After emphatic starts to the Bellator season-seven heavyweight and featherweight tournaments, we begin to travel on the road to the finals of both brackets, starting with one electrifying semifinal bout from each division.
In the heavyweight tournament semifinal, Richard Hale looks to cement his place in the Bellator heavyweight finals at the expense of Thiago Santos. Meanwhile, Mike Richman aims for a spot in the Bellator featherweight finals, but Shahbulat Shamhalaev stands in his way.
Also, Douglas Lima returns to action against Jacob Ortiz, and in the night’s opener, Ryan Ford takes on solid finisher Kyle Baker.
As always, The MMA Corner thanks you for choosing us as your home for your official Bellator 79 preview, and as the heavyweight and featherweight tournaments come closer to closure, we once again walk you through everything you must know about this card from top to bottom!
Arizonan Richard “Rare Breed” Hale knows how to turn heads.
Over a year removed from his loss to now-champion Christian M’Pumbu in Bellator’s season-four light heavyweight tournament, Hale owns a 3-0 streak, including a successful heavyweight debut victory that occurred against Mike Wessel last month. With an impressive blend of boxing and jiu-jitsu, Hale might just prove to live up to something close to a “dark horse” in this tournament. Few saw his move to heavyweight coming, and even fewer will see him coming as he moves on in his quest to become Bellator’s second-ever heavyweight champion.
There’s one potential problem, however: his road to the title runs through Thiago “Big Monster” Santos. Santos’ name should strike a chord or two, as Bellator fans could not speak his name in recent months without mentioning “The American Soldier” Eric Prindle. After their first bout ended in a no-contest due to an inadvertent (and some might say questionable) groin shot, Santos would miss weight for their Bellator 62 rematch, allowing Prindle to advance to an unsuccessful title bid. Santos vs. Prindle finally did happen again, closing out this season’s quarterfinals, with Prindle landing a groin shot of his own and giving Santos a disqualification victory.
Mention any other name except Prindle’s, and Santos’ career tells a story of composure, heavy hands and a jiu-jitsu game that few can touch. Santos tends to telegraph his shots, which helps speak to the power in his hands, and even though he only holds two career victories by knockout, this telegraphing helps set up his ground game, especially when he can’t find a TKO finish. Also, one must not let the size of Santos fool them, as he does exhibit respectable movement, allowing him to attack from angles.
Hale’s edge in this one comes with his speed, though Santos may have the heavier hands. Nobody will say Santos has an unfair edge against Hale in the reach department, however, because quite frankly, he gives up four inches of reach to “Rare Breed”. Of course, reach proves a tricky aspect of any fight, so the primary question will concern whether Hale will know how to use it.
I trust Hale’s knowledge of how to use that 80.5-inch reach, so I will predict right now that Hale keeps Santos at bay and earns a unanimous decision victory over the Brazilian, provided Santos does not give up his back under some warped mindset. If Santos shows his back to Hale, Hale will capitalize, no questions asked.
Mike Richman packs quite the explosives in his fists, which likely explains why Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney would somehow fit him in this season’s featherweight tourney. It turns out that Richman proved Rebney correct with his 23-second head kick knockout of Jeremy Spoon. Of course, that Richman has posted just two decisions doesn’t hurt either. After all, who doesn’t love a guy that hates decisions so much that he’s finished a dozen poor souls in 13 pro wins?
Shahbulat Shamhalaev may take offense to Richman’s hatred for going the distance, but then again, Shamhalaev only owns three unanimous decisions wins. To his credit, “Sha” owns three finishes of his own, with the latest victory coming against Cody Bollinger. In short, Richman should not take this kid lightly.
However, Shamhalaev should not take Richman lightly either. We cannot stress enough how much Richman will aim to finish this fight, so if Shamhalaev does not pressure Richman early, Richman will find a home for a well-timed shot and he will earn another stunning knockout victory before the fight even escapes the first minute. That said, will it actually happen?
I say it will, but while I predict a first-round knockout, I will go on record and also predict that Richman doesn’t find it until the fight hits the midway point of round one.
Douglas Lima comes off of his loss to Ben Askren to take this fight with Jacob Ortiz. Despite Askren’s ability to use his funky style of wrestling to negate Lima’s jiu-jitsu game, Lima’s jiu-jitsu still aims to play as much a factor as Lima’s vaunted knockout power when he meets Ortiz. Of course, the sting of that championship loss can play out by either fueling Lima’s fire or distracting him from what lies ahead, thus causing Lima to make a few mental lapses in judgment.
