Two weeks ago, Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler put away Rick Hawn in a dominant performance. Now, he awaits his next opponent, and familiar faces rule the field of foes in the running for the title bid.

This week’s Bellator 87 will feature a field of eight lightweights vying for a shot at Chandler’s gold. Saad Awad squares off with Guillaume DeLorenzi, Will Brooks fights Ricardo Tirloni, Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy faces Thiago Michel, and David Rickels headlines the card in a potential thriller with Lloyd Woodard.

As always, the MMA Corner thanks you for making us your home for your official Bellator 87 preview, and as we look forward to the jump-off of the Bellator season-eight lightweight tournament, we thank you for allowing up to break down this stellar night of fights from top to bottom!

LW Tourney Quarterfinal: David Rickels (11-1) vs. Lloyd Woodard (12-2)

Woodard (Sherdog)

If not for what Sean Wheelock would call a “lightning strike” from Rick Hawn, Lloyd Woodard would’ve advanced to the finals of the season-six tournament and faced Brent Weedman. However, Hawn put him out in the first ten seconds of the second round. That David “The Caveman” Rickels loves his share of finishes does not help Woodard, but it will give him some idea of how to respond to the situation.

It helps, however, that Woodard owns a respectable ground game and the instinct to recognize what to do if Rickels leaves an opening. Against Karl Amoussou, Rickels showed heart and even threatened with a few submissions, but Woodard will not allow Rickels the same opportunity. On the feet, Woodard will not refrain from engaging in a firefight as well.

At the same time, though, Rickels knows a thing or two about the knockout, despite only two wins by some form of the knockout. Nevertheless, if he lands on Woodard like he landed on Jordan Smith, Woodard could go out in much quicker fashion than he did when Hawn put him out. Also, while Woodard can hunt for the submission against Rickels, Rickels’ career consists mostly of submission wins, so his skills on the ground should not fly under the radar in their own right.

Woodard should be able to outwork the 11-1 Rickels everywhere while making the encounter a nail biter from beginning to end. “Fight of The Year” may or may not fit this bout when looking at the sport as a whole, but Rickels historically hates the notion of going down without a fight, so expect this one to turn in some close scores if it goes all the way. We’ll call that a big if, though, because both will aim for the finish, and if Woodard gets too wild in trying to pressure Rickels, the first-round knockout victory will come so easily for Rickels that even a caveman could find it.

LW Tourney Quarterfinal: Saad Awad (12-4) vs. Guillaume DeLorenzi (10-1)

Awad (Zhanna Popova/Sherdog)

An undisclosed injury took Patricky Freire out of action, so Saad Awad moves up from the prelims to take on Nordik Fight Club finisher Guillaume DeLorenzi. Against Freire, DeLorenzi found a touted finisher, much like himself, who hunted for knockouts and submissions, but didn’t mind going all three rounds. So, how does Awad differ from Freire, and why should DeLorenzi feel threatened?

After all, DeLorenzi owns the majority of his wins by TKO. For Awad, it means that DeLorenzi holds no reservations about putting his hands to work. In addition, he showed a bit of a submission arsenal when he finished Jonny Carson, so Awad should not view “Il Toro” as a one-trick pony.

DeLorenzi can’t do the same with Awad, though he might have a reason to feel as such. When one scores six career submission wins with four coming in the first round, it evolves into a habit to expect a submission out of the TUF 16 hopeful. For what it’s worth, the only three men to own a finish over DeLorenzi also never lost by submission, while DeLorenzi’s only loss by way of a finish came by submission.

If Awad sees a way to expose DeLorenzi’s susceptibility to submissions, provided DeLorenzi has such a thing, he must act upon it or risk facing the hands of the 28-year-old upstart. The battle of submissions appears likely to hit a stalemate, however, so DeLorenzi should get this to a position where he can let his hands go, even if by ground-and-pound, and score another TKO victory.

LW Tourney Quarterfinal: Will Brooks (8-0) vs. Ricardo Tirloni (15-3)

Tirloni (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Will Brooks owns an undefeated streak and possesses tremendous potential in many eyes for great reason. He owns a raw striking regiment that he can refine over time to become a nightmare, and on par with the trend that we will witness on Thursday night, he loves the finish. The majority of his wins come by submission, something Ricardo Tirloni knows all too well, but Brooks will come out to earn some respect, and he may just get it.

