Bellator MMA was slated to make history this Saturday night with their inaugural pay-per view event. But an injury to headliner Tito Ortiz has forced the California based promotion to offer this card free on TV. With three title fights and a number of UFC veterans littered throughout the card, this remains the biggest event in Bellator's history. Once again Jordan Cieciwa (@FitCityJordan) and I (@LynchOnSports) go head to head in our picks for this weekend's event.
Last weekend my #TeamLynch beat out #TeamJC 7-4 and I'm looking to carry that momentum in our first Bellator preview. Let us know which side you're on! Either hashtag #TeamLynch or #TeamJC on Twitter. Also feel free to leave your opinions in the comment section below.
Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez (Lightweight Championship)
James Lynch TSN.ca (@LynchOnSports)
In one of the most anticipated rematches in MMA history, undefeated champion Chandler defends his title for the third time against former lightweight champ Alvarez.
If you haven't watched their first encounter, look up Bellator 58: Chandler vs. Alvarez on YouTube and you'll witness one of the greatest fights in MMA history.
When Chandler upset Alvarez in their first fight back in November 2011 to capture the title, he immediately became the promotions poster boy.
The DREAM veteran Alvarez was pushed in the opposite direction and was told to re-enter an upcoming lightweight tournament in order to earn a rematch. Alvarez opted to compete in two super-fights instead (against Shinya Aoki and Patricky Freire) and emerged victories on both accounts. His plan was to wait until the conclusion of his contract and move on elsewhere. He had aspirations to fight in the UFC and instead of that storybook ending; he endured one of the worst legal contract battles in the sport.
The 29-year old would be forced to sit out a year and in the end remained with the promotion. Thanks to a newly formed rematch clause, fans and pundits instead get to witness this epic encounter Saturday night.
So who wins the fight?
Despite Chandler getting the best of his foe at Bellator 58, the matchup as a whole was extremely competitive. Both fighters have knockout power and exceptional wrestling. The Alliance MMA fighter has the edge on the mat, but with 27-fights on his resume Alvarez has the clear advantage in experience. Since his win over the Blackzillians member, the 12-0 fighter has made leaps and bounds in his career.
He's finished all of his opponents since then, including lightweight tournament winner David Rickels and current welterweight finalist Rick Hawn. In addition, the former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler has the security with the promotion (signing a disclosed long-term contract) and has been more active fighting.
All these factors don't bode well for Alvarez, especially with the long layoff. Expect the company man Chandler to come out with the same intensity in their first fight and land the better power shots. He'll catch the durable Alvarez sometime in the third round and slip in the submission for his 13th career victory.
Chandler via third round submission
Jordan Cieciwa – TSN 1290 Host
This promises to be one of the best fights on paper in any fight organization this year. The UFC got lucky that Sanchez vs. Melendez was an epic battle; this rematch looks to be something special.
If you have not been following these two competitors you have been missing something. Alvarez vs. Chandler in Bellator 58 was one of those fights that needs to be watched to be believed. Both fighters have the talent to go to the top of their division in any league.
Alvarez has proved his talent with wins over Shinya Aoki (Watch his career highlights) and Patricky Freire. Both wins were first round KO's. At 9-1 in his last 10 fights (Chandler was the loss) Alvarez has finished eight of those fights. That's impressive. At 24-3, it's no wonder the UFC wanted him. That legal battle left Alvarez hungry and he better be for this fight.
Across the cage is the man who took his title. Chandler has competed in half the fights, but at 12-0 is no rookie. Chandler has finished his last four fights. The last time these two met, Chandler sunk in a rear naked choke in the championship rounds.
Now, I see redemption on the horizon for Alvarez. With no competition he has been in the gym with the Blackzillians, perfecting his technique. It has been almost exactly one year since Alvarez had a fight. I expect him to be healthy, and razor sharp.
Alvarez via fourth round KO
Pat Curran vs. Daniel Straus (Featherweight Championship)
26-year old featherweight champion Curran faces off with Season 6 tournament winner Strauss as part of three rematches on this main card.
