Bellator 68 takes place this Friday, May 11, from Caesars in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The main attraction is a final round match of the Season 6 Featherweight Tournament that pits Daniel Straus vs. Marlon Sandro. Straus has the potential to skyrocket in the consensus MMA world rankings if he can impose his wrestling on the #5-ranked Nova Uniao gunslinger.
The Season 6 Bantamweight Tournament clicks forward a notch with a semifinal bout between Marcos Galvao, another Brazilian bomber representing Nova Uniao, and Travis Marx of Jackson's MMA. The colorful and ever-ready veteran Seth Petruzelli draws Carmelo Marrero in a catch-weight (230-pounds) battle of former UFC fighters. The remaining slot on the televised broadcast, which airs on MTV2 at 8:00 p.m. ET, is a rematch between Dream welterweight champ Marius Zaromskis and Waachiim Spiritwolf. The pair initially met at Strikeforce Challengers 12 but an early and accidental poke to Spiritwolf's eye caused an anticlimactic No Contest.
Spike.com and Bellator.com will stream a full hour of preliminary matches at 7:00 p.m. ET. The undercard shapes up like this:
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Daniel Straus (19-4) vs. Marlon Sandro (22-3)
Straus was a promising, standout wrestler in high school, but declared academically ineligible for the latter half of his senior year, which prevented him from competing in the state tournament (though he won the nationals as a wild-card entry). He's considered a bit of a sleeper because his unquestionable prowess isn't backed up by gleaming collegiate credentials.
Straus is far from a one-dimensional wrestler in MMA, mostly on account of his crisp and fluid boxing and strong grasp of timing, footwork and range.
A southie, Straus has surprisingly technical boxing, sharp low kicks and legit counter-striking. I appreciate how Straus never forces anything and, rather, creates and capitalizes on opportunities through intelligence. He's a takedown threat with launching doubles from outside or employing a slick combination of Greco and Judo trips/throws in the clinch. To the left, he wisely ushers Jeremy Spoon into a corner with stiff boxing and then springs a deep double leg, showing efficiency through the angle, location and timing of his attack.
Like every prominent Nova Uniao rep, Sandro is known for having a high-level BJJ black belt under Andre Pederneiras but his preference to wield head-bashing boxing instead. He's finished 6 of his last 9 wins in the 1st-round and each victory was facilitated by his cinder-block fists. Sandro's technique takes a backseat to his raw punching power -- he'd rather wind up one hellacious looper after another than finesse his way into taking the round on points. His uppercut is not only his deadliest punch, but his weapon of choice to discourage wrestlers from dropping levels.
Sandro is a bit of an anomaly: planting your feet and throwing heaters is not typically conducive to defending takedowns, but Sandro's pure quickness and power have been an effective deterrent thus far.
He'll flash out uppercuts and straight knees from the fringe to discourage wrestlers from attacking his waist and hips. To the left, against Nazareno Malegarie, Sandro shows his knack for committing to power-shots while retaining the movement and awareness to sprawl -- even when he's assaulted in mid-flurry.
From a wrestling standpoint, Straus, along with maybe Pat Curran, represents the most formidable opponent Sandro has encountered. With a high-octane striking and submission acumen, wrestling has been asserted as a sensible tool to unhinge the Brazilian. However, Sandro actually has quite an under-rated game of his own with abilities that are well above average, both offensively and defensively.
His unruly blitz of leather will be contrasted with Straus's tight and more methodical approach, and Straus will surely look to dodge haymakers and slice clean and straight punches through his porous defense. Since this will be a southpaw (Straus) versus a traditionally-stanced fighter (Sandro), the strategics of placing the lead foot outside of their opponent's to center them in the sweet spot of their striking zone will be at play here. Expect a little "feeling out" process early while either looks to establish their lead foot position in open space.
This is speculation, but Sandro seems to have undergone a noticeable change in his unbridled aggression since losing to Curran. He's consistently thrown caution to the wind and tried to overwhelm his opponent with wide hooks, a streaking overhand right and the lead uppercut -- all of which can finish the fight if they land, but also come with gaping defensive holes that can be penetrated. Straus's calculating counter-game and hard, stiff punches make him well equipped to find those holes, especially if he throws Sandro off-track by mixing in his wrestling.
The betting lines have Sandro as a narrow favorite in the -150 range. Sandro is a sentimental favorite and has my vote, but Straus has an extremely poisonous style for him -- his wrestling, agility, timing and tight counter-striking could easily be conjoined to steal a decision. Sandro's offensive firepower is potent but somewhat predictable and I'd almost call this Straus's fight to lose as long as he can avoid the home-run swing.
My (hesitant) Prediction: Marlon Sandro by TKO.
