The last time we saw Bellator light heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu, he fought and lost a three-round battle with veteran Travis “Diesel” Wiuff. Luckily for M’Pumbu, the bout was a non-title affair.

Among many other things, fans thought the win for Wiuff made it clear that Wiuff might as well enter Bellator’s next light heavyweight tournament. Wiuff seemed to have that tournament in the bag, but he ran into a problem. To put it more specifically, Wiuff ran into a 6-foot-2 Slovakian known as Attila Vegh.

Fast forward a little over six months, and Wiuff no longer stands as a threat to M’Pumbu and his title. Instead, the MMA world awaits the result of M’Pumbu’s first title defense, which comes against Vegh in the main event of Bellator 91, live from the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., this Thursday night.

In addition to the headlining affair, one of the biggest underdogs in Bellator tournament history looks to etch his name in the archives as “Ill” Will Brooks attempts to derail Saad Awad. Meanwhile, potential lightweight tournament favorite David Rickels looks to advance in the bracket against late replacement Jason Fischer. And finally, Ed “Wild” West returns to the Bellator cage to combat King of the Cage veteran Josh Montoya.

As always, The MMA Corner thanks you for making us your home for your official Bellator 91 preview. As M’Pumbu, Vegh and the lightweight semifinalists look to find success in the Bellator cage, we also thank you for allowing us to break this fight card down from top to bottom!

LHW Championship: Christian M’Pumbu (18-4-1) vs. Attila Vegh (28-4-2)

M'Pumbu (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

So many questions exist about this fight, yet we can only provide a few answers.

Though M’Pumbu won his title in May of 2011, he makes his first defense this week. In retrospect, the fight with Wiuff now appears as one that only needed to transpire had Wiuff won the tournament, because in addition to exposing holes in M’Pumbu’s game, it took some luster off of that title.

M’Pumbu’s power and versatility in the striking game should pay dividends to a victory here. We say it should pay dividends, but M’Pumbu takes this title defense on the heels of a layoff that kept him sidelined for a year. Vegh comes in off an injury that also delayed this fight. However, like M’Pumbu, Vegh does pack power into his strikes, and although Vegh may have trouble getting M’Pumbu initially, he can implement his well-documented ground game if he should opt to take it there.

In all likelihood, M’Pumbu will initially keep the fight in his realm, but he will tire out down the stretch. Vegh will wear out M’Pumbu to where the takedown proves academic. The end result will come in the form of a second-round TKO when Vegh’s ground-and-pound proves too much for M’Pumbu to withstand.

LW Tournament Semifinal: Will Brooks (9-0) vs. Saad Awad (13-4)

Brooks (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Although a talented fighter in his own right, Will Brooks, due to his lack of experience, should not find himself in the semifinals of this tournament. However, here hs is, and he loves his status as the fighter nobody saw coming in this tournament. For that matter, Brooks’ opponent, Saad Awad also loves that underdog status, as nobody saw him coming either.

A finisher in 11 of his 13 career wins, Awad replaced Patricky Freire to face Guillaume DeLorenzi in the quarterfinals. With a five-fight winning streak intact at the time, DeLorenzi’s only shot to lose on paper came if Awad could find a submission. Alas, instead he needed just 31 seconds to find a lightning strike that put DeLorenzi out with evil intentions.

Nobody can tell Brooks the feeling that comes with a knockout loss, because nine opponents tried and failed to show him how it feels to actually lose a fight. The raw prospect faced expectations of a hard quarterfinal test when he signed on to fight Ricardo Tirloni, but Brooks’ wrestling took everyone by surprise, including the favored tournament veteran, Tirloni. Much like his quarterfinal foe and his upcoming semifinal adversary, the brunt of Brooks’ career wins come by submission, which leads us to ask if we will see a ground battle.

If Awad prepares to fight off his back, that ground battle may happen. However, if Brooks could come in with an aggressive wrestling strategy to make Tirloni look like he’d never grappled off his back in his life, then Awad will have problems dealing with what Brooks will do if he gains mount on him. If Awad does not keep the fight standing and does not finish the fight before the end of the second, Brooks will threaten Awad near the end of the third and take all three rounds in a unanimous decision win.

LW Tournament Semifinal: David Rickels (12-1)vs. Jason Fischer (6-1)

Rickels (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Unless I stand mistaken, the last time Bellator MMA saw a rematch of a previous Bellator tournament fight during the semifinals of a tourney came when Ben Askren rematched Ryan Thomas in season two. Now, interesting circumstances take us to a rematch between David Rickels and Jason Fischer.

Rickels came off his first pro loss opposite Karl Amoussou to take the first encounter with Fischer. Then undefeated in six pro fights, Fischer built a reputation for finishing his opponents and having never gone the distance, but Rickels changed all that by earning a unanimous decision win over Fischer. Rickels would then post another unanimous decision in the win column when he defeated Lloyd Woodard in this season’s quarterfinal round.

