Live from the Caesars Windsor in Ontario, Canada, Bellator 64
Ben Askren vs. Douglas Lima
Ben Askren (9-0) vs. Douglas Lima (21-4)
Ben Askren bears the ultra-elite credentials of an Olympic caliber wrestler. Though he's heavy on decisions (5 with 1 TKO and 3 subs), Askren's chosen to adopt BJJ as his second dimension and it's served as a nice counterpart to his stellar wrestling. After he gets the takedown -- and he will get it -- Askren is busy on top with motivated guard passing. His striking is his weakest aspect, but he can generally bring the fight to the floor at any time and he has improved his stand-up under the watchful eye of Duke Roufus.
Hailing from the Atlanta brach of American Top Team, Douglas Lima has been on a seething tear. The former MFC welterweight champion is riding a 9-fight roll and shredded his way through last season's welterweight tourney with a decision win over Steve Carl and the aforementioned shellackings of Saunders and Lozano. Lima is a perilous striker and slick BJJ player who secured the fourth spot on the 2010 Bloody Elbow Scouting Report, and represents Askren's biggest challenge to date as far as high-level sub-grappling.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Make sure to peruse the 2010 Judo Chop on Askren's takedown prowess by Kid Nate and K.J. Gould. Two words to describe his wrestling: tenacious and relentless. Askren's takedowns have been unstoppable because of the way he transitions from one technique to another until he secures it. Preceding the sequence shown to the right, Askren had pursued a double and then switched to a low single. The action picks up with a turtled Askren holding the right ankle, seemingly in a futile position. His opponent, Dan Hornbuckle, tries to break free but Askren stands, grips the inner thigh for more control and hits the inside trip.
Lima is a double-threat with heavy-handed striking and smooth BJJ. He can afford to be a bit reckless standing as a takedown only opens the door to his serpentine guard, and he generally puts opponents on the defensive quickly with an active set of hips. Since takedown defense is not his strong suit, look for Lima to use footwork and try to catch Askren on the way in or fire up his diverse ground game to sweep, submit or escape. As mentioned in the Judo Chop, Askren is unorthodox and improvises on the fly, making him far from invulnerable to a talented submissionist like Lima.
It's hard to argue with the -320 slant on the betting lines for Askren, especially since he's toppled more prestigious welterweights with better takedown defense. However, Lima's combination of deadly striking and BJJ is just as good or better than anyone Askren's faced thus far.
The safe prediction is that Askren will glue himself to Lima and chain-attack with takedowns while avoiding subs from the top once he gets them, but Lima is the type of explosive prospect (still just 24-years-old) who only needs a sliver of daylight to end the fight, standing or on the mat, and 5 rounds is a lot of time to pounce on the slightest mistake. Knowing Askren will eventually fling a few strikes and shoot, Lima should constantly threaten with straight and flying knees while sailing his punches from chest-to-hips level to counter takedowns. Out-hustling Askren with slippery transitions on the mat, finding his chin on the feet or submitting him in a scramble is not beyond comprehension.
My Prediction: Ben Askren by decision.
With his lone defeat coming by way of the UFC's Charles Oliveira, Alexandre Bezerra is a vicious prospect with a penchant for finishing fights (8 subs, 4 TKOs). In addition to their Brazilian heritage, Bezerra shares many similarities with opponent Marlon Sandro: both are fast-paced aggressors with a volatile medley of striking and BJJ. "Popo" has crushed all five Bellator foes, the last being a rear-naked choke on Kenny Foster at Bellator 62. Check out the unbelievable athleticism to stay on his feet with a handstand flip after attempting a whizzer to counter throw (right). Now that's just silly.
Wielding his best weapon (the uppercut), Sandro clobbered Roberto Vargas into a different time zone in their quarterfinal match up, sealing the deal with a rear-naked choke in the first. Despite their likenesses, Sandro does have the edge in experience and past level of competition, and also holds a black belt (from Nova Uniao, of the highest prestige) in BJJ versus Bezerra's brown. Regardless of his setback against newly minted champ Pat Curran, Sandro holds a lofty ranking as the #5 featherweight.
