Brace yourselves Featherweight fans, Bellator 99 is almost upon us and the long strange search for a challenger for Bellator FW champ Pat Curran will begin. The tournament quarterfinals feature Bellator's perennial #2 FW Patricio Friere vs. UFC veteran Diego Nunes and Strikeforce veteran Justin Wilcox vs. Akop Stepanyan plus two more fights. The card also features aging vets Houston Alexander vs. Vladimir Matyushenko and the return of Bulgarian Heavyweight Blagoi Ivanov.
Bellator 99 airs on Spike TV tonight (September 13, 2013) at 8 p.m. ET and the under card will be streamed on Spike.com.
Here's the complete card and my thoughts on some of the fights:
Main Card (Spike TV)
Featherweight Patricio "Pitbull" Freire vs. Diego Nunes
If it seems like the Pitbull brothers have been finishing second in every Bellator tournament since the promotion's birth, it's understandable. Patricio has won a tournament, placed second and fought FW champ Pat Curran to a very hard fought decisio and his brother Patricky has competed in two Lightweight tournies with the promotion.
This time the hard-striking Patricio is going up against UFC vet Diego Nunes, one of those guys with all the skills except the ability to really press the attack. My suspicion is that Nunes' striking will be just a notch above Friere's but if he tries to coast he could get hurt.
Kid Nate's pick: Nunes by decision
Light Heavyweight Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Houston Alexander
* This fight may be happening at Heavyweight.
Bellator has no place for UFC cast offs, just ask CEO Bjorn Rebney. They do however have a place for these two 40-somethings.
Alexander, best known for his early UFC run of shocking upset TKO wins, his inability to wrestle and his final shameful antics against Kimbo Slice in a fight I personally consider the most disappointing in UFC history, has gone 6-4 (1 NC) since leaving the UFC in 2010. Matyushenko is making his Bellator debut after being cut by the UFC following 2 straight losses.
As long as neither man has aged so much he's just a shadow of his former self, look for Alexander to get taken down and beaten up on the ground although he's got the proverbial puncher's chance to get the early KO. If the fight gets past the first round, prepare for a reprise of Alexander's infamous war of the empty gas tanks against Kimbo.
Kid Nate's pick: Matyushenko via TKO
Featherweight Justin Wilcox vs. Akop Stepanyan
Strikeforce veteran and American Kickboxing Academy product Justin Wilcox makes his FW and Bellator debut as a late substitute for the winner of last season's tourny Shahbulat Shamhalaev. Stepanyan is a Russian striker with passable grappling.
Provided that Wilcox (who was a heavily muscled Lightweight) isn't ruined by the big weight cut, look for Wilcox to be cautious on the feet as he tries to impose his wrestling game on Stepanyan.
Kid Nate's pick: Wilcox via UD
Preliminary Card (Spike.com)
Light Heavyweight Savo Kosic vs. Hector Ramirez
Welterweight Andy Murad vs. Gavin Sterritt
Featherweight Goiti Yamauchi vs. Musa Toliver
Heavyweight Blagoi Ivanov vs. Manny Lara
You might recall Ivanov, the Bulgarian who beat Fedor Emelianenko in a Combat Sambo event only to later be stabbed in a Bulgarian nightclub in February of 2012. He's apparently recovered enough to return to the cage and it will be interesting to see if Bellator finally has a legit HW on the roster.
Light Heavyweight Virgil Zwicker vs. Nick Moghaddam