Bellator gets back in action tonight with Bellator 60, which is headlined by a featherweight championship bout pitting Joe Warren vs. Pat Curran and anchored by the first wave of the 2012 featherweight tournament. Having already analyzed the main event along with an overview of the full card, this season's 145-pound grand prix is stacked and deserves a closer look.
Bellator 2012 Featherweight Tournament
Update: Both da Silva and undercard fighter Bobby Reardanz missed weight and will not compete, which will upgrade Kenny Foster, Reardanz's original opponent, to face Bezerra in the tournament. The analysis below still includes da Silva as Bezerra's opponent.
Sandro, who trains at Nova Uniao with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, was Bellator's hottest acquisition of 2011. He ascended to within the top-five of the world rankings and earned a reputation as a devastating finisher in his overseas tour, which culminated with a first round knockout of Masanori Kanehara to earn the Sengoku featherweight belt and its immediate forfeit in his first defense against Hatsu Hioki.
Before the Hioki loss, Sandro had been on a searing eighteen-fight streak with wins in all but one; a controversial "must decision" to Michihiro Omigawa in the semifinals of the 2009 Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix. Despite making his Bellator debut on the heels of his second career defeat, Sandro was still a bright prospect as Hioki was widely recognized as the best featherweight outside the UFC and signed with the promotion shortly after.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Sandro's beatdown of Kanehara (right) pretty much typifies his showcase knockout wins. Coming into the Sengoku tournament undefeated after twelve outings, Sandro was known for his lack of finishing, having won seven of his last nine by decision.
In his seven Sengoku fights, Sandro was hell on wheels. He strangled former King of the Cage champ Matt Jaggers with an arm triangle and clobbered new UFC entry Nick Denis with an uppercut knockout in twenty seconds before the circus decision against Omigawa.
It took a total of about three minutes to club three consecutive foes with a first-round frenzy of meathooks in response to his controversial first defeat. After winning and losing the Sengoku strap, Sandro signed with Bellator and was encumbered by two durable opponents in Malegarie and "PQD" en route to the finals. Though both were decision wins, one razor-thin, Sandro still let his hands go and laid out a strong sprawl and solid defense. If anything, he was admirably composed in his stateside premiere and harnessed his aggression wisely.
Sandro is a quick and potent boxer who pressures at a frenetic pace, but he falls back on a wicked grappling combo of high-level BJJ and serviceable wrestling. This, especially when punctuated by the swarming ground-and-pound he shows to the right, makes for a dangerous and diverse package.
His opponent, Roberto Vargas, is far from a stepping stone and joins Alexandre Bezerra as the dark horses of the tournament. His only career defeat was a split decision to Wilson Reis at Bellator 10 and there's a strong case that he deserved the nod.
Vargas trains out of Millennia MMA and has a wrestling base with a good grasp of submissions. He tangled with Reis on the mat, a BJJ black belt, throughout much of their encounter and threatened with several legit submission attempts. The other noteworthy name on Vargas' record is a decision win over the UFC's Daniel Pineda at Bellator 6, which saw Vargas nailing monster takedowns and enforcing his imposing ground assault.
This is an extremely interesting opponent for Sandro. Though Vargas' striking is mediocre, his grappling and takedowns could present Sandro with a hefty challenge. The pivotal factor is whether Vargas can secure takedowns consistently while avoiding Sandro's thunderous uppercut.
Sandro has probably exhibited his best efforts in the realm of footwork, sprawling and takedown defense in his short Bellator stint and will need to keep those weapons sharp against Vargas. Expect Vargas to be another under-rated opponent with a legit chance for an upset or, at least, one with the potential to make Sandro work hard for everything and look unflattering in victory.
My Prediction: Marlon Sandro by decision.
Mann is another reputable new addition who fought alongside Sandro in the Sengoku tournament. He's been flying under the radar as a legit UK prospect since winning the Cage Gladiators featherweight title in 2008 and is also a former student of the late Shawn Thompkins. Mann was eliminated in Sengoku when he fell into Hioki's trusty triangle, but "The Child of Shooto" and Pat Curran are Mann's only losses in his last ten. He made his stateside debut at Shark Fights 13 and defeated Doug Evans by decision to add another featherweight championship to his collection.
He notched two wins in Bellator (decision over Josh Arocho, KO of Adam Schindler) before encountering Curran, but tacked on a first round triangle win (Kenny Foster) in his last. Mann is a skilled Thai practitioner and a BJJ brown belt with eleven submission wins and three TKOs. He applies his long reach well through tight kickboxing combinations and also has adequate footwork, defense and head movement. Wrestling is the only aspect Mann doesn't specialize in, yet he's still quite capable in that department.
