Bellator MMA is set to continue its ninth season on Sept. 27 with Bellator 101. Live from Portland, Ore., the card boasts a deep lineup that includes the quarterfinals of the season-nine lightweight tournament and the return of Joe Warren, who participates in a four-man bantamweight tournament.

Warren headlines opposite of Nick Kirk, with the winner moving on to a bantamweight tournament final. Also, a stacked lightweight tournament commences, boasting international talent such as Russian Alexander Sarnavskiy, Brit Martin Stapleton, Canadian John Alessio and Brazilian Ricardo Tirloni.

Without further ado, let’s preview the Bellator 101 card and make some predictions.

BW Tournament Semifinal: Joe Warren (8-3) vs. Nick Kirk (10-2)

The main attraction of the card comes in the form of a bantamweight tournament semifinal where Fight Master coach and former featherweight champion Joe Warren meets Nick Kirk. The winner of this fight will face Travis Marx, who beat Brandon Bender, in the tournament final with a title shot at the bantamweight champ on the line.

Warren took the featherweight championship from Joe Soto after winning the season-two tournament. He then lost it to Pat Curran at Bellator 60 via brutal knockout. However, all of that was at 145 pounds. The grinding wrestler is 1-1 in the 135-pound division. He was in the season-five bantamweight tournament, but was blitzed in the quarterfinals via violent knockout by Alexis Vila. His other bantamweight bout saw him defeat an overmatched Owen Evinger.

Kirk gets matched up here despite the fact that he is 0-2 with Bellator. Kirk took those two losses with the company against David Harris and Tony Zelinski, both of whom are not on the level of Warren. Although Kirk is a grinder himself, he is not going to be able to out-wrestle Warren, so he should look to sprawl and brawl.

This match-up is quite advantageous to Warren, who is one of the posterboys of Bellator. He should have no problems here in using his patented takedowns and pressure to make Kirk uncomfortable for 15 minutes. The judges will be called upon, and Warren will punch his ticket to the finals against Marx.

LW Tournament Quarterfinal: Alexander Sarnavskiy (23-1) vs. Marcus Davis (22-9)

In possibly the best match-up of the lightweight tournament, Russian prodigy Alexander Sarnavskiy meets UFC vet Marcus Davis. Sarnavskiy needs to stay healthy for this tournament. He has long been touted a future tournament winner, but has been unable to stay completely healthy.

Davis is a former pro boxer that uses his footwork and hands to pepper opponents. Since his release from the UFC, he has gone 5-1 with one no-contest, showing he still has the goods in the cage. His only Bellator appearance saw his fight stopped with Waachiim Spiritwolf due to an accidental low blow. Prior to the stoppage, Davis was getting his way for the most part. He will need to use his boxing skills and clinch game to stifle the Russian in this affair.

Sarnavskiy has been touted as the next big thing coming out of Russia, but his time in Bellator has fallen below expectations so far. He lost via split decision in his first tournament quarterfinal against Rich Clementi. He won a non-tournament fight against Tony Hervey before winning his next tournament quarterfinal attempt against Thiago Michel. He was injured in the Michel fight, however, and could not continue to the semifinals as planned. This is his opportunity to redeem his name. The Russian is very well-versed on the feet, but it is his submission game that should be explored against the UFC vet.

Davis is a little past his prime, but he is still very dangerous on the feet. Sarnavskiy showed in his bout with Michel that he does not fear men who are considered better strikers. He will work for a while on the feet before looking to put the “Irish Hand Grenade” on his back. From there, he will dominate on the mat and earn a submission win. Sarnavskiy will finally get to compete in a Bellator semifinal, assuming he doesn’t get injured again.

LW Tournament Quarterfinal: Rich Clementi (45-22-1) vs. Ricardo Tirloni (15-4)

UFC and Bellator vet Rich Clementi comes out of retirement for another run in the Bellator tournament when he takes on late replacement and fellow tourney vet Ricardo Tirloni. This bout will be American vs. Brazilian in what is a very internationally diverse tournament bracket.

