This article originally appeared at jiMMA.
Around a month ago, I wrote a quick piece about how excited I was that Bellator was back. In spite of the postponed and then cancelled heavy weight tournament final catastrophe, Bellator has continued to put on solid cards that repeatedly deliver, to the extent that I wonder why more people aren't watching. This Friday sees an awesome card, headlined by Eddie Alvarez's long awaited rematch with Shinya Aoki, but also features three tournament semi finals.
Alvarez (22-3) vs Aoki (30-5-2)
While Bellator is always exciting, it is quite rare that they put on fights between two fighters with such established profiles as Eddie Alvarez and Shinya Aoki. While Alvarez may have lost some of his shine since his loss to Micheal Chandler, he remains one of the most formidable lightweights outside of the UFC/Strikeforce. His opponent is the other long time pretender to the title of best non-Zuffa lightweight. A win for Aoki would represent his first significant success on foreign soil and a win for Alvarez would shoot him straight back up the rankings and in a strong bargaining position with his Bellator contract coming to an end.
- Alvarez had a seven fight win streak snapped at Bellator 58 by young upstart Micheal Chandler, losing his Bellator title in the process.
- Aoki has won seven fights in a row, all but one coming in Japan and five of those wins coming from submission.
- He won his last fight in the US, a Strikeforce bout against Lyle Beerbohm.
Head to Head
Despite a background in wrestling, a well rounded game and a sprinkling of submission wins on his record, Eddie Alvarez fights with a predominantly boxing attack. There is clearly no secret to where Aoki likes to fight and unusually for modern MMA, he will pull guard very early in a fight to take it to the ground. There ought to be no question of Alvarezengaging in a ground battle with Aoki. Aoki's wrestling is not great, but it is the sneakier submissions, like the heel hook he tapped to back in 2008, that Alvarez will need to look out for.
Shinya Aoki won the first encounter pretty quickly, in typically opportunistic fashion. I feel that going in to this bout, Alvarez will be extremely wary of getting into any kind of scramble situation. Should he stick to a decent game plan of boxing from the outside and refraining from chasing a butt-scooting Aoki around the cage, he should be able to dominate the fight.
Alvarez should have the sense and wrestling defense to keep the fight where he wants it, although I do not see him getting a knock out. Alvarez by decision.
Middleweight Tournament Semis
After Bruno Santos was ruled out of the middleweight tournament with a shoulder injury, Bellator have put Andreas Spang in his place. The former kickboxer faces fearsome special education teacher Brian Rogers, who produced an incredible flying knee knockout in his quarter final fight. Rogers is a powerful fighter with a ton of confidence and I expect him to progress to the finals.
In the other semi final, Vyacheslav Vasilevsky faces Maiquel Falcao, with both men having looked impressive in their quarter final decision wins. Vasilevsky has an incredibly impressive record, having won his last fifteen fights. He uses a good sambo pedigree and technical boxing to control fights. His opponent is a knockout artist who enjoyed a contraversial one fight tenure with the UFC. Vasilevsky has all the tools to control this fight and pick Falcao apart in any area he chooses, so long as he avoids a brawl.
Lightweight Tournament Semis
Both Woodard and Hawn looked incredible in their opening fights of this lightweight tournament. This match up, between two powerful lightweights is my pick for fight of the night. Rick Hawn uses his elite judo background to ensure he can keep the fight standing, to better make use of his incredibly powerful hands. Woodard has a gnarly wrestling and submission style and similar stand up. He has had great success though, only previously being beaten by current lightweight champion Micheal Chandler. Woodard seems the most likely winner since he seems the most suited to the scrap this fight will undoubtedly turn into.
Thiago Michel Silva made it to the semi finals with a controversial split decision victory over Rene Nazere. That was his first win not to come by way of knock out I find it unlikely that he will score a KO over gritty veteran Brent Weedman. Weedman has had an up and down career but as a fighter who performs well in all aspects of MMA, the American has more ways to win than the Brazilian.
That's it then. Bellator ploughs on with yet another great card of fights. We will be left knowing the finalists of two tournaments and one man will be able to claim he is the best non-Zuffa lightweight in MMA. I really do wonder why more people aren't watching Bellator.