I don’t cover every Bellator event, but I have no choice but to cover this one. Not only is it Bellator’s debut event on Spike TV, it has two championship fights on the main card. And they’re not bad championship fights, like Cole Konrad vs. Eric Prindle… they’re truly high-level fights. It’s a great fight card, so let’s take a look at it.
Bellator Lightweight Championship Match: Michael Chandler (10-0) vs. Rick Hawn (14-1)
The main event of the evening will feature Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler taking on former Olympian and Bellator lightweight tournament winner Rick Hawn. I’m very excited for this fight, because both Chandler and Hawn are fighters I think would perform very well in the UFC – it’s not always the case in Bellator, but this is a high-level fight taking place in the main event.
Chandler is a wrestler whose fighting style is very similar to guys like Gray Maynard and Chad Mendes. He has a very strong wrestling base to go along with power striking. It’s a model that has proven very successful in mixed martial arts. Chandler is a constant threat to land takedowns on his opponent, and this benefits his striking greatly. Good strikers are hesitant to engage Chandler, fearful of Chandler changing levels and landing a rapid takedown. And make no mistake about it – Chandler is a great athlete with a lot of speed to go along with his power.
Where Chandler can be beat is that he’s not the world’s most precise striker. He hits very hard, but he’s not a polished kickboxer, and he often leaves himself open to counters. The fighter type that would beat Chandler is the same fighter type that beat Maynard and Mendes – a fighter with superior striking technique and great takedown defense. In other words, guys like Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar. Indeed, the fighter who has had by far the most success against Chandler was Eddie Alvarez, who was able to stuff Chandler’s takedowns and out-point him standing. It’s a credit to Chandler that he was able to hurt and finish Alvarez in the fourth round, but Chandler was on his way to losing the fight before the finishing sequence.
At first glance, it might appear that Rick Hawn has the attributes needed to give Chandler a run for his money. Hawn is a former Olympian in Judo, and has put that skill on full display in his MMA career, as he’s landed some spectacular throws on his opponents. While Hawn has never fought a wrestler as good as Chandler, he might have the takedown defense needed to stay off his back.
Unfortunately for Hawn, I just don’t think he’s a good enough striker to handle what Chandler is going to throw at him. That’s not to say Hawn isn’t a good striker, because he has shown a quality striking game with more than decent KO power. But in this fight, Hawn is going to have to deal with relentless forward pressure, the constant threat of a takedown, and the constant threat of eating a big punch and losing by knockout.
That’s the kind of challenge Aldo and Edgar would be capable of taking on. Even then, Edgar was hurt badly by Maynard, and Eddie Alvarez – a fighter who has all the skills needed to beat Chandler – still got caught before losing by submission. As good as Rick Hawn is, and he’s very good, I just don’t think he has what it takes. I have to pick Chandler to win by knockout in this one.
Bellator Featherweight Championship Match: Pat Curran (17-4) vs. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (17-1)
Believe it or not, it’s been 20 months since we’ve seen Patricio “Pitbull” Freire in the Bellator cage. Since his win over Daniel Straus to earn a title shot, Freire has had to wait. First, he had to wait for Joe Warren to defend his title against Curran. Then, after Curran knocked Warren out, Freire had to wait to fight Curran. Naturally, Curran suffered an injury that delayed the fight even longer. Finally, we’re going to see this fight, and I can’t blame Freire if he sees this fight as a way to release a lot of frustration.
I also can’t blame Curran if he’s not exactly eager to get in the cage with “Pitbull.” Curran has a unique fighting style that’s served him well in his last few fights. Curran is a striker who fights at a relatively slow pace. Generally, Curran waits for an opening before he attacks, and focuses on defending his opponent’s attacks until that opening happens. Against a wrestler in Joe Warren, it worked in brutal fashion, as Curran was able to shut down Warren’s game before winning with a devastating flurry in the third round. Against an aggressive striker in Marlon Sandro, Curran was able to stay patient before landing a head kick that knocked Sandro unconscious – Sandro has never been the same since.
Against Freire… I don’t see Curran’s style working so well. The thing about Curran’s patient, methodical approach is that it almost requires his opponent to have flaws in his striking. I’m not going to say Freire’s striking is flawless, but it’s very good, and he’s a lot more aggressive with it than Curran is. Sure, maybe Curran will find an opening to land a knockout blow like he did against Sandro. But if that doesn’t happen, Curran is almost certain to lose on points, and is in serious danger of being knocked out himself.
MMA is all about matchups. Pat Curran won the Bellator featherweight championship because he matched up well with his opponents. In this fight, I think Patricio Freire will beat Curran for exactly the same reason. Freire has the right blend of technique and aggression to capitalize on Curran’s methodical style. My pick is Freire by decision, but a knockout wouldn’t surprise me either.
Light-Heavyweight Tournament Quarterfinal Match: Renato “Babalu” Sobral (37-9) vs. Mikhail Zayats (19-6)
Renato “Babalu” Sobral has certainly suffered a career decline, punctuated by KO losses against Gegard Mousasi and Dan Henderson. But there’s a big difference between a career decline and a career collapse. Sobral still has very good submissions, and his striking really isn’t all that bad. Against Mikhail Zayats, a fighter with very limited experience against high-level competition, Sobral should prove to be the superior fighter. Sobral by submission.
Light-Heavyweight Tournament Quarterfinal Match: Jacob Noe (8-1) vs. Seth Petruzelli (14-6)
In a light-heavyweight tournament featuring Renato Sobral, Muhammed Lawal, and Emanuel Newton, it’s hard to see either of these guys making much of an impact. Petruzelli is a one-dimensional fighter, a striker who is in immediate trouble if his opponent takes him to the ground. Jacob Noe might be capable of that, but Noe’s record is very light on quality opponents, and his one loss was by TKO to a fighter who is now 1-4 overall. If a 1-4 fighter can score a TKO on Noe, so can Petruzelli. Petruzelli by TKO.
Light-Heavyweight Tournament Quarterfinal Match: Atanas Djambazov (17-2) vs. Emanuel Newton (18-7-1)
Djambazov might have a glittery record of 17-2, but here are his top five wins, ranked by opponent winning percentage…
- Nikola Dipchikov (5-3)
- Stanislav Drakov (6-4)
- Valdas Pocevicius (33-31-4)
- Ilija Loncar (5-11-2)
- Oliver Petrovski (1-3)
His other 12 wins were all against opponents who have yet to win a fight. Emanuel Newton by decision.