Bellator 117 takes place tonight from the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and a new welterweight champion will be crowned in the headlining bout between Douglas Lima and Rick Hawn. Both semifinal matches for the Lightweight Tournament will play out on the main card, which pit Derek Campos vs. Patricky Freire and Derek Anderson vs. Marcin Held. Dynamic finisher Karl Amoussou will end a half-year absence from the Bellator cage when he meets David Gomez in the main card's opening scrap.
The void left after Ben Askren's departure will be filled in tonight's main event as multifarious assassin Douglas Lima (25-5) battles former Olympic Judoka Rick Hawn (17-2) for the vacant welterweight title. In the Season 4 Welterweight Tournament finals, "Genghis" Hawn suffered his first career loss to Jay Hieron by semi-contentious decision. Then, after dropping to 155 and winning the Lightweight Tournament, he tasted defeat for the second time while vying for Michael Chandler's lightweight title. When Askren flew the coop, Hawn rejoined the welterweight ranks and carved through last season's Welterweight Tournament brackets (Herman Terrado and Brent Weedman by decision, Ron Keslar by KO) to clench the tourney and earn a title shot.
Lima is a widely respected banger with violent tendencies, and a veritable artisan of highlight-reel finishes. He's a two-time Welterweight Tournament winner (Season 5 and 8) and every tournament opponent save one (WSOF's Steve Carl) was altogether annihilated by TKO or KO. Since Lima's 2009 decision loss to Eric Dahlberg, the 26-year-old Brazilian has won 13 of his 14 matches (Askren accounts for his only flaw), accrued the MFC welterweight strap, earned two title shots in Bellator and notched electric finishes in 10 of his 13 wins.
Acute contrasts between Lima and Hawn should dictate this contest. Lima is a monstrous welterweight at 6'1" tall who cuts down from 200+ pounds to make the 170-pound limit, and aggressively pursues the finish at all costs. Hawn is a smaller welterweight at 5'9" who's become a very crafty and methodical tactician on the feet. Out of a 32-man field, Hawn finished ninth in the 2004 Olympic games as an American Judoka, and has, somewhat amazingly, only been training MMA for five years. Even more unusual is the fact that his sterling Judo skills have basically been shelved, as his boxing, footwork and speed have propelled him to his latest wins.
Look for Hawn to avoid toe-to-toe exchanges, get on his bike, adhere to a wide range of elusive angles and try to weather Lima's early storm. Lima's size will be a salient advantage but the steep weight cut might sap his cardio in later rounds, and Hawn has that Frankie Edgar-esque habit of seemingly increasing his pace as the fight deepens. While he's giving up a few critical inches in height and reach, Hawn's beer-keg stature and nearly immovable clinch presence make for an interesting concoction when factoring in his speed and judicious boxing.
Lima will do what Lima does: conduct himself with a mature blend of bloodthirsty head-hunting and exceptional technique while pursuing a quick and memorable stoppage. The man is a prime example of how to be overwhelmingly aggressive without being plagued by defensive liabilities, and his fundamentals and potency are equally formidable on the mat and on the feet.
Hawn is smart, durable and a threat to any 170'er, but it'll be tough to overcome the match-up problems that Lima presents, making the betting lines seem pretty fair.
My Prediction: Lima
26-year-old prospect Derek "The Stallion" Campos (14-3) beat on Tim Welch mercilessly in the quarterfinals, unreeling a lanky but deadly kickboxing onslaught that's augmented by solid clinch and wrestling skills. Campos has a strong grasp of using his diversity in unison, whether he's faking a single leg and cleaving his big left hook or catching his opponent off-guard by changing levels after he's been dotting them up on the feet.
Patricky "Pitbull" Freire is looking to shake off a disappointing and definitive loss to Derek Anderson in which he didn't quite seem like himself. His brutal quarterfinal shellacking of David Rickels would indicate the Anderson loss as an anomaly, yet Freire will have to be in top form once again to surpass the fearless Campos.
I expect Freire to barge into phone-booth range, looking to transmit his thunderous punching power from an intimate distance, while Campos should look to rely on his length and precision to "box the brawler" from the fringe and with calculated angles on his entries. This one's a coin-flip but I'll lean out for Campos who, win or lose, has a very bright future.
My Prediction: Campos
Derek Anderson vs. Marcin Held -- Welterweight Tournament semifinals
Along with Campos, undefeated Derek Anderson (11-0) is a sleeper, even despite a cringe-worthy KO of Brandon Girtz by step-in knee in the quarterfinals that should be in the running for KO of the Year. Anderson is a promising prospect like Campos, but he's two years younger (age 24) and four inches taller and longer. He's finished every opponent except for Freire (6 submissions, 4 TKO's) and poses problems to anyone with his length and firepower.
Poland's Marcin Held (17-3), another youngster at only age 22, has earned a well deserved reputation as one of modern MMA's most feared leg-lock specialists. He's tapped out nine opponents (with 4 TKO's) and his last five catches consist of some sort of unfriendly manipulation of the lower limbs (2 toe-holds, 2 heel hooks and a kneebar). Held is trying to shatter his one-dimensional image by improving his striking, and his strides in that department have been quite noticeable of late, but not likely to a level that's sufficient to duel with Anderson.
Held is favored here, perhaps more by reputation than match-up specifics. Since his wrestling is average, the Pole's brilliant creativity has been pivotal in implementing his leg-lock venom, and he can seemingly contort himself into a submission threat from even the most inconceivable positions. While that one-dimension is about as good as it gets, it's still just one dimension and therefore quite predictable to plan for, and Held has struggled with bigger opponents with better wrestling and striking, and Anderson is all of those things.
My Prediction: Anderson
Bellator 117: Lima vs. Hawn (Spike TV at 9:00 p.m. ET)
Douglas Lima vs. Rick Hawn -- Bellator Welterweight Championship
Derek Campos vs. Patricky Freire -- Lightweight Tournament Semifinal
Derek Anderson vs. Marcin Held -- Lightweight Tournament Semifinal
Karl Amoussou vs. David Gomez -- Middleweight Feature Fight
Preliminary Card (streaming on Bloody Elbow and Spike.com at 7:00 p.m. ET)
Tim Bazer vs. Jordan Parsons
Josh Arocho vs. Julio Cesar Neves
Victor Moreno vs. Anthony Smith
Ben Crowder vs. Joe Vedepo
LaRue Burley vs. Cliff Wright
Trey Brown vs. Jared Downing
Houston Alexander vs. Matt Uhde