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Bellator 94 preview and predictions: Awad vs. Rickels, Newton vs. Zayats

Bloody Elbow presents a preview of Bellator 94, featuring two tournament finals: Emanuel Newton vs. Mikhail Zayats at Light Heavyweight, and Saad Awad vs. David Rickels at Lightweight.

Emanuel Newton celebrates after knocking out King Mo
Emanuel Newton celebrates after knocking out King Mo

Tonight, Bellator is back in action with Bellator 94. Bellator airs live tonight on Spike TV starting at 10:00 p.m. ET with the prelims airing on Bloody Elbow and starting at 8:00 p.m. ET. Join us here at Bloody Elbow tonight for live Bellator coverage.

We've reached the exciting time in every Bellator season - the tournament finals. Tonight, the first two season 8 tournament champions are crowned, as the Lightweight and Light Heavyweight tournaments come to conclusion. Both tournaments have seen some big surprises along the way, with 3 of tonight's 4 finalists all playing the dark horse role. Now that we're into the finals, we're also drawing to a close in the season as next week's show wraps up season 8. That show is a stacked one, with Pat Curran vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev, two more finals, plus Karo Parisyan vs. Rick Hawn.

But that's next week, and this is tonight, so here's the full Bellator 94 fight card, with weigh in results, followed by preview and predictions for the main card:

Light Heavyweight Tournament Final: Mikhail Zayats (205.6) vs. Emanuel Newton (204.4)
Lightweight Tournament Final: Saad Awad (155.7) vs. David "Caveman" Rickels (155.8)
Welterweight Qualifier Fight: Luis Melo (169.8) vs. Trey Houston (170.0)
Bantamweight Qualifier Fight: Rodrigo Lima (135.8) vs. Ronnie Mann (135.7)

Welterweight Feature Fight: Julien Williams (170.0) vs. Kenny Moss (171)
Heavyweight Feature Fight: Augusto Sakai (261.3) vs. Rob Horton (242.2)
Women's Feature Fight: Patricia Vidonic (115.0) vs. Jessica Aguilar (114.6)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Ronnie Rogers (146) vs. Joe Taimanglo (145.6)
Lightweight Feature Fight: Bruno Carvalho (155.3) vs. Edson Berto (155.6)
Catchweight Feature Fight(157 lbs.): Tony Fryklund (155.6) vs. Patrick Cenoble (156.2)
Women's Feature Fight: Heather Clark (115.9) vs. Felice Herrig (115.7)

Saad Awad (14-4 MMA; 2-1 Bellator) vs. David Rickels (13-1 MMA; 7-1 Bellator) - Lightweight Tournament Final

In a year of Cinderella stories and dark horses, no one exemplifies that spirit more than Saad Awad. A TUF washout, Awad had a low level Bellator loss way back at Bellator 10, then was given a shot as an alternate in this tournament. When Pitbull went down to injury shortly before the quarterfinals, Awad got the call up. I assumed he would be a sacrificial lamb to Guillaume DeLorenzi. Nope, Awad knocked him out in 31 seconds. Still, DeLorenzi was something of an unknown himself - no way would Awad get past the hyped Will Brooks in the semis. Wrong again - 43 second KO. Awad is on an absolute rampage right now - can he be stopped?

The man to try is David "Caveman" Rickels, a former Bellator Welterweight standout who made the drop down to 155 for this tournament. He's scored decision wins over Lloyd Woodard and Jason Fischer to get here. Rickels talks a lot about his wild style, but the truth is, he's a more aggressive version of your grinding wrestler. Rickels is willing to mix it up on the feet, but his bread and butter is beating opponents down on the mat. He's had good success at Lightweight, but what he has not had is a single finish, instead seeing all of his fights go the distance. They have been impressive performances, though none have been completely dominating.

There are pretty much two ways for this to go - flash KO win for Awad or grinding decision win for Rickels. Like I said, Rickels talked about making this a slugfest, but if he does, he's a fool. Not only has Awad shown power, he's also shown killer instinct, and if Rickels does decide to stand with him, I suspect Awad makes it three in a row. Rickels is the safe, obvious pick here, but screw it, I'm taking the underdog.

