Bellator 46 will ignite the opening brackets of the stacked "Summer Series" featherweight tournament this Saturday on June 25th. The show takes place in Hollywood, Florida, and will be broadcast on MTV2 at 9 p.m. ET.
Choice and exciting talent will be on display, as fifth-ranked Brazilian bomber Marlon Sandro will make his long awaited stateside debut. Sandro trains alongside Jose Aldo, the best 145-pound fighter on the planet, at the esteemed Nova Uniao academy.
The former King of Pancrase and Sengoku champ has been a perennial top-five fighter since blitzing through the latter promotion's stellar featherweight Grand Prix in 2009. He entered the competition with an unblemished record, but was forced to swallow a controversial "must-decision" loss to Michihiro Omigawa: two judges scored the fight a draw, one had it for Sandro, but the judges with even cards -- one of which was a coach of Omigawa's -- elected Omigawa to advance.
Sandro blazed back with furious vengeance, wrecking three consecutive foes with first round knockouts and stealing the Sengoku strap. The glory was short-lived, as Hatsu Hioki, the only other top-ranked featherweight outside of the UFC, out-scrapped Sandro by decision in his last venture.
Even when under contract with Sengoku, Sandro made it perfectly clear he intended to emerge in an American promotion, and Bellator obliged.
That makes it somewhat ironic that another dangerous Brazilian will be standing across from him in the cage. Genair da Silva, widely known as "Junior PQD", is an absolute madman who will also cross the pond for his first battle on American soil.
For all the fans suggesting that fighters should abandon safe strategies and go out in a hail of bullets, Junior PQD is your huckleberry. We'll run through the tournament match-ups in detail after the jump.
Junior PQD is a member of the Renovacao Fight Team, which is run by Marcio "Cromado" Barbosa, a Shooto veteran who promotes Luta Livre; the alternative style of submission grapplers who once had quite a rivalry in Brazil with the Jiu Jitsu players. Though a smaller clique, the Luta Livre fighters are known for their obdurate aggression and overwhelming pressure, and for a general comparison, Luta Livre is more akin to catch wrestling than BJJ.
Riding a five-fight streak, finishing all but one, Junior PQD has ten wins overall with six TKOs and one submission. His three losses deserve more explanation: in his second evening of professional fighting, he entered a same-night tournament and made it to the finals, but was edged out in a tight split-decision. His second loss was his own doing, as he clipped his downed foe with a knee that he didn't realize was illegal under the promotion's rules, and his third was a no-excuses defeat at the hands of Eduardo Pachu.
I caught up with Junior for some comments on his upcoming Bellator debut. He explained that the nickname came from his years in the military as a Brazilian paratrooper (Pára-QueDismo means "skydiver" in Portugese) and that he was hellbent on making a lasting impression on the American audience.
"I feel great. Fighting in the U.S. is a dream come true and I can't wait to be in the cage and impress the fans," he beamed. "I think I am very aggressive and I always look to finish fights. I want them to know that I am for real, I am not just one more fighter. I am the guy who will be number one in the world."
Junior also shared his thoughts on Marlon Sandro and the daunting task of preparing for an opponent with very few known weaknesses:
"Marlon Sandro is a great and dangerous fighter; one of the best in the world for sure. He's gotta be worried about everything just like me. I consider myself and Marlon as complete fighters and with weapons to finish the fight anywhere it goes."
"He definitely has a lot of pressure because of all he has achieved already, but I don't think he is looking past me," Junior said. "I know he understands I am a dangerous fighter, and he respects me like I respect him. It is a challenge but it's great because it made me train harder and I am very well prepared and confident I will shock the world."
With authoritative boxing and one of the meanest uppercuts in the biz, you'd never guess that Sandro is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
Believe it or not, when he was announced as a participant in the Sengoku tournament, Sandro was criticized for not being a finisher. Though he was undefeated in twelve fights at the time, half of those victories came by decision.
Since then, all five of his wins were brutal stoppages, with all but one taking place in the first round and most being delivered by the uppercut.
