Bellator marks its season finale of the Summer Series with Bellator 97 in New Mexico. The card, which airs on Spike TV, will feature two title bouts, two tournament final fights and the return of one of the original stars of the company.

First, Patricio Freire, a guy Bellator has invested a lot in, makes his return to the cage after dropping his last fight, a failed featherweight title bid against champion Pat Curran. Freire will meet regional veteran Jared Downing, who fills in for Rob Emerson on late notice.

Then comes the tournament finals for the heavyweight and light heavyweight tournaments. Ryan Martinez, a late replacement in the tournament, meets Russian powerhouse Vitaly Minakov in the heavyweight finale, while Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal takes on vast underdog Jacob Noe for the light heavyweight tournament crown.

Finally, two belts will be defended. First, the welterweight strap is on the line when Ben Askren takes on challenger Andrey Koreshkov in the biggest test of Askren’s championship run. Then, Michael Chandler defends the lightweight belt when he meets wildman David Rickels.

Here is a preview with accompanying predictions for each bout on the card. The main card airs on Spike TV at 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, while the preliminary card can be seen on at 6 p.m. ET, previous to the televised portion.

LW Championship: Michael Chandler (11-0) vs. David Rickels (14-1)

Rickels (Wilson Fox/Sherdog)

The main attraction of the card is the lightweight championship, which pits company poster boy Michael Chandler against the underrated David Rickels. It will be an interesting clash of styles that will likely bring us an entertaining fight.

Chandler is a wrestler, which is easy to see when you watch his fights. For the most part, he likes to get on the inside, hold opponents against the cage, grab their legs and dump them on their back. From there, he has brutal ground-and-pound and a heavy top game that is methodical and technical. He’s not just a ground-and-pound guy though; the man has submission ability, which makes him even more dangerous.

Rickels is two-dollar-steak tough, showing off chin and determination in all of his fights. He is aggressive in moving forward and constantly looking for the finish. He has solid power as well, shown in his stoppages of Saad Awad and Jordan Smith inside the Bellator cage.

Rickels is not even as powerful or well-rounded as Rick Hawn, who struggled against Chandler. Chandler tooled Hawn on the ground, which is tough to do given Hawn’s grappling prowess. If and when Chandler gets Rickels to the ground, he will batter and pummel him, eventually earning a stoppage midway through the fight.

WW Championship: Ben Askren (11-0) vs. Andrey Koreshkov (13-0)

Askren (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

The “0” has got to go in the welterweight championship bout between undefeated king of the Bellator 170-pound division Ben Askren and uber-prospect Andrey Koreshkov in what will be Askren’s toughest test to date as champion. It is a match-up of American muscle versus Russian power.

There is no secret in what Askren wants to do. He is a dominating wrestler with heavy top pressure, good cardio and relentless pace. He isn’t subtle about the type of game plan he wants to impose. He comes forward, gets the takedown and gives his opponents no air to breathe. Sure, it’s not the most exciting brand of fighting, but it’s effective.

Koreshkov has been nothing short of brilliant thus far in his career. His time in Bellator has really shown everyone how lethal he is at just the age of 22. If you watch his bout against established veteran Marius Zaromskis, you will see one of the most violent stoppages in recent MMA history.

This bout is extremely tough to call. Askren has a proven method, but he is taking on an animal that is hungry. I like Koreshkov’s power against Askren’s unproven chin, so sound the upset alarms—Koreshkov will earn the knockout and the welterweight strap.

LHW Tournament Final: Muhammed Lawal (10-2) vs. Jacob Noe (12-2)

"King Mo" (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

The light heavyweight tournament final is upon us for the Summer Series when former Strikeforce champion Muhammed Lawal meets tournament veteran Jacob Noe. This should be a very fan-pleasing fight that complements a fun light heavyweight tournament.

Lawal is one of the big pieces that Bellator has invested in given his popularity and skill. His wrestling base has become an afterthought as of late, with King Mo using his newfound boxing skills to devastate opponents. Since his shocking upset loss to Emanuel Newton, Lawal has returned to the win column with a nasty knockout of Seth Petruzelli in the semifinals of this tournament.

Noe has gone from virtual unknown to two-time Bellator tournament participant. Despite falling short of making the finals in his first attempt, he now gets another shot after knocking out Renato “Babalu” Sobral in the semifinals. Power is one thing he has going for him, as he further demonstrated with his own knockout of Petruzelli.

This is definitely a power versus power match-up. Lawal has proven to be more technical and has elite wrestling skills in his back pocket. That complete attack will earn him a title shot after he knocks out Noe.

HW Tournament Final: Vitaly Minakov (11-0) vs. Ryan Martinez (10-2)

In the heavyweight tournament finals, Russian powerhouse Vitaly Minakov is set to fight American brawler Ryan Martinez for a shot to challenge Alexander Volkov for the belt in the near future. This should be an interesting fight, to say the least.

Martinez wasn’t even supposed to be in this tournament, but that changed when Vinicius Queiroz went down with an injury days before the tourney’s opening round bouts. Martinez was called in, and he smashed Rich Hale with his aforementioned power. Martinez does have wrestling, but his hands have been his trademark lately.

Minakov is another Russian diamond in the rough that is easily the future of the Bellator heavyweight division. Minakov dispatched Ron Sparks with extreme prejudice in the semifinals, earning his shot here. He is well-rounded and can finish the fight wherever it goes.

Minakov is a guy that has been on the fringe of the big time for a while. What he did to Sparks was an appetizer for what he can do with more time in the cage. He will snag a knockout victory here to cap off a fun heavyweight tournament.