Prediction: Saad Awad by KO

Emanuel Newton (20-7-1 MMA; 3-1 Bellator) vs. Mikhail Zayats (21-6 MMA; 2-0 Bellator) - Light Heavyweight Tournament Final

Newton vs. Zayats, aka "NOT Mo vs. Babalu". When this tournament was announced, it was pretty clear what the most likely final was - Bellator mega-star in waiting King Mo vs. veteran Babalu Sobral. Instead, the tournament served as a reminder that there is never a sure thing in the world of MMA. First, in the quarterfinals, Russia's Zayats outgunned Babalu, taking the fight to the Brazilian and knocking him out late in the first round. But the real upset came in the semifinals when "The Hardcore Kid" Emanuel Newton took advantage of Mo's low hands to crack him perfectly with a spinning back fist, ending the reign of the King before it even got started. Now, we have the two dark horses meeting up in a final that may not have the same casual fan interest as Mo vs. Bablu, but should still be a good fight.

With less than 9 minutes of cage time logged in Bellator, and an overall unknown career prior to this run, Zayats remains a bit of an enigma to many fans. But if his win over Babalu didn't impress, his complete destruction of Jacob Noe should have. Zayats is a tough fighter with skills both on the feet and the ground. He's going to be a lot for the Newton to handle. Still, Newton is up for the challenge. The near 10 year veteran Newton has faced a lot of good competition, and had some degree of success. He can wear his opponents down with control, but as he showed, also does have the ability to end the fight quickly.

This is a tough one to call. My gut says Newton keeps his streak alive, but I still think people are sleeping on Zayats. I'll take the Russian, because when in doubt in Bellator, pick the Russian.

Prediction: Mikhail Zayats by submission

Luis Melo (28-11-3 MMA; Bellator Debut) vs. Trey Houston (10-1 MMA; 1-1 Bellator)

Sort of an odd pick for the main card here. The most intriguing story of this fight to me is the debut of the extremely experienced Melo. A 10 year veteran with over 40 pro fights to his name, Melo has fought all over Brazil, though has never received a shot at a bigger international stage. Now, at age 32, he gets that shot. He takes on the truly horribly nicknamed Trey "That Just Happened?" Houston, who, I am sorry to say, I just can not support until he changes that name. He's a 4 year pro who was undefeated until his last fight - an October loss in Bellator to Billy Horne. Houston has never gone the distance in a fight, which could be a factor against his veteran opponent. However, I think his youth and finishing ability get him through here.

Prediction: Trey Houston by TKO

Ronnie Mann (21-5-1 MMA; 3-2 Bellator) vs. Rodrigo Lima (10-1 MMA; 0-1 Bellator)

Opening the show is this entertaining striker vs. grappler match-up. England's Ronnie Mann has a lot of good experience in the likes of Sengoku, Cage Rage, and Bellator. He was a Featherweight tournament semifinalist in 2011, losing to Pat Curran. Mann is an all action fighter who likes to slug, but also has submissions in his repertoire. His opponent is Rodrigo Lima, a Team Nogueira fighter with 5 years experience. Lima made his Bellator debut last April, losing in a bit of an upset to Hiroshi Nakamura. That was the first loss of Lima's career, and he has not fought since. This is another tough fight to call - if Lima can control the ground, he can take this, but if Mann keeps it standing primarily, or is able to establish top position when it does go to the mat, he'll have the advantage. I'll take the more advanced ground game of Lima to get it done.

Prediction: Rodrigo Lima by submission


A couple interesting fights worth watching on the prelims:

  • UFC veteran Tony Fryklund (14-9) is in action. The veteran has been around the sport since way back at UFC 14 and this is his first fight since facing Cung Le way back in 2007. He takes on the 23 year old Patrick Cenoble (9-2) in a fight I fear could go very poorly for Fryklund.
  • Brazil's Bruno Carvalho (8-2) looks to keep building up his name. He takes on the experiences James Edson Berto (16-10-1) who has good experience in Strikeforce and EliteXC, but has lost 6 of his last 8 dating back to 2008.
  • Popular women's fighter Felice Herrig (8-4) returns to Bellator. The Jeff Curran trainee takes on Jackson's student Heather Clark (5-3) in what should be an entertaining fight.
  • Finally, one more women's fight sees Patricia Vidonic (7-4) face Jessica Aguilar (14-4). Vidonic was last seen in a tough losing effort to Herrig in Bellator last December, while Aguilar is an impressive ATT student with a 4-1 Bellator record. She's definitely a name to watch in the growing world of women's MMA.

Join us tonight for live coverage of Bellator 94, live on Spike TV.