Marcos "Loro" Galvao (11-5) vs. Travis Marx (19-3)
Galvao has long been one of the most under-rated bantamweights in MMA. He's a cunning grappler (5x Brazilian National Champion and 2x World Champion) who, like Sandro, is far more content to caveman-club his opponent with giant, whirling meathooks. Galvao's rep suffered dearly from back-to-back knockout losses in the WEC, though each was delivered by some of the division's biggest punchers (Brian Bowles, Damacio Page).
Since his disappointing stretch in the WEC, the only losses Galvao has endured were highly controversial decisions to Joe Warren (unanimous; Bellator 41) and Alexis Vila (split; Bellator 55). He's a fairly tall (5'7") scrapper who unloads both hands furiously and prioritizes knockout power over defensive fundamentals. He's also deceivingly adept with wrestling and clinch-fighting, as he displayed against Warren, a Greco Roman standout. Galvao stuffed most of Warren's takedowns, negated them by standing right back up or punished Warren for trying with thunderous punches and clinch-knees. Grappling-wise, his transitions, scrambling, and guard-play are overwhelming and frenetically paced.
Marx, a Greg Jackson product, played spoiler to Masakatsu Ueda's Bellator and stateside debut with a stone-faced dismantling via striking and wrestling. Conducting himself with the Fight I.Q. that most Jackson/Winklejohn fighters are known for, Marx jumped all over Ueda early with a series of low- and mid-range kicks, then sprung for perfectly timed takedowns. Marx did nothing brash or fancy -- he simply executed an intelligent and flawless strategy that took Ueda entirely out of his element.
I see no reason why he wouldn't replicate that strategy against Galvao, who is prone to become fixated on his offense and leave his chin hanging out while trading. The mechanics of this match up are almost identical to those in the Straus vs. Sandro affair, where Marx should draw upon a cerebral implementation of his diverse arsenal to combat Galvao's seething aggression and head-hunting.
Marx might not have the exemplary wrestling that Straus does, but he compensates for that with his mental aptitude. At an average of -260, Galvao gets a bigger push on the betting lines than Sandro, but I'm equally hesitant on account of Marx's variety and intelligence versus Galvao's predictable outrage of aggression.
My (hesitant, again) Prediction: Marcos Galvao by TKO.
Seth Petruzelli (14-6) vs. Carmelo Marrero (14-5)
Petruzelli has a background in karate and wrestling, but his veteran savvy, diversity and craftiness are his best assets. He was last seen in a 1st-round KO of Ricco Rodriguez at Bellator 48, which gave him a pair of wins after his pair of losses in the UFC (Ricardo Romero, Karlos Vemola). Marrero is a talented submissionist (6 subs, 2 TKOs, 6 decisions) who holds an armbar victory over UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo. He's a powerful cat with decent wrestling, a complete grappling game and resiliency, having never lost via strikes (2 sub losses, 3 decisions).
Since Petruzelli thrives at finding his opponent's chin with traditional boxing and unorthodox kicks and punches, the emphasis might shift to the hustle-game if Petruzelli can't rock him. On the feet, Petruzelli is extremely athletic and agile for a big man, but his takedown defense is not a strong point and Marrero stands to take control in the clinch and grappling phases. The key for Petruzelli will be to sting to crisp flurries and circle into open space continually, while Marrero will look to tie up and grind Petruzelli into the floor to work his top game.
This would normally be a rough match up for Petruzelli, but his black belt in BJJ sways me in his direction. This, along with his wisdom, confidence and superior motion gives him multiple avenues to pursue, while Marrero is tasked with closing range, getting a takedown and maintaining position (which he could, in fact, pull off).
My Prediction: Seth Petruzelli in a back-and-forth decision
Marius Zaromskis (16-6) vs. Waachiim Spiritwolf (9-9-1)
Zaromskis lit the Dream Welterweight Grand Prix afire with consecutive head-kick drubbings of Mach Sakurai and Jason High to become Dream's first welterweight champion. Venturing stateside with big expectations, Zaromskis has pegged 3 wins and 3 losses with one No Contest to Spiritwolf, though only losing to reputable opposition (Nick Diaz and Evangelista Santos in Strikeforce, Jordan Mein in the Score Fighting Series). He's a creative and malicious kickboxer who throws crushing kicks, sharp punches from the southpaw stance, flying knees and the occasional rolling axe-kick (see gif below).
Spiritwolf is a fan-friendly fighter whose heart and warrior spirit stand above his other attributes. Despite being finished in 3 of his 9 losses (1 sub, 2 TKOs) he's still tough to stop and fights tooth-and-nail from bell to bell. He's capable in most areas but prefers to handle his business standing.
Zaromskis enjoys a strong betting edge at a minimum of -350, which is hard to argue with. Spiritwolf is the type of gamer that can never be counted out, but Zaromskis's speed and kickboxing repertoire should be too much.
My Prediction: Marius Zaromskis by TKO.
All betting line references via BestFightOdds.com
Marius Zaromskis gif via The UG