A trifecta of tournament champions will crystallize at tonight's Bellator 107: Kongo vs. Graham event from The WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Experienced striking specialists Cheick Kongo and Peter Graham square off in the Heavyweight Tournament Finals while Joe Warren meets Travis Marx in the Bantamweight Tournament Finals and Brennan Ward faces Mikkel Parlo to crown the Middleweight Tournament Champion.
The featured card kicks off on Spike TV at 9:00 p.m. ET and Bloody Elbow will stream the entire undercard live and free at 7:00 p.m. ET.
UPDATE: A video of Nate and I discussing the Bellator 107 match ups has been embedded at the bottom of the article.
Cheick Kongo vs. Peter Graham -- Heavyweight Tournament Finals
Replacing "Spartan" is Peter Graham (9-5), a longtime K-1 standout who's tangled with the likes of Mark Hunt, Badr Hari, Remy Bonjasky and Semmy Schilt in the kickboxing ring, had an interesting debut. The typhoon of spinning hook kicks, cleaving elbows and elite boxing he assailed Eric Prindle with would've made for a stellar debut had Graham not gassed out after the 1st round. Still, despite sucking serious wind, the end result was more of a gradual decline in output than a disappointment for "The Chief," as he merely continued to chop away at Prindle at a more methodical pace.
Graham dove into MMA with almost zero experience and won just one of his first six outings overseas, but regrouped, assembled a more attuned system of coaches and training and has since reeled off eight-straight wins. Prindle was the only opponent in that streak and overall that Graham has not knocked out; which includes a 2nd-round TKO of Aleksander Emelianenko by way of a remorseless leg-kick massacre.
The hot-and-cold theme of Graham's Bellator debut somewhat describes Cheick Kongo's (19-8-2) tour in the UFC. Though he never isolated himself as a top contender, the towering French Thai-boxer earned respect by dabbing up current UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez in a valiant performance, notching a dramatic comeback-KO against Pat Barry and drawing with top contender Travis Browne, whom Kongo would've defeated if not for a point deduction (oddly excessive shorts grabbing).
Kongo has made noticeable strides with his wrestling and clinch game, but he's still a striker at heart. The big question revolving around this match is whether Kongo will stand and trade with an elite striker or impose his moderate size and length advantage (6'4" vs. 6'2") with clinching and takedowns. Graham is not just a K-1 level striker -- his repertoire is unusually suited to MMA, as his boxing is crisp and technical, his kicks are flung out fast and on-balance and his array of close-range elbows is downright nasty. Graham also claims to have welded up his grappling and takedown defense, which looked rock-solid against Prindle.
My Prediction: Peter Graham by TKO
Travis Marx vs. Joe Warren -- Bantamweight Tournament Finals
Joe Warren (9-3), "The Baddest Man on the Planet," unveiled his newfound submission savvy in his last turn against Nick Kirk. The Greco-Roman wrestling juggernaut advanced to reverse triangle position during a scramble and ended up straightening out an entangled arm to elicit the tapout, which is a very encouraging sign. Warren made his MMA debut in 2009 with very little MMA-specific training, and it's intriguing that he's yet to break the five-year mark in the sport and has plenty of room to evolve despite being 37-years-old.
Travis Marx (21-4) is a former Jackson's MMA product who forged a strong Bellator debut by dealing former Shooto champ and newly crowned ONE FC Bantamweight Grand Prix champion Masakatsu Ueda his second career loss. (Ueda also holds a win over Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas.)
Marx comes from a wrestling background but it'll be difficult going head-to-head with a Division 1 All-American in freestyle wrestling (University of Michigan) and a Greco-Roman Olympic hopeful like Warren. Being drastically undersized is no longer an issue for Warren at bantamweight and I don't think Marx has the punching power or submission prowess to score a finish.
My Prediction: Joe Warren by decision
Brennan Ward vs. Mikkel Parlo -- Middleweight Tournament Finals
Two young and promising prospects will duel for the Middleweight Tournament final, as 25-year-old wrestler Brennan Ward (8-1) meets 23-year-old Dane Mikkel Parlo (11-1). Ward literally agreed to replace Andreas Spang in the tournament while weighing in for a preliminary fight, and his spot in the finals justifies his bravado. He's started a little shaky in both of his tournament bouts but ultimately relied on his technical boxing and dominant wrestling to score finishes over Justin Torry (2nd-round TKO) and Joe Pacheco (2nd-round guillotine).
Parlo, a mature technician on the feet, raised some eyebrows in notching decisions over fan-favorite Brian Rogers in the quarterfinals and exacting a thoroughly one-sided decision over Jason Butcher in the follow up. Parlo's boxing is crisp, technical, well-timed and accurate, and training stateside with Xtreme Couture has given him a push in confidence.
The concern with Parlo is that he's yet to encounter the caliber of wrestling that Ward, a D3 All-American and championship runner-up, brings to the table. Additionally, Ward grew up boxing and is almost as deadly on the feet as well as able to phase-shift smoothly between striking and takedowns. Additionally, Parlo's boxing, while undoubtedly slick, seems to be based more on volume than power.
My Prediction: Brennan Ward by decision.
UK'er Martin Stapleton (12-2) got a tough draw for his Bellator debut in Saad Awad, who scored an early submission win. Stapleton is an aggressive swarmer with takedowns and clinch control, but must impose that strength with caution against a dangerous young striker in Derek Campos (12-3). Diego Brandao and Rich Clementi account for two of Campos' career losses, and the 25-year-old is an exceptional striker and athlete with a decent submission game to boot.
My Prediction: Derek Campos by decision.
Bellator 107 Preliminary Card
Robert White vs. Chris Jones -- Lightweight Feature Fight
Edson Berto vs. Patricky Pitbull -- Lightweight Feature Fight
Jonas Billstein vs. Cortez Coleman -- Middleweight Feature Fight
Matt Jones vs. Linton Vassell -- Light Heavyweight Feature Fight
Ryan McCurdy vs. Mike Mucitelli -- Light Heavyweight Feature Fight
Raphael Butler vs. Josh Burns -- Heavyweight Feature Fight