Despite his legit grappling background, Sandro has only latched three submissions throughout his career. His standing arm triangle on Nick Denis (shown to the right) reinforced that he's a precarious fighter to tangle up with anywhere.
It's pretty unusual to clasp the side-choke when transitioning to the clinch from the ground, especially as sleekly as Sandro did.
What makes his collision with Junior PQD so intriguing is that they both fit the rare description of technical brawlers, so Saturday night's main event will be like two well trained Pitbulls with something to prove being let off the leash. Anytime you have two bangers anxious to tear into one another and make an unforgettable impression, it's the formula for guaranteed fireworks.
Since American fans are unfamiliar with how trigger-happy Junior PQD really is, I assembled some examples for your viewing pleasure.
What you have to keep in mind is that these animations are actually slowed down quite a bit, because he's so fast that "real-time" is too hard to tell what's going on. It's just a blur of limbs and people falling down.
Junior is not the type of fighter who should be heralded for perfect technique or impenetrable defense. His explosive blitzkrieg hearkens back to the Chute Boxe glory days where every ounce of his effort is dedicated to discharging a lethal offensive onslaught.
His best defense is clearly defining that decapitation is likely to anyone within his violent striking perimeter.
Spinning-back kicks, hook kicks, and axe kicks complement his foundation of crippling low kicks, which have been one of his best weapons.
His boxing is hurled by alternating both hands with an emphasis on speed, power, and accumulating damage rapidly.
Base ferocity in the clinch makes him unappealing to tangle with, as his powerful throws from body-lock await behind the waterfall of strikes he surrounds himself with.
The difference of the Luta Livre grappling style starts to show in these last two clips. The emphasis is the exact opposite of a gentle art of capitalizing on what your opponent gives you, but rather, taking opportunities with sheer force and willpower.
His ground-and-pound is frenzied; more akin to a Vitor Belfort flurry on the feet than the traditionally paced and measured patter from the top.
Basically, every intention and ounce of energy is dedicated to creating as much devastation as possible.
Marlon Sandro has affirmed his status as a top featherweight in the world, and few would be favored to beat him. While Sandro has an extensive history and an exciting flair, he hasn't necessarily proven himself with consistency against the upper-echelon.
Junior PQD is a gunslinger who will come out with cannons blazing, but he's still young in his career and this will be an enormous leap in competition for him. Anytime two big swingers are game to trade and looking to wow the crowd, anything can happen. The safe and steady pick is definitely Sandro, but look for Junior PQD to endear himself to fans in a spirited performance.
Pat Curran rained on many a parade during his lightweight tour of duty in Bellator, and will now bring the same durable combination of boxing and wrestling to the featherweight class.
Curran won the 2010 lightweight tournament, upsetting Roger Huerta and Toby Imada in the process, albeit by controversially close split-decisions. His reward was a crack at Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez, and Curran shocked fans once again with his scrappy nature by surviving to a decision.
The initial Bloody Elbow poll for this tournament was a landslide for Sandro, but I think Curran's effectively practical style will take him quite far.
He has a strong grappling game with a nice blend of strong wrestling and submission skill, and now that he's tightened up his boxing, he's a handful for anyone. A very cerebral fighter, Curran never wastes any excess energy and is very judicious with his offense. He's also incredibly squirmy in the clinch, and though he's a reserved and methodical fighter, he has exemplary defense and is difficult to manipulate.
Luis Palomino is the dark horse of the tournament. He doesn't have a big name or a shiny record, but he's simply a tough S.O.B. to watch out for.
This is a 145-pound fighter who has wins over Strikeforce lightweight Jorge Masvidal, former TUF competitors Marc Stevens, also a lightweight, Jeremy May, a middleweight, and former IFL and WEC fighter Rafael Dias of ATT. He's won eight of his last ten bouts, with only reputable lightweights Jonathan Brookins and Yves Edwards getting the better of him.
Fitting what seems to be theme for this featherweight lineup, Palomino is the brawling type that welcomes a wild skirmish. A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai practitioner, Palomino is just flat-out mean, and an easy fight for no one.
