Bellator returns to the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma for Bellator 111: Dantas vs. Leone this Friday night (March 7, 2014). The event is headlined by Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas in a title defense against Anthony Leone and anchored by the opening quarterfinal round of the Season 10 Heavyweight Tournament, which features the most impressive field of heavyweight talent in the promotion's history.
(Spike TV at 9:00 p.m. ET)
Team Bombsquad's Anthony Leone (13-6) was brought into the fold after Rafael Silva, who's responsible for Leone's last defeat in a number-one contender match, was sidelined with a knee injury. After winning his first eight fights, Leone hit a rough patch of road in big-league performances, winning just one of his next six turns, though reputable names like Renan Barao (WEC 49) like Georgi Kharakhanyan (Bellator 28) are among the list. The skid inspired a drop to bantamweight and the four-fight streak that followed, which included a split decision over the UFC's Zach Makovsky, substantiated the decision as a wise one.
Eduardo Dantas (15-3), Nova Uniao's 25-year-old phenom, joined the Bellator ranks shortly after an unsuccessful title bid against Masakatsu Ueda for Shooto's featherweight crown and proceeded to whittle through the ranks in style. He debuted with an electric flying-knee finish over Wilson Reis before adding Ed West and Alexis Vila to his body count, then finagled an arm-triangle over Makovsky to snare Bellator's bantamweight crown. Though he suffered a surprising 1st-round KO loss to Tyson Nam in Shooto Brazil (which had no bearing on his title standing in Bellator), "Dudu" returned stateside to vanquish friend and training partner Marcos Galvao by 2nd-round KO in his last outing.
Leone has made notable improvements in recent years, such as traveling to Thailand to hone his Muay Thai and amplifying his submission grappling prowess. Leone comes from a great camp, he's a competent wrestler and a hard-nosed fighter overall. While he's doing fine in the technical department, he lacks a little firepower on the feet whereas Dantas is known for his wildly explosive striking acumen. Leone may have the edge in wrestling here, but Dantas' resounding advantage on the feet alone might be the entire story in this clash and, considering that he comes from a virtual vending machine for elite sub-grapplers in Nova Uniao, he should be a handful for Leone on the mat as well.
Prediction: Eduardo Dantas by decision.
"Big" Lavar Johnson (17-8) suffered just the second strike stoppage of his career and first loss by clean KO in his promotional debut bout with Vinicius Quieroz. Johnson is an outrageous, heavy-handed finisher (15 TKO, 2 subs, no decision wins), but one with a well documented weakness in the grappling department. Though his athleticism and 6'3", 250+ pound frame makes taking him down no easy task, Johnson's voracity is almost entirely diminished on his back.
Ryan Martinez (10-3) was a standout wrestler in high school who received a plethora of Division 1 scholarship offers, but ended up with a full-ride to prison instead. For the last half-decade or so, Martinez has found the right path and dedicated himself to MMA with the oversight of Roy Nelson in Las Vegas. The genesis of Martinez' MMA career was a slaughterhouse of sorts as he curb-stomped his four amateur opponents in less than a minute each, then went on to accrue one loss and five more nasty stoppages in his first eight outings as a pro. Martinez made his Bellator debut with a closely contested split-decision loss to Mike Wessell but notched a decision and two more 1st-round knockouts (Travis Wiuff, Rich Hale) before getting a taste of his own medicine against current champion Vitaly Minakov.
While Johnson has the fear-inducing punching power to silence anyone across from him, Martinez exudes all the elements of an unfavorable match up for him. Though the four-inch size difference will be quite pronounced, Martinez mirrors Johnson's striking heft but supplements it with a wide arsenal of takedown techniques, including trips and throws in the clinch, fundamentally sound single and double legs and, perhaps of most importance, the ability to chain his attempts together at an aggressive pace.
Prediction: Ryan Martinez by positional stoppage.
Peter Graham vs. Siala Siliga -- Heavyweight Tournament quarterfinals
Peter Graham (9-6) and Siala Siliga (5-2), better known as "Mighty Mo," are not only K-1 kickboxing crossovers but former K-1 champions. Graham won the 2003 K-1 World Gran Prix in Melbourne and Mighty Mo won the 2007 Hawaiian Gran Prix and the 2004 Las Vegas Gran Prix. Graham augments a decent list of K-1 accomplishments with a litany of full-contact karate titles and a professional boxing record (8-1-3).
Mighty Mo flaunts a brief stint as a pro boxer (2-1) but, in what will likely be the deciding factor in this collision, also unveiled a surprisingly effective wrestling and submission game in his last appearance. Ron Sparks shot in for a takedown but Mighty Mo's combination of adept counter-wrestling and guard passing led to a finish via keylock, which is an admirable accomplishment for a kickboxer with only a few years of MMA-specific training.
Graham will likely rely on his speed, movement and diversity to plug away at Mighty Mo, who typically prefers to dismember legs from afar with low kicks and trudge into range wielding a monstrous right hand. Graham's footwork and panache from distance, such as his front kicks and spinning hook kicks, and his propensity for cleaving elbows in tight range will be essential tools to keep Mighty Mo at bay. Overall, though Graham is more methodical and dynamic on the feet, Mighty Mo still has the power edge and can always fall back on his underrated wrestling skills.
Prediction: Mighty Mo by submission.
Mark Holata vs. Alexander Volkov -- Heavyweight Tournament quarterfinals
Recently unseated heavyweight champ Alexander Volkov (19-4) seems to have attracted the top-seed draw in the tournament with Mark Holata (12-4), who's been absent since October of 2012. Volkov is a young (25) and rangy (6'7") striker seeking vengeance after Minakov booted him off the heavyweight throne. The championship loss was Volkov's first since 2010 and snapped the Russian's ten-fight win streak.
Though Holata has been out of action for some time, the 31-year-old holds 1st-round wins over Shawn Jordan (1st-round KO) and Abe Wagner (foot lock), and wields a formidable blend of striking and submissions. The finesse and movement he'll need to unhinge Volkov, however, are not prevalent in his style, so Volkov's long and precise striking should do the trick as long as he respects Holata and treads cautiously in his wheelhouse.
(Spike.com, 7 p.m. ET)