Lapses in judgment or not, Ortiz does not present an easy fight for Lima anyway. The Power MMA prospect trains with the likes of Ryan Bader, so fans who never have heard Ortiz’s name might get to see a man with the type of wrestling and overall ground game which traditionally give Lima trouble. Also, Ortiz can finish fights standing up if given the chance.
Whether or not Ortiz does finish Lima on the feet depends on whether we see a focused Lima or an overconfident Lima, but Lima never comes in overconfident. For Ortiz, that spells a bit of danger, though Ortiz does have the ability to stop that danger from turning into complete doom in a potentially competitive bout. Nevertheless, Lima will bring the fire back into the fight and return to the win column with a unanimous decision victory over Ortiz.
Kyle Baker heads into hostile territory to face Ryan Ford in the main-card opener of this week’s Bellator 79 card. I doubt Baker would have it any other way, though. The “Alley Cat” might lack the experience of “The Real Deal,” but he does know how to close, as he owns a total of ten stoppages in his pro career, with nine TKO/KO wins and one submission victory. As a matter of fact, even his only submission win comes by way of punches.
That works well, but where Baker previously suffered defeats, Ford has closed fights on his own terms. To put it another way, Ford knows how to submit dudes, regardless of how good they are (or aren’t) on the ground. In addition, Ford knows a thing or two about mounting comebacks, as he had to mount one when Luis Santos never pulled the trigger in their Bellator 67 bout.
Don’t expect Baker to let go of the proverbial gun when he has a chance to pull the trigger here. If he catches Ford with anything, Baker will pull the trigger. On home soil, however, Ford will not simply lay down for Baker. Ford will get off with the first storm of strikes, and whether Baker likes it or not, Ford will find his moment to secure the victory again in the second round, this time by rear-naked choke.
Kevin Asplund went 15-0 after suffering his first pro loss, but will come off the sting of a TKO (doctor’s stoppage) defeat to Brett Rogers, to now face Red Fury product Alexei Kudin. The Belarusian runs on a five-fight winning streak and carries serious upside coming into this bout. Asplund can lose this if Kudin cuts Asplund twice as bad as Rogers did, but Asplund will make Kudin earn the win. Kudin wins his U.S. debut by split decision.
Christ Franck owns a 3-3 record currently, with a nice two-fight winning streak right now. Like Franck, “Lelo” Aurelio makes his own Bellator debut, with Aurelio having not lost since a submission defeat in his pro debut. Aurelio and his unorthodox style have carried him to six finishes in six pro wins, and the same should occur here. Aurelio wins by first-round KO.
Vitaly Minakov and Vladimir Starcencov both dislike decisions, yet Minakov’s third pro win came via unanimous decision. Unfortunately, Starcencov only owns two fights in his entire pro career, while Minakov owns nine straight wins in nine outings. Many define Minakov’s modus operandi as aiming for a finish in the first round. Expect the trend of first-round finishes to continue, as Minakov earns an early first-round TKO win.
Magomedrasul Khasbulaev and Josh Pulsifer combine for a pro record of 34-12. Khasbulaev’s resume contains victories in M-1 Global and ProFC, as well as his Bellator debut win against Nayeb Hezam. Pulsifer owns a notable win over Nick Gibbons at Strikeforce Challengers 3. Khasbulaev has never been finished in a fight before, but he can threaten Pulsifer everywhere from the stand-up to the grappling game. I like Khasbulaev’s odds of becoming only the third man to submit Pulsifer, and I like the odds of a kimura getting the job done in the second round, if the fight even goes that far.
What are the odds that the fighter to bear the nickname “The King of Late Night” would be named Jonny Carson? Well, in any event, the Skrap Pack lightweight shares common ground with Bellator featherweight debutant Josh Pulsifer in that both spent time in the Xtreme Fighting League, both own a win over Donnie Frye and both earned wins at Strikeforce Challengers 3. Meanwhile, Guillaume DeLorenzi owns a four-fight winning streak and only one loss, which came in 2009 against War Machine. This one may prove difficult to call, but ask me to pick and I say DeLorenzi gets a TKO victory in round two.
Ed Carpenter likes to find submissions in fights, and he may look for one in the first of two fights that he will take to close out 2012. Meanwhile, Josh Appelt, also a finisher, looks to win the first of two fights in which he will compete within an almost two-week period. I can’t hate on a guy that loves a knockout, so I favor a third-round TKO win from Appelt, provided Carpenter doesn’t have some insane ground game that nobody knows about.
Photo: Thiago Santos (top) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)
Photo: Thiago Santos (top) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)