It will be his unflinching toughness against the more refined technician in Curran. Normally, I'd say Curran's patient counter-striking routine might not be as favorable to the judges as Palomino's forward-moving mentality, but it's worked fine scoring-wise in the past.
Curran is the superior wrestler, and though both fighters are difficult to stop and a decision is the likely outcome, there's a chance Curran could secure a submission in a scramble. Though I wouldn't overlook Palomino, I'll take Curran by consistently accurate counter-punching by decision in a dogfight.
Newly crowned Shark Fights featherweight champ and former Cage Gladiators title-holder Ronnie Mann will see action against Adam Schindler in the third tournament match of the evening.
Mann also competed in the 2009 Sengoku featherweight tournament, and was coaxed into a Hioki triangle in the second round after winning the opening match. He's only fought twice since then: the first a strong showing against Doug Evans (that the split-decision rendering doesn't reflect) for the Shark Fights strap, the other a strong showing against Josh Arocho in his Bellator debut in April.
Ten of Mann's nineteen wins are submissions, and he's done well in Muay Thai (7-2 record) and likes to switch stances from conventional to southpaw. According to the Bellator broadcast, Mann's been training MMA since age thirteen. He has an alleged weakness in wrestling -- perhaps on account of being British and known for his Thai and BJJ -- but he quickly swept a decent wrestler in Josh Arocho last time out and was bouncing elbows of his forehead shortly after.
Adam Schindler is yet another well rounded force who will plummet down to featherweight for the tournament. A brown belt in BJJ who's spent time training at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Schindler is a hard-nosed powerhouse whose father had him on the wrestling mats since he was able to walk, and he eventually became a two-time West Virginia State wrestling champion before veering off to the Air Force.
Schindler has heavy hands, a rough and tumble Thai clinch, and his raw wrestling skills will make him a force at featherweight. Ronnie Mann has long been considered a hot prospect despite getting no love in the rankings, and I think the fact that neither of these two talented fighters are being mentioned as potential tournament winners speaks volumes to how stacked this lineup is.
I'm torn on a prediction here. While Mann has the edge in experience against stiff competition, I'm not sure his technical ground-work can unhinge Schindler. Conversely, I think Mann is the better striker and smoother on the ground. Even though I'm leaning towards Schindler being too physically imposing, an opponent of Mann's level and 145-pounds are mostly foreign territory to him, so I'll take Mann in a close one.
As another testament to the depth of this tournament, two fighters, each with only a single loss, are lurking in the final quadrant of the brackets.
Jacob Devree is a natural when it comes MMA, as evinced by piecing together his near-flawless record while working full time at an asphalt plant ... until five weeks ago.
Originally a wrestler in elementary and high school, Devree, with the full support of plant management, quit his job once the opportunity to win the Bellator tournament and pocket $100,000 came along. He's a member of Power MMA, the newly formed club of notable Arizona wrestlers such as C.B. Dollaway, Aaron Simpson, and Ryan Bader.
Starting MMA as a hobby, Devree was motivated by his first and only loss to Greg Jackson lightweight Tommy Truex in his first year of professional fighting. He hasn't looked back since, racking up seven wins and wrapping the Rage in the Cage lightweight belt around his waist early this year.
Devree faces a much more experienced opponent in Nazareno Malegarie. Better known as merely "Naza", Malegarie began practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at age twelve and ended up becoming a Brazilian National Champion.
Now a black belt, Malegarie trains at the Ataque Duplo academy with UFC fighter Thiago Tavares, and dominated in smaller shows with an undefeated nineteen-fight record leading up to his Bellator debut in February of this year. He ran into eventual tournament finalist Daniel Straus, who beat him in an entertaining decision.
Malegarie's twelve submissions and five TKOs makes his streak even more impressive. The many perils of his submission arsenal and ground-striking should be quite a challenge for Devree to endure at this stage of his career.
Fans should take note of the absorbing list of fighters that Bellator has called to arms for the "Summer Series" Featherweight Tournament. The undercard cast for the event is as follows:
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Coconut Creek, FL
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Alexandre "Popo" Bezerra
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Tony Johnson Jr.
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Redondo Beach, CA
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