The past two weeks of Bellator season 8 on Spike TV have featured big names and world title fights. This week, the focus is squarely on the roots of Bellator - the tournament. The season 8 Lightweight tournament kicks off this week with the entire quarterfinal round. Despite the loss of planned participant Patricky Pitbull, this remains the most stacked tournament of the season, with a lot of close fights tonight.
Bellator airs live tonight on Spike TV starting at 10:00 p.m. ET with the prelim card airing at 7:00 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:
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: David Rickels (155.4) vs. Lloyd Woodard (154.2)
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Thiago Michel (154.6) vs. Tiger Sarnavskiy (155.2)
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Ricardo Tirloni (155.8) vs. Will Brooks (156)
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Saad Awad (156.0) vs. Guillaum DeLorenzi (155.2)
Lightweight Feature Fight: Jason Fischer (155.8) vs. Sevak Magakian (155.2)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Sam Quito (169.4) vs. Ben Lagman (170.8)
Lightweight Feature Fight: J.P. Reese (155.6) vs. David Shepherd (155.6)
Heavyweight Feature Fight: Jason Fish (250.6) vs. Karl Etherington (238.6)
Catchweight Lightweight Feature Fight (165): John Schulz (163) vs. Amir Killah (165.4)
Catchweight Bantamweight Feature Fight (140): Nick Kirk (139.6) vs. Tony Zelinski (135.4)
This is the Mountain Man vs. the Caveman, and you can expect a grueling tooth and nail battle deserving of those names. Woodard and Rickels are similar fighters in many ways - they are both tough, war of attrition-type fighters who like to go forward and pressure their opponents into submission, often with unconventional attacks. And they've both been very successful along the way. Woodard scored a huge win in March over Patricky Pitbull, while his only two losses come against champion Michael Chandler and former #1 contender Rick Hawn. In that Hawn fight in particular, Woodard's aggression was his undoing, as the calmer Hawn frustrated Woodard, then put him out. Rickels is a Muay Thai trainee and a season 6 tournament finalist where he took Karl Amoussou to a close fought split decision - the only loss on Rickels's career.
One interesting point here is that the majority of Rickels's previous fights have been at Welterweight, and he's now making the drop to Lightweight. His last fight, a November decision win over Jason Fischer was fought at a catchweight of 160 as Rickels made the move down to 155. That fight was a decent performance, though a bit more slow paced than what we normally see out of Rickels. He won, but maybe not as impressively as to be expected. It's hard not to speculate how much the cut impacted his performance there, and how much the additional 5 pounds will impact him tonight.
With a fight this close, it's those small intangibles that may make the difference. And with these two pushing the pace, any weaknesses will be quickly exposed. Based on his last performance, I'm not positive Rickels is yet fully comfortable at Lightweight, which is all the opening Woodard needs.
Prediction: Lloyd Woodard by TKO
This was originally scheduled as DeLorenzi vs. Patricky Freire in the main event, but a knee injury suffered by Pitbull in training changed those plans, allowing Awad a big opportunity. But he has his work cut out for him if he wants to take advantage of that opportunity, because Guillaume DeLorenzi is a serious threat. The Canadian fighter has trained with Faras Zahabi. He was #9 on the Bloody Elbow Scouting Report a few years ago, and has improved since then. DeLorenzi is an aggressive fighter, who has some seriously nasty ground and pound in his arsenal. His goal is clear - get his opponent down, then beat them to a pulp. On the feet, he's been improving in recent fights and has added some nice kicks to his arsenal. He's still a bit wild in the striking exchanges, but is very dangerous.
Awad was briefly on the Team Carwin vs. Team Nelson season of The Ultimate Fighter, losing to Joey Rivera in the qualifying round. He has decent experience, including a Strikeforce fight. The trouble for him in this fight is his wrestling. Rivera defeated him entirely with wrestling, as Awad was on his back and had no answer for the stronger Rivera. In general, Awad is a fighter who favors technique and leverage over power. That cost him on TUF, and it's a big issue here against the stronger DeLorenzi. On the feet, Awad is somewhat similar to his opponent, with a style that often abandons defense in the name of offense.
