiece, this is the only flaw on Paraisy's record, though the Frenchman was defeated by James Hammortree when trying out for TUF 11. His biggest wins are decisions over Paulo Filho and Japanese journeyman Hidehiko Hasegawa at M-1 Challenge 6, and he's finished five by submission with two TKOs.
Paraisy is a burly middleweight with a strong arsenal overall. From what I've seen, he appears capable with striking and grappling and has a good clinch with strong takedowns, control and ground-and-pound. He seems to have no glaring weaknesses nor specific areas of excellence.
Falcao has been asserted as a heavy favorite to win the tournament and is also the biggest slant on the betting lines, coming in at -310. By my estimation, that's about dead-on. Paraisy's sole defeat is by submission, but he's yet to face a devastating striker like Falcao, who I expect to triumph with a highlight-reel stoppage.
My Prediction: Maiquel Falcao by TKO.
Rogers posted a monumental first-round knockout of fellow Bellator 61 cast member Victor O'Donnell in his debut in last year's tournament. The former four-year college linebacker has just three years of MMA experience under his belt and is now complementing his natural athleticism and freakish punching power with increasing technique. His Bellator debut came on the heels of six consecutive first-round TKOs, the last coming over Iam Rammel on the undercard of Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson. Rogers started strong against Alexander Shlemenko (right) but eventually succumbed to strikes in the second.
Wand Fight Team rep Vitor Vianna defeated Sam Alvey by decision and then clobbered Bryan Baker (left) to advance to last year's tournament finals. There, he was also defeated by Shlemenko, but endured three rounds of the Russian's bombardment to drop a decision. Vianna is a BJJ black belt with rugged striking and a hard-nosed clinch game. He has a balanced finishing ratio with five TKOs and four submissions. Along with Shlemenko, his only other career defeat was the UFC's Thiago Silva in 2006, though an arm injury was the impetus for the TKO loss.
Vianna got some love in the third spot of last year's BloodyElbow Scouting Report and comes in as the narrow favorite at -170, which is understandable considering he's the more diverse and consistent fighter. He might be the safer pick, but I'd stay away from a wager here. Rogers has unparalleled athleticism and excellent natural instincts, and is rapidly transforming into a more complete martial artist. He's hell on wheels in the first round and I like him to pull out the upset here.
Rogers is in trouble if he finds himself entangled with Vianna on the mat, but he can match his power standing and wields a mixed onslaught of heavy leather, high kicks and flying knees. Vianna's defense can get a bit lax and his footwork and angles will be crucial in fending off Rogers' explosive barrage.
My Prediction: Brian Rogers by decision.
The nickname, seventeen submission wins with thirteen by armbar sum up Giva Santana's method of handling business.
The Team Oyama middleweight is a top-shelf grappler with only one career defeat; a split-decision to Jaime Jara on a 2008 ShoXC card. His rap sheet includes submissions over former WEC fighters Doug Marshall and Anthony Ruiz and a TKO victory over TUF product Lodune Sincaid.
His last fight was a first-round armbar fitted on Darryl Cobb in his Bellator debut (right).
Bruno Santos was the fifth selection in the 2010 version of the BloodyElbow World MMA Scouting Report. Being a control-based decision fighter is his unfortunate calling card, finishing his first and third opponent but grinding out each of his remaining wins on the score cards. He holds a win over Chute Boxe fighter Daniel Acacio and won last year's Bitetti Combat middleweight tournament with three decisions and forty-five minutes of stifling control in one night.
Hailing from Ze Mario team in Brazil, Santos is a young fighter who basically waits for the prime opportunity to snare a single leg and bury his opponent underneath him. Having no prior experience in traditional martial arts, Santos is surrounded by BJJ artists and undoubtedly honing his knowledge of submission grappling, but is yet to face a submission whiz like Santana, who is the most poisonous match up for Santos out of all the competitors. His unrelenting takedowns and top game is highly effective and I could see him pulling out a forgettable upset, but his style is perfectly suited for Santana, who's a killer off his back. Santos' sub defense will be seriously tested and doing his thing against Santana would be his biggest accomplishment.
My Prediction: Giva Santana by submission.
Two more Scouting Report entries square off here. Vasilevsky was the fourth-ranked middleweight in 2010 and O'Donnell came in ninth. Vasilevsky is a Russian with a background in Combat Sambo and slick boxing skills. Former UFC competitor Xavier Foupa-Pokam stands as his biggest win but Vasilevsky's track record is particularly devoid of top-level competition. His Sambo skills offer a decent clinch and grappling game, but his technical boxing is his best weapon.
Victor O'Donnell was the fighter who lost to Chris Camozzi in the TUF 11 elimination bout, but he knocked Camozzi around enough to break his jaw and force an early departure from the show. He's faced three UFC-level opponents in his career: impressive stoppages over Forrest Petz (submission) and Rafael Natal (first-round TKO) and a decision loss to Constantinos Philippou. Though he seems like more of a banger, O'Donnell has nine submission wins with one TKO and decision. His knockout loss to Rogers in last year's tournament was the first time he's ever been finished.
Vasilevsky is a deceivingly venomous boxer with solid technique and control of striking range. O'Donnell would be well advised to avoid a straight shootout and phase shift, muffle the Russian in the clinch or pursue takedowns. The Russian should be just a little too precise on the feet and pick up a finish if he can't notch a stoppage.
My Prediction: Vyacheslav Vasilevsky by TKO.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com