Their first encounter came back in 2009 for the XFO promotion, where Curran won via knockout in the second round.
Both fighters have evolved their games since then and currently between the two of them, ride an 11-fight unbeaten streak.
The Team Curran fighter has looked spectacular since dropping back to featherweight in 2011 and has dispatched the likes of Marlon Sandro, Joe Warren and Patricio Freire.
Looking for his seventh straight win, “Paddy Mike” is in for a competitive matchup against the Team Vision product Straus.
The 29-year old has had quite the battle both inside and outside of the cage, with injuries and legal trouble back in March which has delayed this fight from happening. Now ready and with the opportunity to compete on the promotions biggest event to date, Straus hopes his wrestling will be enough to outpoint the current champ.
Physically both fighters are similar with Curran having a slight height and reach advantage. Both have over 20-fights on their resume, but Curran has a win over Patricio Freire, a man who handed Straus his last loss. While no doubt the Ohio native is durable, Curran is better in every aspect of this fight. Should the 2011 featherweight summer series winner stick to his game plan, this is his fight to lose. Expect Curran to overwhelm Straus as the fight goes on, and catch him late in the fight, for his 20th career victory.
Curran via fourth round knockout
If you listen to the "Weigh In" on TSN 1290 where Lynch and I sound off with our friend and Co-Host Marvyn Timog, you'll know about our respect for the very underrated Pat Curran. He has heavy hands and a ton of talent. He's the champ for a reason; he's really good at fist fighting. Curran has strung together six wins, while Daniel Straus is on his own five fight win streak.
This is a rematch as it was a loss for Straus back in 2009 for the XFO organization.
That, coupled with some "out of the ring" legal issues, I'm not sure we get to see Straus in the perfect head space for a fight with someone who has been getting better and better as time passes.
Pat Curran has looked as sharp as ever in his last six fights. His hands are heavy, and his talent to hit the button is unquestioned. Win number 20 for Pat Curran will come with a booming KO. Watch this one; it's going to be the fight your friends talk about.
Curran via third round knockout
Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal vs. Emanuel Newton (Interim Light Heavyweight Championship)
Another heated rematch fills out the main card, this time in the light heavyweight division as former MFC champion Newton battles former Strikeforce champion Lawal.
This past February at Bellator 90, we saw one of the biggest upsets in the promotions history Newton landed a first round, spinning back-fist knockout on Lawal to advance to the Season 8 tournament final.
With “King Mo” winning this past summer's light heavyweight tournament and current Bellator 205lb Attila Vegh apparently sidelined due to injury, this rematch was made possible. Since the loss, the always charismatic Lawal is on a two-fight win streak, finishing both Seth Petruzelli and Jacob Noe.
If the 2007 Pan American gold medalist wants to emerge victorious, he'll need to neutralize the standup of the “Hardcore Kid” and not become over confident like he was in their first fight. For Newton, he'll need to unload on his standup and try to turn this into a dogfight. A glaring difference between these two fighters is experience, with Newton having 29-fights on his resume compared to Lawal's 14.
With what's at stake for the 32-year old, expect Lawal to play it safe and try to outwrestle his opponent on route to a unanimous decision victory.
Lawal via unanimous decision
I had the pleasure of watching King Mo train right after he was cleared from an ACL repair. That same ACL that had him sidelined for a long time, thanks to a subsequent infection.
I got to see King Mo up at Reign MMA working with a ton of top talent. No doubt, he is a talented wrestler. The King's striking is good, but it's not great.
Enter the Interim Champ, Emanuel Newton. He is much sharper in the standup world. Newton is still training with Reign MMA, and his sparring days are over at Kings MMA. Rafael Cordero turns out top prospects at Kings MMA, and that's exactly why Newton has the belt right now.
The last go between these two had Newton landing a back fist for the KO. I don't think this one will end that fast, but I do expect the striking to be the factor in this that gets the win.