DeLorenzi vs. Pitbull was a close, tough battle, but here, I don't see a route for an Awad victory.
Prediction: Guillaume DeLorenzi by ground and pound TKO
This is a fight with worlds of potential, as two skilled strikers meet. Brazilian Thiago Michel is a very talented kickboxer. It's sometimes hard to know if a fighter's kickboxing credentials are legit, but in the case of Michel, they most definitely are. He holds a win in the excellent It's Showtime promotion, and has fared very well in kickboxing and Muay Thai. More to the point, he's done a terrific job applying those skills to MMA. Michel really brings a high level of technical striking to his fights, using movement, a variety of strikes, and a highly effective push kick to get the job done. That push kick is great - reminiscent of Josh Thomson at his best. Thanks to those skills, he was ranked #1 on our Scouting Report. While his strength remains the striking game, Michel has improved his ground game, becoming a much more complete fighter.
Alexander Tiger Sarnavskiy is from Russia's Rusfighters Sports Club, home to many other Bellator fighters including Alexander Shlemenko. He's also another former BE Scouting Report talent, ranking #7. He was undefeated at 20-0 when he made his Bellator debut last fall, but lost a close split decision to Rich Clementi. He's simkilar to Michel in many ways - a talented, aggressive striker who is happier on the feet, but always evolving on the ground. He can be quite aggressive on the feet, but combines that aggression with tight hand defense.
Sarnavskiy's last fight was an interesting one that adds a new wrinkle to this fight. Against Clementi, Sarnavskiy was outgrappled, which was not a surprise for the striker. His next fight was against Tony Hervey, and Sarnavskiy turned in a very uncharacteristic performance, using minimal striking and instead tentatively grappling Hervey to a decision win. That makes this fight hard to call. If they decide to make it a kickboxing fight, I give the slight edge to Michel. But if Sarnavskiy decides to wrestle, he can find success as Michel couldn't deal with the wrestling pressure from Brent Weedman at Bellator 66. Because of that, I give the edge to Sarnavskiy, but this is a very tough one to call.
Prediction: Alexander Sarnavskiy by decision
You could look at this as a chance for Tirloni to gain redemption, as the Brazilian fighter lost a close split decision in the season 7 tournament semifinals to Dave Jansen - a fight many felt Tirloni should have won. A talented 8 year veteran, Tirloni is an all action fighter who is highly dangerous on the feet and on the mat. When striking, he employs an aggressive Muay Thai style - that striking is what helped him against Jansen, particularly a nice lead left hook. On the mat, he is, again, aggressive, mixing in ground and pound with submission attempts. In short, he's a lot to deal with, no matter where the fight takes place. Tirloni has good takedown defense (though thanks to his ground skills, he doesn't always mind being taken down), though a bad habit of dropping his head when he comes in. That habit has gotten him tagged a number of times. He is, once again, a former BE Scouting Report talent at #2 (behind Thiago Michel).
Will Brooks is largely unknown, but is ready to make a name for himself here. The undefeated Midwest fighter is a wrestler first and foremost, with very good ground control. But he's far from a lay and pray fighter, with stoppages in all but 1 of his fights. On the feet, he keeps his striking simple, but executes everything very well. It's not a flashy style, but sometimes, that's what is most effective. He made a big splash at the Dream NYE show last year, defeating Satoru Kitaoka by TKO. That fight was an impressive showing from Brooks, who remained calm under pressure, showed off very good submission defense and heavy hands, and wowed the crowd with a spectacular suplex.
On paper, this is Tirloni all the way, but it would be a mistake to count Brooks out. Bjorn Rebney has said big things are in store for Brooks, and he may very well be right - this is a good fighter who is constantly improving and doing things just right. I see Tirloni's aggression working against him here, allowing the more precise Brooks to get the upset win.
Prediction: Will Brooks by KO
The prelim card is largely made up of local fighters from the Michigan area. Some interesting prospects will be in action, though none of particular note just yet in their careers.
Join us tonight for live coverage of Bellator live on Spike TV.