Joe Warren (8-3) vs. Nick Kirk (8-2) - Bantamweight Tournament Semifinals
"The Baddest Man on the Planet" is back in the cage after spending much of his time as a coach on Fight Master. Warren has unfortunately been on the wrong end of two highlight reel KO losses to Alexis Vila and Pat Curran, the latter resulted in the loss of his featherweight belt. He ended the losing run with a decision win over Owen Evinger, who was quite obviously booked solely to be Warren's "bounce back" patsy. In addition to his time with Bellator, Warren competed in DREAM (where he defeated Kid Yamamoto and Chase Beebe) and is a highly successful Greco-Roman wrestler dating back to his collegiate days at the University of Michigan.
Kirk's background is also in wrestling, and he was on the same University of Minnesota squad as former UFC lightweight Jacob Volkmann. His MMA career didn't begin until 2010, 8 years after his sole year as a Golden Gophers wrestler, but by 2011 he had amassed a 7-0 record. He's since alternated wins and losses, and both defeats came under the Bellator banner.
It's really all down to Warren being the better fighter. Kirk hasn't had any success in Bellator and his quality of victory pales in comparison to Joe's. Kirk also has just one career win by KO/TKO, which significantly favors Warren. We know who the better wrestler and striker is in this one so this looks like another mismatch on paper and it will likely play out as such come fight time.
Prediction: Joe Warren by unanimous decision.
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinals
Marcus Davis (22-9, 1 NC) vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy (23-1)
That's right! At 40 years of age, former UFC welterweight Marcus Davis is in the Bellator lightweight tournament, and since his UFC release he's unbeaten in 6 of his last 7 fights ... although that one loss did come against Chuck O'Neill. "The Irish Hand Grenade" has been in several memorable UFC bouts, including his armbar win over Paul Taylor after surviving a head kick knockdown. It's fairly obvious that both age and the wear and tear on Davis' body has taken its toll. His heralded "iron chin" has been dented to the tune of KO losses to Ben Saunders, Jeremy Stephens, and Mark Casserly in a kickboxing match.
Sarnavskiy is just 24 years old and looks to be one of Bellator's several Russian standouts. He's clearly one of Europe's best lightweights, and who knows how well he could've done in the last LW tournament had he not withdrawn due to injury after submitting Thiago Michel in the quarterfinals. "Tiger", who trains with current middleweight champ Alexander Shlemenko, is a submission threat on the ground and is also very aggressive with his striking. Much like Shlemenko, he'll attack with spinning techniques (occasionally with reckless abandon), but Sanarvskiy is more keen on taking the fight to the mat than his teammate.
I don't really see how Davis wins this. Short of Davis catching Tiger in the stand-up department, I think Sarnavskiy's speed and power will be too much for Davis to handle, and he'll break pattern by finishing Davis standing instead of trying to submit him.
Prediction: Tiger Sarnavskiy by KO, round 2.
John Alessio (34-16, 1 NC) vs. Will Brooks (10-1)
Alessio is 34 years old, but he might as well be 60 based on the number of fights he's taken over the course of 15 years. To give you an idea of how long Alessio has been in the fight game, he fought (and lost to) Pat Miletich at UFC 26 for the welterweight title. His UFC career is a dubious 0-5, but he's proven capable of beating credible opposition outside of the UFC, whether at lightweight or welterweight.
Brooks was the favorite to at least be in the finals of the season 8 tournament, and with good reason. The Illinois native had won his previous 9 professional fights, with his biggest victory coming in Japan against veteran Satoru Kitaoka in Dream. Against Saad Awad, he was billed as the heavy favorite based on his powerful wrestling, ground-and-pound, and improving striking. It took only 43 seconds for Awad to knock him out, signaling the end of his unbeaten run. Brooks easily won against Cris Leyva this July to get back on the winning track.
There's no doubt that Alessio has fought (and beaten) better competition than Brooks, and this fight comes down to whether or not Alessio has enough left in the tank to upset a very intriguing prospect in "Ill Will". Brooks has shown to be a well-rounded fighter, and as much as the Awad loss was a shock result, I think it's clear that Awad has heavy hands and it's highly unlikely that Alessio duplicates that.
Prediction: Will Brooks by TKO, round 3.
Saad Awad (14-5) vs. Martin Stapleton (12-1)
Awad's run to the season 8 LW tournament final was very much a surprise, and it was an opportunity that came only through replacing the injured Patricky Freire. Having failed to get into the TUF 16 house, Awad's chances of even winning one fight were considered minimal. With two quick knockouts of Guillaume DeLorenzi and Will Brooks, Awad was one fight away from an unlikely title shot against Michael Chandler. In somewhat bizarre fashion, Awad was dropped by David Rickels at the end of the 2nd round, but the fight was waived off after the round ended when Awad did not return to his corner. It was a devastating loss for the 30-year-old, but there's no denying that he is a tough outing for most of the Bellator LW roster just on his aggressive style and brutal KO power.
Speaking of TUF, Martin Stapleton was bounced from TUF 9 after losing to Cameron Dollar. The Englishman didn't even fight from the end of 2009 to summer of 2012 due to his work commitments as a Royal Marine. He's won all 5 of his fights since the 3 year hiatus from the sport, and recently won the one-night Cage Contender lightweight tournament.
Stapleton's key to victory is to obviously avoid the early rush of Awad's punches, possibly work the clinch game and drag the fight to the ground, which has historically been Saad's weakest area. Martin has been able to do that against the regional opposition he's faced, but I think Awad will be too much for him and he'll get taken to the woodshed early.
Prediction: Saad Awad by TKO, round 1.
Rich Clementi (45-22-1) vs. Ricardo Tirloni (15-4)
Clementi is ending his brief retirement from the sport and is giving it one last run at a title fight. The 36-year-old has been competing professionally since 1999, and is best known for submitting Melvin Guillard with a rear-naked choke at UFC 79. In Bellator he is the only man to defeat Tiger Sarnavskiy, but the upset win was then proceeded with a toe hold loss to Marcin Held.
Tirloni's time in Bellator has been a bit underwhelming. He's won just 2 of his 5 fights with the promotion, and one of those losses was a huge KO loss to Rick Hawn in the season 6 LW quarterfinal. His last two forays into the tournament have ended in losses to Will Brooks and Dave Jansen, although the Jansen split decision result was definitely contestable. So why is he in the tournament with a 1-3 mark in his last 4? Well Rob Sinclair is out with an injury, and Tirloni was elevated from his prelim bout with Marcin Held to his 4th successive tournament entry.
I think Tirloni has a noted edge in striking, particularly with his punishing leg kicks and knees, so in the event it does become a kickboxing affair then I'd side with the Brazilian. Clementi typically works from top position via takedowns, and he has a wrestling advantage over Tirloni. All that said, Clementi is on the downside of his career (but far from a pushover) and I think Tirloni has the skills both in his striking and grappling to get the victory.
Prediction: Ricardo Tirloni by decision.
Bloody Elbow will have live coverage of the event starting at 7 PM ET with the Spike.com prelims.
Joe Warren vs. Nick Kirk
Marcus Davis vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy
Will Brooks vs. John Alessio
Saad Awad vs. Martin Stapleton
Rich Clementi vs. Ricardo Tirloni
Ryan Healy vs. Marcin Held
Tyson Jeffries vs. Dave Vitkay
Nathan Coy vs. Andy Uhrich
Brent Primus vs. Scott Thometz
Zack Skinner vs. Austin Springer
Peter Aspenwal vs. Jeremiah Riggs