While flat on his back, Prindle took a full-on groin kick from Santos that resulted in a No Contest in their initial finals match at Bellator 59. They were set to rematch last week at Bellator 61, but Prindle was a no-go due to illness and the bout was transferred to this card. Prindle vs. Santos got the once-over in the last Dissection so we'll concentrate on the opening wave of this year's compelling lightweight tournament.
Some new faces accent the lightweight lineup. Two former Bellator welterweights are sinking to 155-pounds for the first time in Rick Hawn and Brent Weedman, Tiger Muay Thai's J.J. Ambrose will make his Bellator debut along with Thiago Michel, a #1 ranked lightweight prospect on the Bloody Elbow Scouting Report. Here's the full card:
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinals
Heavyweight Tournament Final
One of Bellator's best breakout lightweights, Patricky "Pitbull" Freire thundered into the finals last year with back-to-back highlight reel knockouts. He clipped former WEC lightweight champ Rob McCullough with a step-in hook and launched a picturesque flying knee to finish Toby Imada. In his last, Freire retired former UFC lightweight Kurt Pellegrino with a vicious first-round TKO. The Team Nogueira BJJ black belt never fails to entertain and has become a fan-favorite for his violent aggression.
Lloyd "Cupcake" Woodard is a once-beaten, stretchy lightweight with five wins by submission and four via strikes. The Montana native scored a TKO over Carey Vanier in the 2011 quarterfinals, but suffered his first career defeat to current lightweight champion Michael Chandler by decision. Chandler then bested Freire in the finals by the same method and went on to choke out champ Eddie Alvarez to snare the strap.
Like Freire, Woodard is an ever-ready scrapper who's always hunting for a stoppage and both are determined to take the tournament for another crack at Chandler.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
From watching his fighting tendencies, you wouldn't think Freire was a submission specialist. He's a stand-up brawler with solid boxing and Muay Thai technique. On the fringe, he pumps a crisp jab, low roundhouse or front kick and hurls a heavy one-two and hooks at close range. Even without a distinct wrestling pedigree, Freire is a capable wrestler, both offensively and defensively. His 5'7" stature is a factor, as his shorter height and reach require good defense, head movement and quickness to dart into striking range, but his strength and stocky frame make him tough to control.
Woodard is also hard-nosed and feisty in all aspects with few apparent weaknesses. Chandler, a D1 All American wrestler, wisely turned their bout into a control-based takedown fest, but Woodard was still ornery with takedown defense and showed good sweep and submission abilities, such as the kimura roll to the left. "Cupcake" does have some semi-pro boxing experience, so he forms up a well rounded package of dangerous striking -- great hands, stiff clinch knees and aggravating dirty boxing -- along with slippery grappling and crafty transitions.
Freire is the favorite to win the tourney and also holds the biggest push on the betting lines at -325. Personally, I think that's pretty steep and that Woodard is being overlooked. The advantages Freire will have are quickness, agility and submission grappling, while Woodard will have the overall size advantage and superior leverage in the clinch. Since Freire isn't an accomplished wrestler and Woodard has sound takedown defense, I see most of this fight playing out on the feet where Woodard's length and range will be a big factor and Freire's BJJ will not.
I'd consider their striking fairly even. They both have legit knockout power and throw hard with resilient defense and beards (Freire has one TKO loss); "Pitbull" uses a few more tools in open space with his kicks where Woodard relies mostly on his hands. In a match up this close on paper, Woodard's gangly reach and capabilities with scrambling and takedown defense should be pivotal. I was leaning slightly towards Freire but the twisted betting lines inspire me to take the underdog for the shocking upset.
My Prediction: Lloyd Woodard by TKO.
Rick Hawn is one of the rare Olympic-level Judokas in MMA, representing the United States in the 2004 games and posting a 2-2 clip. What's astonishing about Hawn is how drastically he's sharpened up his kickboxing under Mark Dellagrotte at Sityodtong in Massachusetts. Not only his striking fully functional, but Hawn dueled with the experienced Jay Hieron for all three rounds and dotted up the veteran with a snapping jab and a nasty lead left hook. His base is like an immovable battleship and his clinch tactics are world class. Hawn was a force at 170, losing only a controversial split decision to Hieron, and should be an animal at 155.
