The Bellator season-eight light heavyweight and lightweight tournaments provided fans with their share of excitement, but like all good things, they must now reach their end. In addition to the $100,000 checks that are on the line, title shots hang in the balance for the winners of their respective tournaments. However, whereas light heavyweight finalists Emanuel Newton and Mikhail Zayats know that Bellator champion Attila Vegh certainly awaits their challenge, a less certain opponent awaits the winner of Saad Awad’s lightweight final with David Rickels.

We know that after Dave Jansen’s win over Marcin Held, Jansen will earn the next crack at the undefeated Bellator lightweight champion, Michael Chandler. Whether or not the winner of Awad-Rickels will get Jansen for the belt instead of Chandler remains to be seen.

Also featured on the main card, in non-tourney action, highly touted prospect Trey Houston comes off his first professional loss with the intention of returning to the win column. However, Brazilian veteran Luis Melo welcomes the opportunity to put the second career blemish on the Oklahoma-bred middleweight’s record.

Finally, a late addition to the main card sees Ronnie Mann return to the Bellator cage as a bantamweight. Former Bellator bantamweight tournament quarterfinalist Rodrigo Lima, coming off his first pro loss, will welcome Mann to the division.

As always, The MMA Corner thanks you for choosing us as your home for your official Bellator 94 preview. As we wait for the conclusion of Bellator’s season-eight tournaments in the lightweight and light heavyweight divisions, we thank you for allowing us the opportunity to break this card down from top to bottom!

LW Tournament Final: David Rickels (13-1) vs. Saad Awad (14-4)

Awad (Zhanna Popova/Sherdog)

Coming into this fight, David Rickels rides a three-fight winning streak, with all three wins coming by unanimous decision. Saad Awad rides a six-fight winning streak consisting of five first-round finishes and one second-round finish. On paper, this should suggest that Rickels will look to grind out Awad, while Awad looks to finish Rickels. However, Rickels doesn’t grind out fights like an average grinder.

Then again, not even Rickels’ road to this final proved average. After defeating Lloyd Woodard, he prepared for Alexander Sarnavskiy. However, when an injury prevented Sarnavskiy from competing against Rickels in the semifinals, Rickels took a rematch with Jason Fischer. Unlike his first time against Fischer, Rickels would take all three rounds in the unanimous decision win. Despite not finishing Fischer, Rickels employed his right hand and looked for opportunities to finish.

Unlike Rickels, Awad created opportunities to finish and found it in each of his six recent wins. First, after stepping in for Patricky Freire, Awad scored a 31-second knockout of Guillaume DeLorenzi via a heavy storm of left hooks. Then, he fought then-undefeated Will Brooks and only needed 43 second to find a home for his right hook and a storm of hammerfists.

Cutting to the chase, Awad knows that Rickels never hands anyone a chance to finish. He needs to prepare to defend takedowns from everywhere and avoid the clinch with “The Caveman.” If he does not, Rickels will land with some violent Muay Thai or bombard him with takedowns. The actual fight may bring a much closer bout than expected, but Rickels will score a split decision win by clearly taking the last round and barely taking the first round.

LHW Tournament Final: Emanuel Newton (13-7-1) vs. Mikhail Zayats (21-6)

Newton catches 'King Mo' after knocking him out (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

For all intents and purposes, neither Emanuel Newton nor Mikhail Zayats should find themselves in this position. But Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and Renato “Babalu” Sobral, both favorites to take this tournament and the light heavyweight title fell short, leading us to this match-up. Now, Newton looks forward to a rematch with Vegh, but Zayats’ quest to become only the second Russian-born fighter to hold a Bellator world title will not let up without a fight.

When Sobral encountered Zayats, few ever gave the Russian a shot to give Sobral a fight until the spinning backfist that led to Babalu’s eventual demise. Zayats topped that upset with a dominant one-rounder against Jacob Noe, which eventually ended with Zayats grabbing Noe’s right arm and cranking an armbar for the tap.

Even before Newton advanced to face Lawal, everyone knew he would enter this tourney with intentions of hopefully facing Vegh in a rematch. He made that clear through his domination of Atanas Djambazov, in which he managed to submit Djambazov by rear-naked choke without the hooks in. Newton followed that win up by scoring arguably the upset of the year with his knockout win over Lawal.

Both men own a proven ability to finish any way they can, whether by submission or knockout. Newton needs to prepare for the possibility of Zayats taking this bout to the ground and looking for another submission from the mount. Likewise, Zayats benefits from preparing for some of Newton’s unpredictable striking. In a fierce bout that spends more time on the feet than on the ground, Newton lands a flurry of lefts and rights, earning a TKO win to snap Zayats’ streak and set up a rematch with Vegh.

MW: Trey Houston (10-1) vs. Luis Melo (28-11-3)

Sometimes, a prospect can define himself more by how they rebound from defeat than by anything they did while undefeated. Trey Houston will stand in such a position against Luis Melo. Melo, a veteran of 42 pro bouts, will look to spoil Houston’s attempt to rebound and reclaim some of the momentum that he owned when his undefeated streak was intact.

