Bellator MMA is set to continue its ninth season on Oct. 4 with Bellator 102. Live from California, the card boasts a deep lineup that includes the semifinals of the season-nine heavyweight and middleweight tournaments and the finals of the Summer Series bantamweight tournament.

Cheick Kongo headlines opposite of Mark Godbeer, with the winner moving on to the heavyweight tournament final. The winner of that bout will meet the winner of the clash between Lavar Johnson and Vinicius Queiroz, which serves as the evening’s co-main event. Plus, we will get a top contender to Eduardo Dantas’ belt when Anthony Leone and Rafael Silva go to battle.

Without further ado, let’s preview the Bellator 102 card and make some predictions.

HW Tournament Semifinal: Cheick Kongo (18-8-2) vs. Mark Godbeer (8-1)

The main event sees new Bellator star Cheick Kongo take on British newcomer Mark Godbeer, who comes in with some good hype. The winner of this bout will be in the heavyweight tournament final, where a title shot against the winner of the Russian showdown between champion Alexander Volkov and top contender Vitaly Minakov will be at stake.

Kongo enters Bellator after a seven-year run with the UFC. Considered a gatekeeper with the company, he becomes an instant contender under the Bellator banner. He is a Muay Thai striker with good clinch skills and takedowns. He does have a tremendous ground-and-pound attack when he can get his opponent to the mat, and that would be well-suited for this fight. With wins over guys like Shawn Jordan, Matt Mitrione, Pat Barry and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, he enters the tournament as the clear favorite.

Godbeer is an exciting import from the United Kingdom that could be the dark horse of this tournament. The nine-fight veteran has never seen the judges and owns notable wins over Fraser Opie and Catalin Zmarandescu. He is a heavy-handed striker that will want to stay off his back against a powerhouse like Kongo.

Although Godbeer has a bright future, Kongo is too strong, experienced and well-rounded to fail here. The fight may be somewhat close on the feet, but Kongo, with the right game plan, will dominate the clinch and batter the Brit on the ground. At some point in the fight, the ref will have to step in and pull the Frenchman off Godbeer en route to a stoppage via strikes. It could set up a fun finals match against the winner of the fight between Lavar Johnson and Vinicius Queiroz.

HW Tournament Semifinal: Lavar Johnson (17-7) vs. Vinicius Queiroz (6-3)

UFC castaway Lavar Johnson looks to resurrect his career when he takes on fellow UFC vet Vinicius Queiroz. This will be Johnson’s Bellator debut, whereas Queiroz is participating in his second heavyweight tournament with the promotion.

Johnson got the ax from the UFC following two straight losses and a red flag for elevated testosterone. Submission defense has been his bugaboo, but fighters need to get inside his sickening power to achieve a takedown. That is easier said than done. If you get too close to Johnson, you could end up waking up to bright lights and a doctor’s ugly mug staring down at you. Johnson has two UFC “Knockout of the Night” awards to prove he is a nasty finisher.

Queiroz is also a striker. He lost his only UFC bout and is 1-1 with Bellator. In season seven, Queiroz tapped out Mark Holata in the quarterfinals with an armbar in a good come-from-behind victory. He then faltered to Alexander Volkov, who knocked out the Brazilian with one second left in the first round and went on to eventually claim Bellator gold. Queiroz was supposed to be in the Summer Series tournament, but he suffered an injury that prevented him from competing. Now he gets another chance against a heavily favored striker.

Queiroz would be wise to stay away from a kickboxing match with Johnson, as his shelf life would be that of a new Madden game on opening day. He does have a better grappling game than Johnson, so a takedown is imperative. However, when the Brazilian tries to get inside, Johnson will smoke him with one of his devastating punches. That will propel the UFC and Strikeforce vet into the heavyweight final.

BW Tournament Final: Anthony Leone (13-5) vs. Rafael Silva (20-3)

The next contender to Eduardo Dantas will be revealed at the end of the bantamweight tourney final bout between American Anthony Leone and Brazilian Rafael Silva. This is the delayed final of the Summer Series bantamweight tournament.