FW: Patricio Freire (17-2) vs. Jared Downing (9-2)

As a pre-course meal for the huge fights on the main card, featherweight staple Patricio Freire meets former RFA champion Jared Downing in what will prove to be an exciting fight.

Freire has been and is still one of the darlings of the Bellator company. He has been in multiple tournaments, terrorizing any man that stares across the cage at him. Of course, he is yet to own Bellator gold, but he has had a shot in a close, entertaining bout with champion Pat Curran. Freire is a jiu-jitsu guy that has devastating power on the feet and will launch a knockout blow at any time.

Downing is a tough out for any fighter he faces. His only two losses were close split decisions. He owns victories over The Ultimate Fighter veterans Ran Weathers and Jordan Rinaldi, showing he can compete with guys of higher levels. However, on short notice, he is facing the toughest fighter to date on his record.

With his well-rounded skill set and his toughness, Downing will put up a good fight. However, Freire has had plenty of time to train coming into this and has the ability to end the fight in the blink of an eye. Freire takes a decision here in an exciting fight.

Preliminary Card

LW: Will Brooks (9-1) vs. Cris Leyva (9-5)

Before Will Brooks takes part in the season-nine lightweight tournament, he will get a tuneup fight against Cris Leyva. Brooks is a wrestler that has only lost in the season-eight tournament semifinals against Saad Awad. Other than that, he hasn’t shown many chinks in his armor. Leyva is a striker with six wins by knockout, but he has lost four straight. Brooks will grab the takedown, utilize ground-and-pound and earn a stoppage.

BW Tournament Semifinal: Rodrigo Lima (11-1) vs. Rafael Silva (19-3)

A bantamweight tournament begins on the prelims when Rodrigo Lima meets Rafael Silva to see who will make it to the finals sometime later in season nine. Lima defeated Ronnie Mann to get into this tournament. The submission grappler hopes to erase the memory of failing in an earlier tournament. Silva, a fellow Brazilian, is well-rounded, but has spent most of his career in the Brazilian regional circuit. Silva will put up a good fight, but experience and skill will prevail as Lima takes a decision.

BW Tournament Semifinal: Frank Baca (16-2) vs. Anthony Leone (12-5)

In the other bantamweight tourney semifinal, Bellator vet Anthony Leone takes on Frank Baca to meet the winner of the aforementioned Lima-Silva fight. Baca is a well-rounded King of the Cage veteran who is taking a step up in competition in an attempt to get a shot at Bellator gold. Leone is a submission grappler who got great attention from Bellator when he knocked off former champion Zach Makovsky in his latest outing. Leone’s experience and competition level are superior and will lead him to a decision win over Baca.

LW: Bubba Jenkins (3-0) vs. Mike Barreras (5-5)

One of the brightest prospects in the sport is Bubba Jenkins. He makes his debut against Mike Barreras, a guy who is supposed to be his welcoming mat. Jenkins just transitioned over from collegiate wrestling and has been dominant since entering the sport of MMA. His submissions and ground-and-pound have been impressive for such a young fighter. Barreras is a striker that has sketchy submission defense, meaning Jenkins scores the takedown and taps him early.

MW: Keith Berry (15-10) vs. Jeremy Kimball (9-3)

Strikeforce veteran Keith Berry, who is undefeated in the Bellator cage, takes on Jeremy Kimball in a fight that could push the winner into the season-10 middleweight tournament. Berry is a guy who looks for the knockout, but he does possess submission ability as well. He has faced some top-level guys, which will aid him in this affair. Kimball is also a striker, and he has looked impressive as of late. In a close fight, Berry takes a decision in what could turn out to be the “Fight of the Night.”

BW: Adrian Cruz (4-0) vs. Felipe Chavez (5-3)

Solid prospect Adrian Cruz returns to the Bellator cage to take on Keith Jardine disciple Felipe Cruz in an important 135-pound tilt. Cruz has a good wrestling base with some solid power and submission ability. Chavez is a submission fighter and has been inconsistent thus far in his career. Cruz uses his wrestling to ground Chavez, earning a tapout for the win.

BW: Shawn Bunch (1-0) v. Steve Garcia (0-0)

Shawn Bunch, another hot wrestling prospect, makes his return to the cage when he takes on the debuting Steve Garcia. As an amateur, Garcia was 3-0 under the tutelage of Keith Jardine. He will need to work on his sprawl, because Bunch is a raw wrestler learning the complete game. Garcia needs a home-run strike or he will get ridden for three rounds by Bunch. Expect the latter to happen.

FW: Donald Sanchez (28-13) vs. Cliff Wright (7-4)

Featherweights square off when criminally underrated Donald Sanchez takes on Cliff Wright. Wright is a submission fighter that will need to get this fight to the ground to be successful. Sanchez is extremely well-rounded and will need to keep this on the feet to be dominant. Sanchez will do exactly that, earning a knockout stoppage win over Wright.

LW: Richard Jacquez (0-1) vs. Javier Palacios (0-0)

Young guns meet at 155 pounds when one-fight veteran Richard Jacquez takes on Javier Palacios, who makes his pro debut. Jacquez lost his pro debut, which unfortunately did not turn his luck around from his time as an amateur, where he is also 0-1. Palacios makes his debut on the heels of a 1-0 run as an amateur, taking that bout via submission. This is a tough one to call, but Palacios should come out with the win via submission to make a successful debut.

Top Photo: Michael Chandler (William Musacchia/Sherdog)

About The Author

Riley Kontek
Staff Writer

Riley Kontek is a Chicago-land native that has been an addict of mixed martial arts since the first Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz encounter. He has been writing on MMA for the last year and is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. In addition to that, he used to host a weekly radio show on MMA. Though he has no formal training in mixed martial arts, Riley is a master in the art of hockey fighting.