Houston’s strategy should come as no surprise to anyone. He will want to finish the fight in the most declarative way possible. No method proves more declarative for Houston than a submission, especially one involving his opponent’s arm, but Houston will not bank on it. If he can find a home for a knockout shot, he will take it.

Melo knows about this mentality. A look at his career will attest to his finishing ability, but a look at his TKO wins will attest to the pace he sets. When he fires a shot off, he will not let up until the referee steps in and holds him back. Like Houston, the brunt of his wins come by submission, though he does also own four wins in 10 trips to the scorecards.

In order to rebound from his first pro loss, Houston will need to either outwork Melo or push a harder pace than Melo. If he cannot at least find some way to handle the pace of Melo without wilting, Houston will be put away early. Should Houston find a way to get off first, however, he will return to the win column with a first-round submission victory by whatever he wants to lock up.

BW: Ronnie Mann (21-5-1) vs. Rodrigo Lima (10-1)

Ronnie Mann found his moments of success at featherweight, but in all honesty, he fought 10 pounds above his natural fighting weight. Even against Mike Corey, a tough featherweight in his own right, Mann’s veteran experience proved no match for the offensive attack that Corey mounted in his unanimous decision win over Mann. Nevertheless, the biggest question for Mann regards his ability to remain as competitive at bantamweight when he fights Rodrigo Lima as he proved at featherweight.

Lima’s last fight came in Bellator, and it ended with Lima losing a unanimous decision to Hiroshi Nakamura. Currently, Lima’s name rests in dried ink for a Legacy FC 20 date in May, where he will meet Jimmy Flick. So, he will have a busy 2013. However, he will come off an 11-month layoff to take on Mann. Meanwhile, “Iron Mann” will come off a year-long layoff, which should pose its own share of “cage rust” questions.

One would do well from not expecting too much from this fight, especially with both Mann and Lima coming off lengthy layoffs. That’s not to suggest a bad stylistic collision, but neither man has fought since their most recent respective Bellator bouts. If cage rust plays no role in this bout for Mann, his striking and aggression should overwhelm Lima enough to score a TKO win inside of the second round.

Preliminary Card

BW: Shah Bobonis (15-8) vs. Joe Taimanglo (17-4-1)

Joe Taimanglo rides a strong eight-fight winning streak into this fight, whereas Shah Bobonis looks to rebound from a loss that snapped a seven-fight winning streak. Taimanglo may look for a submission here, as might Bobonis. Neither man will get it, but this one can make for a fun grappling exchange. At the end of it all, though, Taimanglo extends his streak to nine with a unanimous decision win.

Women’s StrawW: Felice Herrig (8-4) vs. Heather Clark (5-3)

Felice Herrig owns four unanimous decision wins in her last five fights. Heather Clark alternated between wins and losses in her last four bouts. Herrig owns her share of career roadblocks, but her striking should pose a problem to Clark and help Herrig take a second-round TKO by doctor’s stoppage.

Women’s StrawW: Jessica Aguilar (14-4) vs. Patricia Vidonic (7-4)

Jessica Aguilar, the top women’s strawweight in the world, will compete for the first time in 10 months when she faces Patricia Vidonic. Vidonic, who dropped a unanimous decision to “JAG” in February 2012, posted a 1-2 streak after the loss. Aguilar possesses a well-rounded skill set and should take another unanimous decision win here.

HW: Rob Horton (0-0) vs. Augusto Sakai (3-0)

Rob Horton posted a 6-1 record with five finishes in his win column. Augusto Sakai owns three first-round victories by a form of knockout. Unless Horton looks to grind it out against the cage, Sakai finishes this one with a first-round knockout in his second longest fight to date.

LW: Edson Berto (16-10) vs. Bruno Carvalho (8-2)

Edson Berto comes in with the experience edge, but he comes off an 11-month layoff and a two-fight losing streak. Bruno Carvalho scored only the second unanimous decision win of his career in his most recent bout, but he loves to finish if he can find a way. Carvalho will get this to the ground, use a body triangle to control a gassed-out Berto, and ground-and-pound his way to a late first-round TKO win.

WW: Rory Shallcross (2-5) vs. Ivan Devalle (0-0)

Ivan Devalle posted a 1-1 record in the amateur circuit, with the lone win coming by unanimous decision. Rory Shallcross will look for his first win since 2010, but the win will not come for him. Devalle can grind out a decision if he wants, but he will likely opt instead to score a first-round knockout early in the opening frame.

LW: Patrick Cenoble (9-2) vs. Tony Fryklund (14-9)

Tony Fryklund last fought six years ago, yet he will willingly face a prospect in Patrick Cenoble. With Cenoble’s history of winning fights by some form of knockout, that particular finish seems appropriate for Cenoble to obtain against a veteran like Fryklund. Cenoble scores the first-round knockout by way of a left hook/right uppercut combination.

WW: Julien Williams (3-1) vs. Kenny Moss (5-3)

Julien Williams won in his Bellator debut via a technical submission. Kenny Moss recently lost to Raul Amaya. Neither man owns a loss by decision, and it should stay that way here. Call this a “pick ‘em,” but Moss should take a TKO in the second round.

Photo: David Rickels (Will Fox/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.