Bellator’s season-seven welterweight tournament is shaping up to be just as entertaining as the others. The field includes eight fighters who all come from different backgrounds but all want the same thing: a title shot against welterweight champ Ben Askren.
Each of the fighters possess unique qualities that make winning the tournament a possibility. Some are considered sure bets to make it close to the finals while others are long shots. Here’s a look at how the field of eight breaks down.
Lyman Good will be competing in his second welterweight tournament in Bellator. Good was the first ever Bellator welterweight champion, a title he won by defeating Hector Urbina, Jorge Ortiz and Omar de la Cruz.
Good lost the title to Askren at Bellator 33 and has gone 2-1 in his last three fights. He is a solid fighter, but will need to work on his takedown defense if he wants to avoid losing valuable points on the judges’ scorecards.
First-Round Opponent: Jim Wallhead
Andrey Koreshkov is a relative unknown to MMA fans due to competing in his native Russia for much of his career. The Russian compiled an 8-0 record prior to signing with Bellator, and none of Koreshkov’s fights have gone to a decision.
Koreshkov is a highly-touted prospect who hasn’t disappointed thus far into his Bellator career. He’s a well-balanced fighter, capable of winning via knockout or submission. Fans should be reserved about taking Koreshkov to win the tournament though, as we haven’t seen him face top-level competition. If Koreshkov can continue his impressive streak of ending fights in spectacular fashion, his bandwagon will be full of followers.
First-Round Opponent: Jordan Smith
Look at Jordan Smith’s record and you can tell the man is well-traveled for being only 27 years old. He’s also been in the cage with a number of good fighters, including Karo Parisyan, Gustavo Machado and Richard Hale. Smith ran his undefeated streak to 14 fights before finally tasting the sting of defeat.
Since then, Smith has found a mixed bag of success in MMA. He’s 2-2 in his last four fights, sandwiching two wins between two losses. Smith enters the tournament looking to rebound from a 22-second KO loss to David Rickels.
The biggest barometer of how Smith will do is when he faces the highly-touted Russian, Koreshkov, in his opening tourney fight. Koreshkov is a master at finishing opponents, something Smith has experienced in his recent two losses.
First-Round Opponent: Andrey Koreshkov
Jim “Judo” Wallhead is without a doubt one of the favorites to win this welterweight tournament. Wallhead has been an active MMA fighter since 2005 and has faced a number of quality opponents. He may have not been on the winning end of all of those fights, but the experience has to be invaluable.
Wallhead is a former light heavyweight who dropped all the way down to welterweight in 2005 and has occasionally bounced back up to 185 pounds. He’s won his past two fights against Frank Trigg and Joey Villasenor in BAMMA. Wallhead has also faced Rick Hawn (a loss) and Ryan Thomas (a win) under the Bellator banner.
The key for Wallhead in this tournament is common sense—use his judo background. He’s very experienced and brings a good skill set to the cage. It won’t be easy for the Englishman, as he faces a former welterweight champion in his first outing. If he can get past Good, it should be easy sailing after that.
First-Round Opponent: Lyman Good
Nordine Taleb brings a lot of inexperience—just like the Russian Koreshkov—to the welterweight tournament. Taleb is a French-Canadian fighter who has won seven straight fights after dropping his second professional bout. Taleb’s most notable victory was a TKO win over Pete Sell in Nov. 2011 for the Ring of Combat welterweight title.
The Sell fight marked his biggest-name opponent to date, but his Bellator debut was perhaps his most dominant showing in a fight. Taleb was able to dominate the fight to be awarded a 10-8 round on a judges’ scorecards. He used his striking to control the stand-up portion of the fight and mixed in some takedowns as well.
Taleb has the stand-up to hang with anyone in the field, but will have a stiff test when trying to take out Marius Zaromskis in the opening round.
First-Round Opponent: Marius Zaromskis
Koreshkov may have got all the attention from MMA scouts, but don’t forget about his teammate, Michail Tsarev. The Russians will be entering their first Bellator tournament and both bring respectable records to the United States.
Tsarev has only lost twice in 25 total fights with both coming via choke. Tsarev’s biggest victory to date came against Kyacey Uscola in his last fight.
The biggest advantages for Tsarev coming into the tournament are the training partners he works with. Other than Koreshkov, Tsarev trains with Alexander Shlemenko and Sambo world champion Vener Galiev.
First-Round Opponent: Tim Welch
Tim Welch doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. That should tell you how unknown “Cheapshot” is coming into the tournament. Welch has competed mainly in the Northwest and trains with Bellator standout Lloyd Woodard.
Reading about Welch gives you insight into what you can expect from him inside the cage. He loves to be explosive in the cage and believes he can knock out any fighter with a single punch. Knockout power is always dangerous, but Welch will need to avoid looking for the home run with every punch.
Hopefully, training with Woodard will give Welch the knowledge to fight a smart fight. Also, Welch has traveled to Team Quest, a move that is likely to pay big dividends if Welch finds himself on the mat.
First-Round Opponent: Michail Tsarev
Marius Zaromskis is perhaps the most well-known fighter in the tournament. He made a name for himself competing in Cage Rage and Dream. The Lithuanian traveled to the United States, but found tough times as he lost to both Nick Diaz and Evangelista Santos to begin his Strikeforce career.
Zaromskis, a former Dream champion, is one of the most exciting strikers in Bellator, capable of ending the fight at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, that talent hasn’t translated well when Zaromskis has faced better fighters. It may be put up or shut up time for Zaromskis and his MMA career.
It was a shaky outing for Zaromskis against Waachiim Spiritwolf, but he may get a chance to display his trademark striking ability against another striker, Nordine Taleb, in his first tourney bout.
First-Round Opponent: Nordine Taleb
Photo: Marius Zaromskis (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)