Clementi has been around forever, taking his first bout in 1999. He was a member of the season-seven tournament, where he made it to the semifinals. He upset Sarnavskiy in the quarterfinals, effectively handing him his first loss ever. However, Clementi was tapped with a nasty toe hold by Marcin Held to lose out on a spot in the finals. There is no secret what Clementi wants to do, as he is a very controlling top-game grappler with great submissions. Most of his tapouts come from a choke variation. He is like a pitbull on a pork chop when he grabs a neck.

Tirloni, like Clementi, is a submission fighter. He trains with Thiago Tavares’ team in Brazil. Tirloni was not originally in the tournament and was supposed to fight Held on the undercard, but an injury to Rob Sinclair gave him this opportunity. This will be his fourth tournament. In season six, he was brutally knocked out in the quarterfinals by Rick Hawn. He came back in season seven and bumped Rene Nazare out of the quarterfinals before getting narrowly edged out by Dave Jansen in the semifinals. His last fight came in the eighth season, where he was taken out in the quarterfinals by Will Brooks’ wrestling attack.

Tirloni relies on his ground game to win fights, and he has top-notch grappling ability. The question remains, will he get Clementi to the ground? Clementi likely has the better wrestling and possibly the better striking. He has been training for this tournament longer than Tirloni and will be ready for whatever obstacles come his way. Clementi will take the decision here and meet the Saad Awad-Martin Stapleton winner in the semis.

LW Tournament Quarterfinal: Saad Awad (14-5) vs. Martin Stapleton (12-1)

The Ultimate Fighter vets are set to collide when Martin Stapleton of the United Kingdom meets last season’s tournament finalist Saad Awad. This will be an interesting contrast of styles, and projects as a striker vs. grappler affair.

Awad enters this tournament on the heels of a great season-eight run. The striker has serious power in his hands, with his most recent wins coming via knockout. In the quarterfinals of last season, Awad came in on late notice and barreled through Guillaume DeLorenzi. He followed that up with a quick blitz of a knockout over Will Brooks, who is in this season’s tournament. When he made it to the finals, he put forth a valiant effort, but was eventually knocked out by eventual title challenger David Rickels.

Stapleton is making his Bellator and tournament debut, but he is no stranger to the tournament format. In December 2012, Stapleton entered a one-night tournament overseas where he beat Jamie Rogers, Arnold Quero and Tommy Maguire to take the tournament title. Those were his last three fights, so he will have a nine-month rest coming into this tournament. He is known for his grappling skills and is successful when he achieves the takedown to work from top position. His only official loss came to Paul Sass, but he also has an exhibition loss on TUF.

Awad has faced skilled wrestlers and grapplers before. He is a quick starter, and that’s when he has the most mustard in his strikes. If you examine his bout with Brooks, you will see the blueprint and key to his victory. Expect Awad to sprawl-and-brawl before hitting the Brit with a heater to put him away in violent fashion.

LW Tournament Quarterfinal: John Alessio (34-16) vs. Will Brooks (10-1)

Canada meets the United States when UFC veteran John Alessio takes on Bellator tournament veteran Will Brooks. The winner of this fight will meet the winner of the bout between Alexander Sarnavskiy and Marcus Davis.

Alessio comes into this tournament winless in his last three. He went 0-2 with the UFC against the likes of Mark Bocek and Shane Roller before suffering an eye poke that led to a no-contest against Dave Mazany. Although well-rounded, Alessio has been using his submission wrestling as of late to put away opponents. He has taken out a who’s who of MMA veterans, including Ryan Healy, Luiz Firmino, War Machine, Chris Clements, Luigi Fioravanti and Pete Spratt. He is not one to let the fight reach the judges, as at least 25 of his victories came by way of knockout or submission.