Ricardo Tirloni is another Bloody Elbow Scouting Report member on the card, coming in second behind the top lightweight pick (Thiago Michel). His only career defeat is to Benson Henderson by guillotine choke at MFC 17 and Tirloni was more than holding his own.
He's similar to Freire in that he's a BJJ black belt who'd rather take your head off with strikes, though he does have seven wins by sub and five by KO. Tirloni is a malicious Muay Thai artist who head-hunts relentlessly and has an aggressive submission game to match, though his standing defense can be lax.
The standout aspect of Hawn's freakish development with kickboxing is his laudable technique across the board. His footwork, head movement and defense are rock-solid, he mixes up his combinations well, has a nice low kick from outside and conducts himself with the cool composure of a veteran. As always, the virgin run in a new weight class can be a factor, but I see Hawn being a little too sharp and clean on the feet for Tirloni. Hawn should own the clinch but has to be cautious if he decides to ground Tirloni, who has a volatile submission arsenal off his back. The betting lines have Hawn at -205, which I'm on board with.
My Prediction: Rick Hawn by decision.
Ambrose is another intriguing new addition. He's a Thai specialist who fights out of Tiger Muay Thai and lost to Sevak Magakian in the TUF 12 elimination bout. Don't mistake Ambrose as a one-dimensional kickboxer though -- he's a BJJ brown belt under Tracy Hess and also the head wrestling coach at Tiger Muay Thai.
Ambrose split results in his first four MMA bouts, then scorched a seventeen-fight sequence with only one loss (to the UFC's Mike Pyle in Affliction) and one No Contest. Ambrose boasts four wins by TKO, nine by submission and is soaring on a seven-piece roll.
Weedman, along with Hawn, is dropping to Bellator's lightweight class after establishing himself at welterweight. He's earned a reputation as a spoiler, starting with his surprise upset of Douglas Lima by submission to win the AFL title. That victory ignited a ten-fight win streak that ended with a unanimous decision over Dan Hornbuckle in Bellator, who'd caught Weedman in a triangle back in 2006.
Despite his noticeable surge, Weedman is coming off consecutive decision losses: the first was to Jay Hieron in a bout many felt Weedman may have deserved to win, the second to Chris Lozano at Bellator 49. Weedman is a tough customer who's savvy in just about every department. He has a penchant for stoppages, having finished ten by TKO and seven by submission with only one decision victory.
Weedman is the substantial favorite on the betting lines, which is hard to dispute considering his gameness at 170. Ambrose is definitely a rising talent with a diverse set of skills, though somewhat lacking in A-level competition. Weedman is the safe pick but I'm eager to see what Ambrose brings to the table here. He's one to keep an eye on.
My Prediction: Brent Weedman by decision.
The alpha lightweight on last year's Scouting Report, Thiago Michel is a stellar Thai boxer who won the 2010 WAKO World Cup. He's long been a touted prospect but has seemed to reach a new level of prestige after steadily fortifying his takedown defense and grappling. Expect elite striking replete with a long reach, effective front and roundhouse kicks, calculating footwork and dizzying angles and motion.
Nazare is a Team Bombsquad black belt who just suffered his first career defeat to Jacob Kirwan by unanimous decision at Bellator 54. He's a strong athlete with a good chin and decent striking and wrestling. Though his base is in submission grappling, he's not an insta-sub terror and more of a methodical position fighter and guard passer.
In this one, I will lean towards the standout prospect in Michel despite the fact he's making his stateside debut after fighting on the Brazilian circuit. Nazare will be outclassed standing and forced to clinch up or shoot takedowns to avoid the sting of leather. Michel has a nasty clinch and has drastically improved his takedown defense through the front headlock position and the options it offers. I think he can keep most of the fight standing and survive short spurts on the mat to score a decision here.
My Prediction: Thiago Michel by decision.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
All betting line references via BestFightOdds.com
This year's lightweight tournament champion?
"Pitbull" Freire (490 votes)
Woodard (16 votes)
Hawn (105 votes)
Tirloni (15 votes)
Ambrose (14 votes)
Weedman (28 votes)
Nazare (6 votes)
Michel (8 votes)
682 total votes