Of course, Brooks gets Tirloni’s respect if he beats Tirloni, but many feel the Brazilian ace should stand across from Marcin Held at this very moment. Nothing against Dave Jansen, but many fans who scored the fight felt Tirloni earned the decision. Nevertheless, Tirloni must earn his chance at a title shot like the rest, and while he goes up against a prospect who can definitely give him trouble, Brooks must know that Tirloni does not fight like Satoru Kitaoka or anyone else that Brooks previously defeated.

Give Brooks the chance to hurt Tirloni, but expect Tirloni to come in conditioned and take what Brooks can dish out. Brooks’ own conditioning will play a role in the final verdict, and so one should expect this one to go to the judges. In the end, Tirloni puts up his best outing against a hungry prospect, but Brooks will win via unanimous decision.

LW Tourney Quarterfinal: Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy (21-1) vs. Thiago Michel (10-3)

Sarnavskiy (L) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

To this date, Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy still holds the most ridiculous record of any 24-year-old prospect in the sport. Despite getting outworked by Rich Clementi, Sarnavskiy responded to the loss by beating Tony Hervey via unanimous decision. He will need to keep up that workmanlike effort against Thiago Michel.

Sure, Michel owns two submission losses, but against Brent Weedman, he found himself merely outworked and outclassed by a better opponent. Weedman normally holds a considerably advantage in the grappling department, so not tapping to a fighter of Weedman’s caliber prove no dismissible feat. But it does raise its share of questions about what happens if Michel can’t find the knockout against Sarnavskiy.

Call this the classic striker vs. grappler match-up. Michel wants the knockout, and Tiger wants the submission. Michel may bring better submission defense than in previous fights, but even if Sarnavskiy doesn’t finish Michel, he will get the unanimous decision.

Preliminary Card

LW: Jason Fischer (5-1) vs. Sevak Magakian (12-3)

Sevak Magakian rides a five-fight winning streak and replaces Awad against Jason Fischer, who lost professionally when he fought lightweight quarterfinalist Rickels. Magakian should outwork Fischer, but Fischer will bring a tough fight despite the short notice. Fischer by split decision.

WW: Ben Lagman (7-2) vs. Sam Quito (11-4)

The veteran Sam Quito rides a two-fight winning streak, while Ben Lagman will fight for the first time since losing to Anthony Smith in 2011. Cage rust can work for Lagman or against him, but the veteran experience of Quito will allow him to submit Lagman after timing something that rocks Lagman. Quito will let his hands fly, but he’ll still find a rear-naked choke and win by submission in the second.

LW: J.P. Reese (8-4) vs. David Shepherd (5-2)

J.P. Reese returns to Bellator needing to soothe the sting of a recent Impact Fight League loss in a bout with Kevin Lee. David Shepherd recently got back on track in December. Shepherd loves his submissions and could find one against Reese, but Reese’s submission defense will open up a chance to find the TKO early in the second round.

FW: Cody Stamann (2-0) vs. Justin Houghton (5-2)

Cody Stamann stands with one TKO and one submission on his winning record, but he still comes in with just two fights under his belt. Justin Houghton comes in on a two-fight skid and must reroute his ship against the prospect. The experience and hands of Houghton should earn him the second-round TKO here, but Stamann can shock plenty of people if he should win.

HW: Jason Fish (2-2) vs. Karl Etherington (7-0)

Heavyweight bouts always hold potential to either deliver or drop dull, especially with two heavyweight prospects. Karl Etherington holds the undefeated record, and like a number of fighters, he owns more wins by submission. Jason Fish will aim to improve to 3-2 instead of dropping to 2-3. Nevertheless, Etherington will last until the third, and then he will knock out Fish.

LW: Amir Khillah (10-5) vs. John Schultz (4-0)

John Schultz owns four finishes in four pro bouts. Amir Khillah had a five-fight winning streak snapped when he dropped a split decision against James Krause. If Schultz can’t find his range or a choke before the midway point of the first frame, Khillah takes a late first-round TKO win

BW: Nick Kirk (9-1) vs. Tony Zelinski (3-2)

Nick Kirk’s Bellator debut saw him lose his “0” against David Harris. Tony Zelinski earned a second-round submission win in his most recent outing. In his prior fight, Zelinski lost when Sergio Pettis finished him in the second round during a NAFC event in 2011. If he grinds out Zelinski, he finds a first-round submission by rear-naked choke.

Photo: David Rickels (left) who faces Lloyd Woodard in the new headliner of Bellator 87 (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.