I expect Newton to confuse Lawal, and stay on the outside and avoid takedowns. You have to beat the champion, if this goes to decision, it will stay with Newton
Newton via unanimous decision.
Joe Riggs vs. Mike Bronzoulis (Fight Master Final)
In a matchup that was slated to take place back at Bellator 98 in September, Team Jackson fighter Riggs returns from injury to battle Team Couture fighter Bronzoulis.
The 31-year old Riggs had a well-documented fall from grace, from fighting for the UFC welterweight title against Matt Hughes in 2005 to battling an opiate addiction which lead to him bouncing around from promotion to promotion.
A win for the Strikeforce veteran on Saturday would not only earn him a spot in the upcoming welterweight tournament, but also resurgence in his career.
Heading into this bout, “Diesel” is riding five-fight win streak and hopes to add “Fight Master Champion” to his resume.
Meanwhile the former Legacy FC welterweight champion Bronzoulis looked dominant during his tenure on the Fight Master reality series, defeating Chris Lozano and Eric Bradley to earn his spot in the final. Riggs has a significant advantage in experience, with 54 fights in his career (compared to Bronzoulis' 21) and has fought the likes of Matt Hughes, Nick Diaz, Chris Lytle and Phil Baroni. The 34-year old “Greek” has finished 12 of his 15 opponents, and will no doubt make this a competitive matchup.
Because these fighters are on the biggest card in Bellator history and with Riggs having a vast amount of experience, this should be his fight to lose. Expect The MMA Lab fighter to play it smart throughout the three round affairs and earn a unanimous decision victory.
Riggs via unanimous decision
Who hasn't Joe Riggs fought? With 39 wins, this guy has seen it all. At 31 years-old, Riggs has a lot of time left on the clock. That clock has had some rough times on it. Riggs has lost a lot of key fights, had some personal problems and has seen time in almost every single organization out there. He is a fighter who needs to start winning again.
As he takes to the cage, his opponent will be very ready.
Mike Bronzoulis has put together two wins in a row, and is making his debut for Bellator. That means he is going to do everything he can to impress. Neither of these fighters possesses a distinct advantage in striking or wrestling. This may be one of those typical brawl matches, Riggs is known for mixing it up and putting on a good show. I think the fans are in for a great fight to start the night of Rematches up.
Riggs via unanimous decision
Mike Richman vs. Akop Stepanyan
A pair of exciting featherweights clash to open up the main card as former Marine Richman battles Taekwondo black belt Stepanyan.
Richman is coming off a hard fought loss to Frodo Khasbulaev at Bellator 95 in the Season 8 featherweight tournament final.
Prior to the loss, “The Marine” was on a 6-1 run, including wins over Canadian Chris Horodecki and Alexandre Bezerra. Looking to earn his spot in the upcoming featherweight tournament, the 28-year old understands the importance of a win over his Russian- Armenian foe.
The 27-year old Stepanyan also had a disappointing outing in his last fight, in an upset loss to Justin Wilcox at Bellator 99. Losing of three of his last four contests, should he not come out on top Saturday, he'll likely be released from the promotion. Expect that to happen, with Richman using his superior standup and wrestling over the course of three rounds to earn the decision nod.
Richman via unanimous decision
As usual I'm going against Lynch and picking Stepanyan to win the fight. He hasn't looked impressive since signing with Bellator, but that will change on Saturday as he's going to show the form that lead him to an impressive 12-3 record while he was competing in his native Russia. Richman was knocked out in his last fight and I expect that to happen again here.
Stepanyan via second round knockout
Lynch: Etim, Souza, Guymon, Halsey, Juarez, J.Smith, Luciano
JC: Etim, Souza, Guymon, Halsey, Williams, J.Smith, Camacho
Also be sure to tune into the “Weigh-In” on TSN Radio 1290 Winnipeg every Saturday as myself, Jordan and “Big Marv” Timog go toe to toe discussing the hottest topics in MMA.