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Bellator 79: Preview of all the Heavyweight and Featherweight tournament action

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Join us as we preview the fights at Bellator 79, featuring Thiago Santos vs. Richard Hale and Mike Richman vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev in tournament action.

Bellator season 7 continues this Friday night, November 2 with Bellator 79. As always, the show airs live on MTV2 starting at 8:00 p.m. ET, with prelims on at 6:00 p.m. ET. Here's the full fight card for Bellator 79, with weigh-in results:

Heavyweight Tournament Semifinals Fight: Rich Hale (238.4) vs. Thiago Santos (265.2)
Featherweight Tournament Semifinals Fight: Shahbulat Shamhalaev (145.6) vs. Mike Richman (145.2)
Catchweight Feature Fight(180 lbs): Douglas Lima (179.4) vs. Kobe Ortiz (179.8)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Ryan Ford (169.8) vs. Kyle Baker (170.8)

Catchweight Feature Fight(173 lbs): Christ Franck (172.2) vs. Marcus Aurelio (170.4)
Heavyweight Feature Fight: Vladimir Starcencov (260.2) vs. Vitaly Minakov (245.8)
Lightweight Feature Fight: Josh Pulsifier (155.4) vs. Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (155.4)
Lightweight Feature Fight: Jonny Carson (155.6) vs. Guillaume DeLorenzi (155.6)
Heavyweight Feature Fight: Ed Carpenter (236.6) vs. Josh Appelt (256.2)

The main fights here are the two tournament fights - one Heavyweight semi-final, and one Featherweight. (Quick aside, I much prefer it when they have both semi-finals from the same weight class on the same card, as we saw last week. I think it makes it feel more like a tournament, or is that just me?) Winners here move on to the finals; their opponents in those finals will both be determined next week at Bellator 80. Let's take a look at tonight's semi-final fights and see how things might shake out.

HW Semi-Final: THIAGO SANTOS (11-1) vs. RICHARD HALE (20-4-1)

Santos comes to this fight with some controversy. The Brazilian grappler took on Eric Prindle in the quarter-finals to finally make up for the groin shot No Contest from their previous fight. And the rematch ended in... a groin strike. But while Santos's groin strike in the first fight resulted in a No Contest, Prindle's in the rematch was ruled a disqualification, advancing Santos. There was some question if he would be too injured to continue in the tournament (that axe kick to the groin was nasty), but here he is.

Hale comes to this tournament after moving up from Light Heavyweight. Despite making the finals of a previous Bellator Light Heavyweight tournament, Hale was struggling to make the cut, and decided to step up. He looked great in his Bellator Heavyweight tournament debut, completely dismantling TUF veteran Mike Wessel. He's quickly emerged as a favorite in the tournament.

I won't lie - I've never been super impressed by Santos. He's not bad, but his strength is his grappling, and he doesn't have the control to always fully implement his grappling game. In the last Prindle fight, he had difficulty controlling Prindle on the mat, and Prindle is not nearly as skilled as Hale on the ground. What Santos does do well is use submissions to finish a stunned opponent - check out his fight with Neil Grove, where Santos rocked Grive with a punch, then jumped on him with a rear naked choke for the win. Despite any reservations I may have, that was clearly impressive, and that kind of finishing skill makes Santos always dangerous.

Hale is another finisher, with all kinds of highlight reel stoppages, though none better than when he recreated the famous Toby Imada inverted triangle choke last year. He's 5-1 in Bellator, and 4 of those wins have come within two minutes. Hale is a good striker, with a nice jab and heavy power that he can generate in a short distance, but a bad tendency to keep his hands low. Christian M'Pumbu took advantage of that opening to defeat Hale last May. Against Wessel, Hale showed that the move up to Heavyweight was a good one, as he looked considerably stronger than at 205, and was able to outmuscle and control Wessel on the mat, while also employing a significant speed advantage in the stand-up, particularly in his footwork and his use of combinations.

On paper, Santos's best chance would seem to be the ground game, but I don't think that's actually the case. Hale is good enough on the ground to avoid the submission and to get out from under Santos as well. On the feet, Santos does have a powerful punch, and Hale doesn't keep his hands up, so if Santos can land that, he can find victory. But that won't be easy. Hale's other weakness previously was conditioning, but I suspect that will be improved at Heavyweight, and I don't think Santos is the man to exploit that even if it still is a weakness. In short, Santos doesn't have a lot of options here, and may have a tough night.

Prediction: Richard Hale by TKO, round 1

FW Semi-Final: MIKE RICHMAN (13-1) vs. SHAHBULAT SHAMHALAEV (10-1-1)

Richman comes in with about as impressive a start as you can get in Bellator. Two Bellator fights, two wins, both by one shot KO, total time: 1:46. Those are some serious stats. Even more impressive is the fact that one of those KO's came against veteran Chris Horodecki, a skilled striker who Richman effortlessly handled on the feet. He comes in off a 23 second head kick KO of Jeremy Spoon in the quarter-finals.

Shamhalaev is another one of the Russian fighters Bellator is heavily featuring this season. He fought exclusively in Russia and the Ukraine before making his Bellator debut in this tournament, where he defeated Cody Bollinger by first round TKO. His lone loss comes against UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Richman's strength is clear - the striking game. I really like his technical striking, as he uses very nice footwork, plus has good defense with his hands and arms. He also has very fast hands that he puts together effectively in combinations. Against Spoon, he showed how well he can mix kicks in also. On the ground he does have wrestling experience, plus multiple submissions on his record, though he has never faced particular strong opponents in a ground battle.

Shamhalaev comes from a Muay Thai background, though he didn't show it against Bollinger. The majority of that fight was contested on the mat, at Shamhalaev's choosing oddly enough. There, the Russian fighter had a bit of trouble with Bollinger's aggressive guard game, but he was patient, and ultimately finished Bollinger with nice ground and pound, including some tough shots to the body. His ground game looked good in this fight, combining defense with an ability to ride his opponent while applying pressure. On the feet, he's definitely talented, though his movement is a bit unorthodox.

This is a tough fight to call as neither man has faced too many tough opponents. Both have shown nice skills, and I liked the ground game Shamhalaev showed off last fight. But on the fight, I think Richman is just too quick, too technical and too powerful.

Prediction: Mike Richman by KO, round 1

Also on the main card is Douglas Lima vs, Jacob Ortiz. This is Lima's first fight since losing a title fight to Ben Askren. The 21-5 Brazilian looks to get back on track against the 13-3 Ortiz, who seems a bit overmatched here. This fight is being contested at a catch weight of 180 pounds. I have to go with the more experienced Lima to take this one.

Rounding out the main card is Ryan Ford (18-4) vs. Kyle Baker (12-6). Ford fights out of Tristar Gym, and has a lot more big fight experience against the likes of Lima and Karo Parisyan, who Ford defeated last year. Baker makes his Bellator debut here, coming in off a loss to Lucio Linhares. Again, I go with the more experienced fighter in Ford.

The prelims don't have anything too major, though keep an eye on both Alexei Kudin and Vitaly Minakov - two more talented Eatern European fighters with the potential to make a real mark in Bellator. And sorry Pride fans, but this is not that Marcus Aurelio - it's a 26 year old 6-1 fighter out of Brazil who shares a name with the Pride and UFC veteran.

Join us tonight here at Bloody Elbow for live coverage of Bellator 79.