Thursday night means more Bellator action live on Spike. This week it's Bellator 91, featuring Christian M'Pumbu vs. Attila Vegh for the Light Heavyweight title, plus the Lightweight tournament semifinals. Last week, Bellator turned in one of the most action packed shows in the company's history - can they keep it up tonight? Bellator airs live tonight on Spike TV starting at 10:00 p.m. ET with the prelims airing on Bloody Elbow and Spike.com starting at 8:00 p.m. ET. Join us here at Bloody Elbow tonight for live Bellator coverage.
Here's the full Bellator 91 fight card, with weigh in results, followed by a fight by fight preview and predictions:
Bellator MMA Light Heavyweight Title Fight: Christian M'Pumbu (201.6) vs. Attila Vegh (204.0)
Lightweight Tournament Semifinal Fight: Saad Awad (155.5) vs. Will Brooks (156.0)
Bantamweight Feature Fight: Josh Montoya (135.5) vs. Ed West (135.9)
Lightweight Tournament Semifinal Fight: Jason Fischer (155.6) vs. David Rickels (155.7)
Women's Feature Fight: Holly Holm (135.2) vs. Katie Merrill (134.7)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Blas Avena (170.7) vs. Lenny Lovato (170.9)
Catchweight Feature Fight(187 lbs.): Yair Moguel (187.6) vs. BrennanWard (184.9)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Andres Quintana (145.5) vs. Russell Wilson (145.0)
Heavyweight Feature Fight: Josh Appelt (245.1) vs. Josh Lanier (212.0)
Bantamweight Feature Fight: Adrian Cruz (135.5) vs. Nick Gonzalez (135.4)
Christian M'Pumbu (18-4-1 MMA; 3-1 Bellator) vs. Attila Vegh (28-4-2 MMA; 4-0 Bellator) - Light Heavyweight Title
There's a point in certain videogames (Legend of Zelda, I'm looking at you), where the hero has to face his toughest challenge yet - a shadow version of himself. It's you vs. you, as all of the skills you bring to the table, this shadow self brings as well.
Christian M'Pumbu vs. Attila Vegh? That's the shadow fight.
Stylistically, these two men are strikingly similar. Both are stand-up fighters who like to control the fight by striking from range. Both men use a variety of kicks (M'Pumbu partly from a Savate background, Vegh from Kenpo Karate), primarily focused on chopping down the legs of their opponents. Both have definite KO power that has been on display in Bellator. Both are willing to grind the fight out if need be, wearing their man down until the end.
In a fight like this, it's the small intangibles that will make the difference. Vegh has the better takedown defense - this is an area of weakness for champion M'Pumbu, who was grounded and decisioned by Travis Wiuff in a non-title fight late 2011. M'Pumbu has not fought since. That ring rust could perhaps play a role, but I don't see the takedown defense being a factor in what will likely play out as a pure kickboxing fight. If Vegh does decide to take it to the mat, he should have an advantage though.
The key difference for me may be M'Pumbu's ability to close the show late. While many fighters either win it in the first or move into cruise control, M'Pumbu remains a finisher throughout the fight - just ask Richard Hale who was KO'd in round 3 when he tired against M'Pumbu. Vegh has great finishing ability as well (his last fight was a 30 second KO of Wiuff last summer), but very few finishes outside of the first.
So for this shadow battle, things could go a lot of ways - an early KO from either side, a Vegh submission victory - but in the end, I think it will be the long game of M'Pumbu that wins it.
Prediction: Christian M'Pumbu by KO
This was originally set to be Rickels vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy, but an injury to the Russian brought Fischer into the tournament. And that's a shame, because Rickels vs. Sarnavskiy was a fight I was quite looking forward to. This fight is not bad by any means, but feels a bit pointless. That's because these two just met last November at Bellator 82. That fight was a Rickels unanimous decision win. It was a good, entertaining fight, but I saw it as a definite win for the Caveman. Since then, each man has won once - Rickels over Lloyd Woodard in the quarterfinals, and Fischer over Sevak Megakian in a prelim. I'm still not entirely sold on Rickels at this weight class, as neither one of his performances since dropping down from Welterweight have been great from bell to bell, but he remains a tough fighter who can break his opponents down. Fischer may have learned something from the last fight, but I still don't see him as being quite in Rickels's league.
Prediction: David Rickels by decision
Brooks had a memorable win in the quarterfinals, defeating Ricardo Tirloni and then giving a very emotional post-fight interview. At 26 years old and a 2 year pro, Brooks is a fighter with a world of potential ahead of him. He's a very skilled wrestler who wears his opponents down, but also does what is needed on the feet. I have high hopes for Brooks, and am excited to see what the future holds for him. Awad came in to the tournament as a late replacement for Patricky Pitbull. He made the most of that chance, scoring a 30 second KO of Guillaume DeLorenzi. He showed off good power in that fight, but I'm not sure what it says about his future. I hate the idea of a "lucky punch," but at the same time, I don't know if that is a result that can be easily duplicated, especially against the quality wrestling of Brooks. That said, in Brooks's game, if there is an area of weakness it's the striking, so perhaps lightning can strike twice. I'm not betting on it though.
Prediction: Will Brooks by TKO
The final main card fight is a non-tournament fight pitting Ed West (17-7) against Joshua Montoya (10-7). West is a solid fighter with a 4-3 record in Bellator. While that record may not look like much, his losses only come against the very best of the division - Zach Makovsky, Eduardo Dantas, and Marcos Galvao. Those are tough fights all. His last fight was the Galvao loss last spring. Montoya makes his Bellator debut here after fighting in the regional scene. He's had troubles being consistent, and has never defeated an opponent of much note (or even faced many high caliber opponents). This seems like a somewhat easy win for West, though of course you never know.
The biggest prelim fight sees decorated women's boxer Holly Holm (2-0) make her Bellator debut. She faces Katie Merrill (1-0). Holm is one of the best female boxers of all time, and has been training MMA with Greg Jackson. She makes a fascinating addition to the ever growing world of Women's MMA. For more on Holm, here's our colleague Ryan Bivens awarding her Comeback Fighter of 2012 over at Bad Left Hook:
Holm, after being world champion more times than I can be bothered to count, in 3 different weight divisions, was worthy of the hall of fame whether she made a comeback or not. She went unbeaten from June 2004 to December 2011 and dusted off legends Christy Martin and Mia St. John as early as 2005 (back when both were still considered among the best). Three years later Holm bested Mary Jo Sanders, widely regarded as the best female fighter in the world aside from Holm.
Check out Ryan's full article for even more on Holm.
No other big names on the prelims, though as the card is in New Mexico there are a lot of students from Greg Jackson's camp, so I would expect a decent level of skill from many we see on Spike.com.
UPDATE: Thanks to Marcello Lujan for pointing out that Holm is a Mike Winkeljohn trainee, not a Greg Jackson student. For much more on the prelim fighters from the New Mexico area, check out the great Bellator 91 coverage over at Southwest Fight News
Join us tonight for live coverage of Bellator 91, live on Spike TV.