Brooks stormed onto the MMA scene in 2011 and has fought 11 times in these past couple years. A wrestler by trade, the Illinois native beat regional vet Taurean Bogguess, TUF vet Drew Dober and Japanese star Satoru Kitaoka previous to his time in Bellator. He was in last season’s lightweight tournament, where he escaped the quarterfinals with a win over Ricardo Tirloni before suffering a knockout loss in the semifinals against Saad Awad. There is no secret what he wants to do here, as his top game on the ground is blanketing due to his strength, ground-and-pound and decent submission prowess.

Alessio showed cracks in his takedown defense against Bocek and Roller in recent fights. Brooks is athletic and quick, which will allow him to close distance well and shoot in on Alessio. From there, he will stay active and pepper Alessio en route to a convincing decision.

Preliminary Card

LW: Marcin Held (15-3) vs. Ryan Healy (23-12-1)

In a bout that is likely a lightweight tournament reserve, former finalist Marcin Held takes on late replacement Ryan Healy in the latter fighter’s home state. Held is just 21 years old, yet he is a veteran of 18 pro fights. The Polish grappler is known for his leg locks, but needs to tighten up his takedown defense against power wrestlers. Healy is a wrestler and a grinder who will look to make this fight ugly. Healy does have good hands, but he should use that to set up takedowns on the Pole. Healy has never been tapped out, so expect him to avoid submissions en route to a decision.

WW: Nathan Coy (12-4) vs. Andy Uhrich (8-3)

Strikeforce vet and American Top Team rep Nathan Coy makes his first Bellator appearance, with a possible future tournament spot on the line, when he takes on Bellator Fight Master alum Andy Uhrich. Uhrich made his way into the house on the show when he decisioned Dom O’Grady, but a cut over his eye nixed his opportunity. Coy is a wrestling-heavy fighter that possesses an underrated submission game and good ground striking. He owns notable wins over Dhiego Lima, Dave Courchaine and Kevin Nowaczyk. Uhrich showed good takedown defense against O’Grady, but Coy is a much better wrestler. Coy should be able to make this an ugly fight and take a decision.

LW: Brent Primus (2-0) vs. Scott Thometz (6-2)

Portland native Brent Primus looks to push his pro record to 3-0 when he takes on the more experienced Scott “Tickle Fight” Thometz. Primus has had very different pro and amateur careers. All of his professional wins came via tapout, whereas his pre-pro wins tip towards knockouts. Thometz fancies himself a submission fighter, but he has faltered when taking a step up in competition. Both men have a similar opponent in Roy Bradshaw, whom Primus tapped out in under two minutes and Thometz submitted in a tad over two minutes. This could be a ground battle worth watching, with the man who holds top position longest taking the win. Flip a coin, call it in the air and take Primus via narrow decision.

MW: Jeremiah Riggs (7-7) vs. Peter Aspenwal (2-4)

Three-time Bellator vet and reality television star Jeremiah Riggs makes his return to the cage at middleweight when he takes on Oregon native and Peter Aspenwal, who is making his Bellator debut. Riggs fancies himself a striker, though he does have a background in professional wrestling. Most of his wins have come via strike stoppage, and the chink in his armor has been his submission defense. Aspenwal has a sub-.500 record, with both of his pro wins coming via rear-naked choke. His chin has been tested before, as he has lost via knockout in a majority of his defeats. Riggs has the power to put people to sleep, so he should take his record above .500 with his hands in this one.

BW: Austin Springer (3-0) vs. Brent Alvarez (1-1)

Two bantamweights young in their careers collide when undefeated Austin Springer takes on Brent Alvarez. Springer is a top-game grappler that loves using ground-and-pound to soften up opponents. From there, he can either finish opponents with his heavy strikes or tap them out with his solid submission game. Alvarez has seen mixed results through varying weight classes in his MMA journey. He is uncomfortable fighting on the ground off his back, something he’ll have to deal with against Springer. Springer will stay undefeated, utilizing ground-and-pound to secure the finish.

Photo: Joe Warren (Dave Mandel/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.