Mann boasts a stout, Thai-based clinch game and competent offensive and defensive wrestling. His decision loss to Curran was highly competitive and a respectful performance, proving that he belongs in the upper echelon of Bellator's 145-pound class.
Mike Corey is yet another sleeper on Bellator's roster. He competed as a lightweight in the IFL, losing his lone bout in the promotion to Shad Lierley by split decision. Early in his career, Corey picked up a win over former UFCer Brian Cobb and has only been defeated by Lierley and current UFC featherweight Cub Swanson by TKO (cut).
Corey made his Bellator debut in his last turn, fighting to a suspicious draw with Canadian Chris Horodecki. The former Marine and high school wrestler put Horodecki on his back in the first and treated him to pestering ground-and-pound, but Horodecki mounted a comeback and handily won the last two rounds. Two judges quite curiously rendered the first round a 10-8 for Corey, resulting in a majority draw.
Mann's potential weakness in wrestling might come to the forefront here, as Corey is an aggressive wrestler with legit takedown skills. Mann has the superior striking and submission acumen, and I think he has the wrestling chops to hold his own and the diverse arsenal to pick up a finish.
My Prediction: Ronnie Mann by late submission.
Junior PQD is an electric kickboxer and Luta Livre fighter who came aboard for the Summer Series tournament. His lightning-fast hands and creative selection of strikes first started to draw attention on the Brazilian circuit a few years ago, and that potential was validated in his gutsy showing against Sandro.
The uninitiated chalked up the split decision for Sandro as a sign that the Nova Uniao phenom was another over-rated import, but Junior PQD is a feisty spark plug who can cause fits for any featherweight. He's strong, agile, athletic and explosive.
PQD is more of a wild and unpredictable brawler with his striking than a polished technician, and threatens with a broad range of attacks: quick and powerful boxing, crushing leg kicks, the occasional hook kick (left), flying knees and vicious ground-and-pound. He toned down his aggression against Sandro and played more of a strategic game. The bout wasn't the back-and-forth barn burner many hoped it would be, but still displayed the fiery talent the Brazilian has. He balanced out the Sandro loss with a first-round Brabo choke of Bryan Goldsby in his last.
Out of all the lurking prospects in the tournament, Bezerra might be the deadliest. His lone career loss was to the UFC's Charles Oliveira in 2009 and Bezzera has compiled four wins in his Bellator tour, all of which were stoppages; three in the first frame. "Popo" has an unruly submission grappling assault with technical sweeps and transitions. He's no slouch of a striker either, hurling heavy punches and sprinkling in straight and roundhouse kicks. His diversity is reflected in his balancing finishing ratio (6 subs, 5 TKOs, 1 decision).
Junior PQD is adept with both submission grappling and wrestling from his Luta Livre training, endowing him with three-dimensional capabilities that he picks and chooses from as necessary. That benefit will be invaluable against Bezerra, who has top-notch BJJ tactics, fearsome striking and a gangly reach (70"). The betting lines have shifted from even to strongly in favor of Bezerra, which I understand but disagree with. I like Junior PQD here for his brick-chin, slight wrestling advantage and blinding quickness.
My Prediction: Junior PQD by decision.
Update: With Junior PQD now off the card, I expect Bezerra to divine a quick submission win.
After Straus was knocked out by Pat Curran in a 2009 XFO event, he's blazed an impressive fourteen-piece sequence that carried him to victory in all but one, which was against Patricio Freire in the finals of last year's Season Four tournament. The streak includes wins over former WEC fighter Karen Darabedyan and former TUF contestants Jason Dent and (welterweight) Gideon Ray, all by decision.
Straus' Wikipedia page tells of unusual circumstances revolving around his high school wrestling career:
Daniel was a highly successful, and highly controversial, high school wrestler. As a junior at Sycamore High School of Cincinnati, Daniel finished 3rd in the state in Division I (135 lbs.) His senior year, he was ruled academically ineligible and missed the second half of the season (including the state tournament). However, he was given a wild card birth into the NHSCA Senior Nationals (high school senior national championship) and won the tournament. He is considered one of the best wrestlers of the decade (2001-2010) and one of the greatest Ohio high school wrestlers to never win a state title.
Spoon is an undefeated fighter out of the Apex Brazilian Jiu Jitsu team in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He started out as a wrestler and slowly picked up the tools of the trade, competing mostly as a lightweight and winning the King of the Cage championship at 155-pounds. He finished his first nine opponents (8 subs, 1 TKO) but won his last three by decision.
The betting lines hold Straus as a solid favorite which is hard to argue with, as his wrestling is perilous and his striking has improved.
My Prediction: Daniel Straus by decision.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com