Sandro comes in as the favorite at just over -200 on the betting lines. It's hard not to take him here, as he's simply a more rugged and proven version of Bezerra. Sandro has more power on the feet and an elaborate ground game, so Bezerra's best chance is to capitalize with counters while Sandro is blazing wide loopers, as there are holes to be found there.
My Prediction: Marlon Sandro by TKO.
Travis "T-Train" Marx was a three-time high school state champion wrestler in Utah who went on to compete at the junior college level. When switching over to MMA, he tailored that background into more of a submission grappling style with Jeremy Horn and now trains at Jackson's MMA, where he runs the fitness program for kids and amateurs. 10 of his 18 wins are by submission and he's finished 4 by TKO with 4 decisions.
Masakatsu Ueda is a former Shooto featherweight (132-pounds) champion who's managed to float around on the fringe of the top-ten in the consensus world bantamweight rankings. In Japan, he was a standout wrestler in college and holds a win over Olympic wrestling hopeful and MMA icon Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto. Ueda now trains under Yuki Nakai at the Paraestra Gym in Tokyo.
As you can see from his highlight reel above, Ueda is a crafty grappler with strong takedowns and throws, creative transitions, excellent command of position and uncanny scrambling. His striking is not stellar but functional, and decisions account for the vast majority of his wins (10 of 15). Ueda defeated #1 Bellator bantamweight contender Eduardo Dantas and former WEC fighter and Shooto lightweight (143-pounds) champ Akitoshi Tamura by decision, he fought to a draw with UFC bantamweight Takeya Mizugaki and Bellator's Marcos Galvao, and his only loss is a 2010 submission to Shuichiro Katsumura.
Udea gets the biggest push on the betting line out of all the main-card fighters in the -400 range. While he's a rightful favorite and my pick as well, that seems a little steep for a trumpeted Japanese fighter making his stateside debut against a well-rounded, wrestling-based Greg Jackson fighter like Marx. Still, Ueda has proven himself against A-level competition and is a nightmare on the mat for any 135er.
My Prediction: Masakatsu Ueda by decision.
Rodrigo "Ratinho" Lima is an undefeated bantamweight who recently started training with the assassins at Team Nogueira. Lima is a potent finisher with 8 stoppages in the first frame (5 subs, 3 TKOs) and fights with a maniacal, fan-friendly pace. He's frighteningly quick and has huge power in his hands and knees, he's unafraid to hurl wild high-kicks and he's a solid wrestler with a brown belt in BJJ.
Hiroshi "Ironman" Nakamura is yet another stellar addition to this bantamweight lineup. The DEEP and Shooto vet drew with #2 featherweight Hatsu Hioki and defeated former WEC fighter Yoshiro Maeda and Masakazu Imanari; both by decision, though Nakamura was imposing legit submission attempts on Imanari, who is a feisty grappler and leglock psychotic.
Nakamura's striking is mediocre, but he's a stifling grappler with powerful takedowns, enveloping control and phenomenal submission defense. His intention will be to shrink space and stick to Lima while warding off any submission attempts from the top.
The betting lines have this scrap about dead even. I agree, but I'm giving Lima the nod despite his lack of top-shelf and overall experience. While Nakamura could smother him for a decision, "Ratinho" will come out unloading the cannons and looking for the quick stoppage. Nakamura has been rocked with strikes but saved by Shooto's standing 8-count, but won't have that luxury here.
My Prediction: Rodrigo Lima by TKO.
Bezerra handstand-flip gif via MiddleEasy.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
All betting references via BestFightOdds.com
Travis Marx video via Jackson's MMA Youtube Channel
"Wicky" Nishiura vs. Hiroshi Nakamura video via Tapout Radio