Bellator's ninth season continues tomorrow night live from Visalia, California for their 102nd show. On Spike TV, you can check out the heavyweight and middleweight tourney semifinals along with the finals from this summer's bantamweight weight class. Read on for all the information on each of the fighters to get caught up and prepared heading into tomorrow's action.
HEAVYWEIGHT TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS
Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Godbeer
Lavar Johnson vs. Vinicus Queiroz
Easily, the biggest name this week is that of France's Cheick Kongo, the former long-time UFC heavyweight. Now at 38-years-old, he's about to walk into a cage to fight for the first time that is not the octagon in nearly eight years. He was up and he was down over these last nearly ten-years, his longest winning streak was three and his longest losing streak was just two. You last saw him knocked out at the hands of Roy Nelson in April and he became a free agent after the fact. At 18-8-2 overall as a professional MMA fighter, Kongo's most memorable moment in the cage came in 2011 when he returned from almost certain defeat to knock out Pat Barry in under three minutes in Pittsburgh.
Fast forward to tomorrow and the former kick boxer who stands at 6'4 will look to begin his road to a $100,000 pay day. Who is he fighting?
That big opportunity goes to Englishman Mark Godbeer. The 29-year-old is 8-1 and last fought in March 2012 when he stopped Catalin Zmarandescu at BAMMA 9. and now he's set to make his American fighting debut. He's roughly the same size as Kongo, with just about an eight-pound difference between the two 6'4 power strikers. That power is fairly all that's known about Godbeer, and that while possessing serious KO power, he's not the most technically sound heavyweight in the world. In that realm, Kongo has the immense edge and unless the Brit can hurt him early with a knee (hope they're wearing cups) or another big blow, Cheick's experience wins out and he should be able to pick Godbeer apart.
If not, it's an upset, quite simply. Kongo has been featured in plenty of advertising and is the biggest name in the division automatically. His name speaks for itself but Godbeer is being brought over to America to make Cheick look good. Of course, don't tell him that.
Heavyweight semifinal number two will see another former UFC big man in Lavar Johnson debut for Bellator as he takes on Vinicus Queiroz. "Big" Johnson is now 36-years-old and we've seen him featured on shows knocking people out (and being submitted) since 2009 when he became a lower level star on Strikeforce Challengers shows. After the UFC acquired SF, he ended up having four fights in the octagon and splitting them. He started off hot with a pair of KO wins over Joey Beltran and Pat Barry, but Stefan Struve submitted him via armbar and he participated in one of the most boring fights of all-time against Brendan Schaub in February.
The 30-year-old Brazilian will look to advance to his first Bellator finals in wake of his TKO loss to eventual-winner Alex Volkov last November. His first win in America came one year ago this week when he submitted Mark Holata by armbar.
Lavar Johnson is not the type of fighter who gets rocked or battered with strikes, so you can expect him to push the pace (as long as he's not gassed). Meanwhile, Queiroz is definitely the less explosive striker of the two (while he does have the ability to finish fights, getting off big shots of late has not been his bread and butter). While he probably won't be pulling guard or shooting for takedowns to the start the fight, if he chooses to stand and trade, he will likely be finished.
Like Godbeer with Kongo, is Queiroz in position to be something of an enhancement talent to make Johnson look great? It looks like it on paper, which would allow Bellator the ability to book a heavyweight finals bout between a pair of former UFC heavyweights with knockout power. We'll find out whether their opponents tomorrow can play spoiler.
BANTAMWEIGHT TOURNAMENT FINALS
Anthony Leone vs. Rafael Silva
The 2013 summer series bantamweight tournament concludes tomorrow as Anthony Leone of Long Island, New York meets Brazil's Rafael Silva. The prize to the winner will be the $100,000 award and a guaranteed title fight against champion Eduardo Dantas.
Silva is 20-3 overall and earned this role by choking out Rodrigo Lima in July. Since he last suffered defeat in 2011, he's reeled off 12 consecutive victories, displaying a combination of his potent capoiera skills and an above average grappling background. However, he will likely struggle against the nastier fighter of the two in Leone. The New Yorker has great takedown defense and is best at grinding out victories.
Talking about a wacky road to the present day, Leone started out as a 21-year-old prospect, training out in Hawaii with B.J. Penn. After an 8-0 professional start, he fought once in WEC where he was submitted by Renan Barao in 2010. Bellator snatched him up but he lost to Georgi Karakhanyan before heading to Strikeforce where he lost to a fighter named Josh LaBerge. Finally, he suffered his fourth consecutive loss at Bellator 44 in 2011 to Jeff Lentz.
Since then, he is 5-1, including three consecutive wins in the Bellator cage to put him in position to earn a title fight tomorrow night. Remember, he defeated former champ Zach Makovsky in December by split decision to begin to get people talking about him again.