Fischer rebounded from the loss with a submission win over Sevak Magakian. Fischer stood sidelined and not contacted about a fight soon after, but then the injury bug struck Alexander Sarnavskiy. When “Tiger” suffered an injury that rendered him unable to fight Rickels, Fischer stepped in. In addition to the opportunity to avenge his only loss, Fischer now has the chance to shock the MMA world by winning it all, starting with his fight against Rickels.

However, don’t get too comfortable with the thought. Fischer may come in more prepared to last the full fifteen minutes, but Rickels shut down Fischer’s weapons before, and he will do it again. Rickels will take another unanimous decision win, but do not find it shocking if it turns into a split verdict instead.

BW: Ed West(17-7) vs. Josh Montoya (10-7)

Ed West knows the thrill of contending for a title. He owns a stint in Bellator’s most recent bantamweight tourney, and he stood opposite Zach Makovsky in the finals of the promotion’s first bantamweight tournament. He now faces Josh Montoya in the opener to the main card in what should bring fun action in addition to answering a few questions.

First, will we see the best West start to emerge here? We know what he can do on the ground, but in battles with the likes of Eduardo Dantas and Marcos Galvao, West found himself outstruck and worn down by his opponents’ best efforts. Although Montoya likely won’t bring a style similar to that of Dantas or Galvao, he will test West, despite West’s veteran edge.

Now, what does Montoya actually bring? Much like West, his record suggests a knack for submissions and a few decision wins here and there. However, no fighter took a fight with West and finished him after March 2004. Montoya stands at 2-3 in his last five, with the latest loss coming by way of an armbar, and with the two wins coming in the current winning streak Montoya rides as he prepares for West.

Montoya will have his moments, but he will not come close to finishing West. West will show improvements in his striking and look to end this one on the ground. Look for West to enjoy a clear two rounds in his favor, and anticipate a rear-naked choke sealing the deal for “Wild West” late in round two.

Preliminary Card

BW: Adrian Cruz (3-0) vs. Nick Gonzalez (3-0)

Both men carry unblemished three-fight records, but someone must lose. Adrian Cruz’s trio of wins show one TKO and one submission win, both in the first round, with one unanimous decision. Nick Gonzalez owns a TKO and a submission win, both also in the first, along with a third-round submission win. I like the upside for both men from a long-term standpoint, but Gonzalez will take a TKO midway through the first minute of round three.

LHW: Anton Talamantes (5-3) vs. Liam McGeary (3-0)

Anton Talamantes lost his most recent outing in Bellator, while Liam McGeary debuts on the strength of a second-round knockout win. Talamantes shows no sign of a glass chin, but McGeary’s hands will unleash themselves on Talamantes once he makes the slightest technical error. McGeary by knockout in round one.

HW: Josh Appelt (8-2) vs. Josh Lanier (3-6)

Josh Appelt rides a four-fight winning streak into this bout, whereas Josh Lanier rides on a one-fight losing skid. Lanier never loses when the fight goes the distance, but Appelt will not let the bout leave the first. Appelt will find his mark and score a first-round knockout, though it will come late in the round.

BW: Felipe Chavez (5-3) vs. Russell Wilson (1-1)

Russell Wilson will rebound from his first pro fight when he fights KOTC veteran Felipe Chavez. Chavez suspended a three-fight winning streak with a recent submission loss, but he should capitalize on Wilson’s inexperience and redeem the loss with a submission of his own. Chavez wins by a tight first-round guillotine choke after Wilson gets a takedown.

LW: Blas Avena (7-6-1) vs. Lenny Lovato (8-1)

Blas Avena found himself the victim of a TKO in the second round of a Showdown Fights bout with Brock Jardine. Lenny Lovato, meanwhile, returns to action after three years away from the cage. The layoff will prove tough to shake off, but Lovato will still adjourn with a unanimous decision win in a possibly slow-paced, but nevertheless interesting fight.

Women’s BW: Holly Holm (2-0) vs. Katie Merrill (1-0)

Continuing her transition to MMA, well-known boxer Holly Holm comes off a knockout win over Jan Finney to take on relative MMA newcomer Katie Merrill. Although Merrill’s inexperience may not factor into the final result, the effects of having not fought since 2011 will work in Holm’s favor down the stretch. Holm wins by a third-round knockout.

MW: Brennan Ward (5-1) vs. Vadiano La Luz (1-2)

Brennan Ward found defeat at Bellator 89, but looks to rebound against Vadiano La Luz, who recently scored his first pro win. If Ward refrains from doing anything reckless, his hands and tempo should return him to the win column in emphatic fashion. After hurting La Luz midway through the first frame, Ward will win by TKO late in the round.

Photo: Bellator light heavyweight championship contender Attila Vegh (Alan Oliveira/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.