Tonight, Bellator returns in a big way as the company makes their much anticipated Spike TV debut. And they're making that debut in style, with a stacked, two title fight card featuring some of the company's best talent. Bellator airs live tonight on Spike TV starting at 10:00 p.m. ET with the prelim card airing at 8:00 p.m. ET on Spike.com. Join us here at Bloody Elbow tonight for live Bellator coverage.
Here's the full Bellator fight card, with weigh-in results, followed by a preview of the main card action:
Bellator Featherweight Championship Fight: Pat Curran (144.8) vs. Patricio Pitbull (144.5)
Bellator Lightweight Championship Fight: Michael Chandler (154.6) vs. Rick Hawn (155)
Light Heavyweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Mikhail Zayats (205.7) vs. Babalu Sobral (205.3)
Light Heavyweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Seth Petruzelli (204.8) vs. Jacob Noe (205.9)
Light Heavyweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Emanuel Newton (205.4) vs. Atanas Djambazov (205.6)
Light Heavyweight Feature Fight: Hector Ramirez (204.8) vs. Jason Lambert (205.5)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Aaron Miller (145.8) vs. Joe Camacho (145.8)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Joe Williams (170.7) vs. Jamie Yager (170.8)
Lightweight Feature Fight: Savant Young (155.5) vs. Mike Guymon (155.7)
Catchweight Feature Fight(165 lbs.): Brian Warren(165) vs. J.J. Ambrose (164.5)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Mario Navarro(144.8) vs. Cleber Luciano(144.9)
Michael Chandler (10-0 MMA; 7-0 Bellator) vs. Rick Hawn (14-1 MMA; 6-1 Bellator) - Lightweight Title
Champion Michael Chandler forever put his name in the Bellator history books with his spectacular title victory over Eddie Alvarez. In that fight, many expected the wrestler Chandler to try to grind his way to a victory against his striker opponent. Instead, Chandler took the fight directly to Alvarez, engaging in a brutal back-and-forth stand-up war that saw both men recover from near defeat. In the end, Chandler used his heavy hands to stun Alvarez, then his ground skills to first control, then submit the champion. Since then, the undefeated Chandler has fought only once - an easy 2012 non-title TKO win against Akihiro Gono.
Rick Hawn is an Olympic judoka who claimed this title shot by winning the season 6 Lightweight tournament. Though not as notable as Chandler vs. Alvarez, he has his own Bellator moment courtesy of a very impressive judo throw KO victory. That KO shows Hawn's strengths - a combination of judo and heavy hands, mixed in with a fair degree of violence.
A former Welterweight, Hawn should have a definite strength advantage in this fight, and that could make a big impact. With his judo background, Hawn knows how to ground Chandler, even without that strength, and traditionally, wrestlers don't love fighting off their backs. He also has crisp boxing, and if Chandler uses the same kind of leaping in hook he showed against Alvarez, I would expect Hawn to land a counter. The tough thing about this fight is knowing just how Chandler will approach it. No one expected him to fight Alvarez standing, and we can't assume he'll keep playing the striking game against Hawn.
In the end, I see Chandler having too varied a game here. He can use angles to catch Hawn standing, and apply the pressure to wear him down. Hawn's strength and hands could be a difference maker though - this is a very tough one to call.
Prediction: Michael Chandler by decision
Pat Curran (17-4 MMA; 7-1 Bellator) vs. Patricio Freire (17-1 MMA; 5-1 Bellator) - Featherweight Title
Featherweight champion Pat Curran makes his first title defense here after winning the belt from Joe Warren in an all-time brutal beating last year. During his Bellator run he has seen tremendous success, challenging for the Lightweight title, then dropping down the Featherweight. A very cerebral, technical fighter, Curran was at times criticized for being boring, but he's really turned that around winning 4 straight at Featherweight, 3 by highlight reel finish. Curran is an excellent striker, who is also very capable on the ground.
Patricio Pitbull has history working with Team Nogueira and Black House in Brazil. He's had a successful Bellator run, with his lone career loss coming against Joe Warren. He won the season 4 tournament to get here. Like Curran, Patricio has both ground and stand-up skills. On the feet, he is more of a boxer combining Chute Boxe forcefulness with more classic boxing skills. On the mat, his Nogueira pedigree shows, with a solid grappling game focused on masterfully implementing the basics. He's also a very patient fighter who will wait for his opening before attacking.
That combination of patience and attack can be seen in both men, making this a fascinating fight. Both should spend time feeling each other out, looking for an opening, either on the feet or the mat. This is one where the first man to find the weakness in his opponent's armor is likely the man to win. And in my eyes, that man will be Curran. The champion is smart, skilled at finding openings, and has too many different ways to finish. It may take him some time, but I see him finding a way to end the Brazilian's night eventually.
Prediction: Pat Curran by TKO
Renato Sobral (37-9 MMA; Bellator Debut) vs. Mikhail Zayats (19-6 MMA; Bellator Debut) - Light Heavyweight Tournament
This is a quarter-final fight in the season 8 Light Heavyweight tournament. And, with all due respect to Zayats, this is clearly all about Babalu. The UFC and Strikeforce veteran is the easy favorite here, as his years of high level experience give him a huge advantage. The one trouble is that Babalu has been largely inactive in recent years. Since 2010, he's only fought once, taking only 31 seconds to defeat an over-aggressive Tatsuya Mizuno in OneFC. At 37 years old, 16 years into a pro career, and now a semi-inactive fighter, you have to think age will play a factor for Babalu sooner than later.
The question is, will Zayats be the man to take advantage of that age? The M-1 veteran is a decent grappler wih good jiu jitsu experience, but that's probably a disaster against Babalu. Sobral is a superior submission fighter, which means he'll have a definite advantage in Zayats's area of strength. That's bad news for the Russian.
Prediction: Babalu Sobral by submission
The prelims for this card are solid, with a number of notable fighters. The two most important fights are a pair of Light Heavyweight quarter-finals.
On one side of the bracket, Seth Petruzelli (14-6) takes on Jacob Noe (8-1). Petruzelli is clearly the name fighter here, but his last outing (a 2012 K-1 loss) approached Bob Sapp levels of non-effort. I'll take Noe for the upset. Winner moves on to face the Babalu/Zayats winner.
On the other side, Emanuel Newton (18-7-1) faces Atanas Djambazov (17-2) with King Mo likely next up for the winner. Netwon is a 10 year pro who has faced some solid names, while Djambazov fights for the first time in the US. He's taking a step up in competition in Bellator, and that has worked out in the past, but here, I'll go with the veteran Newton.
Join us tonight for live coverage of Bellator live on Spike TV.