This is no "gimme" fight because Silva possesses dangerous striking skills but as long as Leone keeps the fight from being a kickboxing match, you like his odds of controlling the action over the course of three rounds.
MIDDLEWEIGHT TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS
Perry Filkins vs. Brennan Ward
Mikkel Parlo vs. Jason Butcher
Finally, the latest middleweight tournament continues with the second round as these four men look to cement their spot in the finals.
28-year-old Jason Butcher out of West Virginia will celebrate his birthday in about three weeks but the Jorge Gurgel BJJ brown belt is looking to celebrate a bit early. He has been outstanding as a professional, earning seven consecutive wins since February 2011. He's 4-0 in the Bellator cage, where he has finished all but one of those bouts inside the first round. In round one of this tourney, he finished Giva "The Arm Collector" Santana in the armbar-legend's final fight.
Out of Denmark, the 23-year-old Mikkel Parlo will try to further build off a disappointing loss earlier this year in the season eight tournament. Since then, he defeated Brian Rogers in September. This is after he began his pro run at 9-0 including a first round knockout of Jared Combs in Bellator in 2012.
Butcher is the larger man at 6'3 (compared to Parlo's 5'10 listed height) and possessing a five-inch reach advantage, the European will have to find a way to close that gap and do West Virginia harm. On paper, this is a fun fight between a pair of 185-pound prospects, looking to earn the label as 'favorite' to win the whole field. Of course, a fight with champion Alex Shlemenko is off in the distance and that's a tall order staring them in the face.
The next 185-pound semifinal bout will feature 28-year-old North Carolinian Joe Pacheco (6-0) and 25-year-old Connecticut native Brennan Ward (7-1).
Ward is a former Division-III collegiate wrestler at Johnson & Wales University. The "Irish Bad Boy" is in his first Bellator tournament and has looked great since the end of February. At the time, he was coming off a loss to Aaron Johnson (in just 15-seconds), but he bounced back to choke out Yair Moguel in under a minute. Entering the season nine field, he knocked out Justin Torrey back in September and will look to keep his streak of wins by finish alive. Of his seven career wins, all but one came by submission, knockout or TKO.
Pacheco is taking the spot that belonged to Perry Filkins on short notice. He's 2-0 in Bellator with a knockout win in February and a submission win the following month, over Kyle Bolt and Pierry Pierre, respectively.
Four middleweight prospects vying for that fight with Alexander Shlemenko in 2014, and any of the four can realistically win this tournament.
JUGGERNAUT NEWS BRIEFS
- The UFC has signed 20-year-old flyweight/bantamweight prospect Sergio Pettis, brother of reigning lightweight champ Anthony Pettis. The younger Wisconsin native is undefeated with eight professional wins and was last seen picking up a pair of titles (one at 125, the other at 135) earlier this year at local shows in his home state. He will debut in November at UFC 167 against Vaughan Lee according to reports from Combate.com and MMAJunkie.com.
- Michael Bisping was slated to fight Mark Munoz in the main event at UFC Fight Night 30 on October 26 in Manchester, England. Instead, Lyoto Machida takes Bisping's spot due to injury while Tim Kennedy (Machida's original opponent) will now fight Rafael Natal in the main event of the November 6 Fight for the Troops special.
Natal, a New York-based Brazilian fighter, has won his past three fights inside the octagon -- each in 2013.
- Don't forget, next Wednesday will see the UFC return to Brazil with a great card on paper. In a grappling dream match, Jake Shields will fight Demian Maia in the main event. The rest of the main card features: Erick Silva vs. Stun Gun Kim, Matt Hamill vs. Thiago Silva, Fabio Maldonado vs. Joey Beltran, T.J. Dillashaw vs. Raphael Assuncao and Rousimar Palhares vs. Mike Pierce.
- The World Series of Fighting has purchased the Aggression Fighting Championship (based out of Alberta, Calgary) and will debut in Canada in December. The December 7th show will be headlined by Anthony Johnson vs. Mike Kyle in Vancouver.
- Meanwhile, Alex Shlemenko will fight Doug Marshall, his latest title challenger, at Bellator 107, with the middleweight gold on the line. Marshall, who won the season eight tournament, was originally set to earn his title fight over the summer but he injured his hand and that fight went to Brett Cooper (who ended up having a great fight with the champion, despite losing).
- Remember the rumors about Joe Warren being knocked out in training and that being the cause of his inability to fight at Bellator 98? Well, that story was proven false this week. The fighter (who returned instead last week to defeat Nick Kirk) told MMAJunkie that an abnormality on an MRI gave doctors pause to clear him last month, but whatever the issue may have been has since been rectified.
According to the head of the Mohegan Tribe Dept. of Athletic Regulation, too, Warren has been cleared to use testosterone replacement therapy, although the 36-year-old has been noncommittal if he will use the treatment for his upcoming fight later this year against Travis Marx.