Bellator MMA wrapped up season eight in the same fashion that they opened it, as Bellator featherweight champion “Paddy Mike” Pat Curran defended his belt. He defeated “The Assassin” Shahbulat Shamhalaev with an unorthodox variation of the guillotine choke. The guillotine choke forced a technical submission win and marked Curran’s second defense of the belt during the season

While we wait for an announcement regarding Curran’s next title defense, which will come against Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khabulaev, we turn our attention to the 2013 Bellator Summer Series, which currently expects to feature tournaments in Bellator’s heavyweight, light heavyweight and bantamweight divisions. Everyone knows the drill by now, Bellator is making a slight change for this go-around

Bellator MMA calls its tournaments “the toughest tournament in sports”, and the promotion also affirms that Bellator remains the place where fighters <em>earn</em> title shots. As such, it has operated eight-man tournaments throughout each season with $100,000 and a title shot going to the winner. However, the Summer Series will see the brackets reduced in size to just four men.

In this case, the heavyweight tournament winner will challenge heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov and the bantamweight winner will look to wrest the 135-pound division’s title away from champion Eduardo Dantas. The victor of the light heavyweight tourney faces a less certain challenge, as season-eight light heavyweight winner Emanuel Newton will rematch reigning champion Attila Vegh before the Summer Series tourney champ gets a crack at the championship.

Bellator MMA has yet to announce the participants in the tournaments, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see at least one out of a number of certain candidates in a Bellator title tournament this summer. This collection of fighters fought and won in season eight. Some of them owned Bellator wins prior to season eight, and some of them showed promise, yet have never fought in a Bellator tournament before.

Bantamweights

The first name that pops to mind when discussing potential bantamweight participants is that of Ed “Wild” West. Frankly, not much stands between West and a rematch against Dantas except another tournament. West did knock Josh Montoya out. Sure, Montoya doesn’t bring a battle plan like what Marcos Galvao brought to West, but West needed a win to reassert himself as part of the picture, and he did just that.

Speaking of asserting oneself, former King of the Cage champion Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera did exactly that. Rivera, who rides a 10-fight winning streak that includes victories over Jared Papazian and Abel Cullum, fights something like a strategic manipulator. In other words, he forces opponents to play to the opposite of their own strengths. To put it in perspective, look at Rivera’s lone two outings in Bellator. He faced a Boise State wrestler in Jesse Brock, and a predominantly TKO artist in Brian Kelleher. When Brock couldn’t find the takedowns against Rivera, Rivera schooled him on the feet. Likewise, when Kelleher found difficulty working much of a striking game against Rivera, save for an uppercut in the third round of their bout, he tried in vain for takedowns.

That can prove a blessing or a curse for Rivera, in case he draws Rodrigo Lima in the tournament. Remember that, barring any injuries, Lima actually seems locked in for the bantamweight tournament because of his Bellator 94 win over Ronnie Mann. The former featherweight found himself surrounded by questions about whether he would perform better with a drop of 10 pounds. Lima answered those questions by dominating the fight everywhere to take all three rounds against Mann.

Those who slept on Lima after his loss to Hiroshi Nakamura clearly forgot how he mixes up his striking and hunts for submissions. Then again, West carries an unorthodox style himself, and Rivera would not allow for anyone to attempt to put him on his back.

Should another Brazilian choose to join the fray, no better opportunity to debut would exist for Rafael Silva. Silva signed with the promotion last summer but never debuted. That fact proves unfortunate, given the way in which he earned his track record. He owns 19 pro wins, 16 of which came by a finish. Of those 16, half came in the submission column, and the other half came by some form of knockout. Of the eight wins by a form of knockout, five came by TKO. As for the submissions, Silva found six of them via a choke. Silva’s current 11-fight winning streak includes nine of those 16 career finishes and just two decisions.

Light Heavyweights

Moving 70 pounds up the ladder, we reach the light heavyweight division, and although we can speculate over who will return, we must first address a man who has never competed in a Bellator tournament, a man named Mike Mucitelli.

Mucitelli stands undefeated in five fights, with four submission wins and a TKO due to doctor’s stoppage. He has won three times under the Bellator banner and looks poised to join the Summer Series tournament. Simply because of his record and his uncanny knack for submissions, he would play as much of a “dark horse” at light heavyweight as Rivera or Silva likely would at bantamweight.

However, would anyone think of him as ready for this huge opportunity? Actually, scratch that question. Of course some would, and their logic lies within the always-tricky case of the undefeated record. Remember, two undefeated fighters—lightweight Michael Chandler and welterweight Ben Askren—currently hold Bellator gold. Few thought of them as ready, but now they stand as champions. Mucitelli will not travel on a smooth road if he does enter this tournament, but he holds as solid a shot as anyone of taking it all.

Past tournament participants will return for the Summer Series in this division, and Mikhail Zayats and Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal are likely to be those men. Both Zayats and Lawal will be searching for a rematch with Newton, as well as a shot at the title.

Christian M’Pumbu, the former champion, would not shock anyone by entering the field. He won the title two years ago, lost to Travis Wiuff, sat out 2012 with an injury, and lost to Vegh rather decisively. What better way to avenge the loss than to enter and win the upcoming tournament?

Heavyweights

Now, let’s move on to the big-boy ranks, a.k.a. the Bellator heavyweight division.

Many would agree that this division lacks depth, so unless Richard Hale, Eric Prindle or Brett Rogers returns to action, one should not expect more than two faces to breathe new life into this tournament.

Ryan Martinez could prove to be a favorite in this bracket, should he choose to sign up. He faced Travis Wiuff during season eight, as Wiuff prepared to get back on a winning path and possibly enter this tournament. Martinez ended those hopes for Wiuff when he put him to sleep in just 18 seconds. While he would not hold any edge in tournament experience, he would hold the favorite solely due to how he finds finishes in his fights, which holds great significance once the conversation shifts to heavyweights.

Speaking of undefeated finishers, Augusto Sakai might find himself in the mix as something of a new face. Sakai would hold underdog status because of his inexperience, and his one trick, but don’t let any of that fool you. What he may lack in experience and not show in anything other than an ability to strike, he makes up for in how intelligently he performs his lone task. Like all fighters who specialize in finishing by a form of knockout, Sakai breaks his foes down with leg kicks and peppering shots. Composure is key to this plan as well, since Sakai knows that his moment to strike will present itself as long as he keeps doing what he does in order to set up his opponent’s demise.

If familiar faces should return, expect Prindle and Hale to be among the lot. Hale, a finisher in his own right, lost to reigning champion Volkov in the finals of the previous heavyweight tournament. As for Prindle, he lost to Thiago Santos by disqualification and will look to get back on track, regardless of who stands in his way.

Photo: Bellator heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov (Keith Mills/Sherdog)