Silva has spent almost all of his career in Brazil, but impressed fans with his Bellator debut in the semifinals of this tournament. He defeated a heavy favorite in Rodrigo Lima, who he dominated with takedowns and a stifling ground game. Silva eventually scored a tapout of Lima via rear-naked choke, showing he is the real deal at 135 pounds. The Renovacao Fight Team member will have a harder time taking down Leone, who is a quick and strong wrestler.

Leone is likely the more refined striker and better takedown man. In addition to besting former Bellator champion Zach Makovsky, Leone defeated Greg Jackson product Frank Baca in the quarterfinals despite dropping the first round and getting rocked on the feet. He eventually secured a takedown and dominated Baca on the ground en route to a rear-naked choke. Whereas Silva has a good submission game, Leone has a smothering top game despite the fact that he has shown some holes in his tapout defense.

Silva was always the dark horse of this tournament, but he has a chance to become a star with Bellator should he knock off the native New Yorker. Leone has a lot of experience against top-level talent and should enter this fight with as little jitters as possible. Look for a healthy dose of jabs, clinch and takedowns as Leone becomes the top contender via decision.

MW Tournament Semifinal: Mikkel Parlo (10-1) vs. Jason Butcher (7-0)

Danish striker Mikkel Parlo, who showed great growth in his quarterfinal fight, takes on Jason Butcher, who enters the semifinals with great confidence. Both men are original tournament members in a season where the bracket has been a mess due to all the injuries.

Parlo, normally a striker, showed improved wrestling and ground game in his quarterfinal bout against Brian Rogers. That can be accredited to his move to Xtreme Couture, a move that fellow Dane Martin Kampmann made earlier in his career. Normally, Parlo is a vicious striker with great kicks and knees, but the impact of the move showed in his ability to out-grind Rogers with a safe, wrestling-heavy attack. He has already made it farther than last season, when he was defeated in the quarterfinals by Sultan Aliev.

Butcher is the opposite of Parlo. He is a jiu-jitsu fighter with great submission skills, and he also proclaims he has the best guard and ground game in MMA. He proved he can hang with a superior grappler like Giva Santana. Butcher was able to slam Santana after Santana tired out, and he was able to get the TKO finish to advance in the tournament. Five of his wins came via tapout, including three triangle chokes. That’s just further proof that he does in fact have a dangerous guard.

This is the classic striker vs. grappler affair. Even though Parlo showed improved wrestling in his last bout, he wants to avoid playing around in Butcher’s guard. Butcher can handle himself on the feet when needed, but would prefer to plant the Dane on his back. Eventually, he should be able to get into a grappling situation with Parlo and score a submission to punch his ticket to the finals.

MW Tournament Semifinal: Brennan Ward (7-1) vs. Joe Pacheco (6-0)

A pair of tournament replacements, Brennan Ward and Joe Pacheco, are set to square off with a spot in the finals on the line. Pacheco steps in for Perry Filkins, who beat Jeremy Kimball in the quarterfinals, but was too banged up to stay in the competition. Meanwhile, Ward fought in the quarterfinals for Andreas Spang, who was unable to compete.

Ward’s quarterfinal bout was against former training partner Justin Torrey. Despite falling behind early and dropping the first round, Ward fought back valiantly and scored a second-round TKO to advance. At 7-1, Ward showed he could be a dark horse in this tournament. He is a powerful striker that showed good ground control when on top. He will need to get a faster start this time around with Pacheco.

Pacheco is a finisher that is a legit prospect for Bellator. He owns stoppages in all but one of his fights, including four by submission. His Bellator career has seen him go 2-0, with a brutal knockout of Kyle Bolt and an impressive submission of Pierry Pierre. He is extremely powerful and aggressive, which may play into his hands in the first round.

People may write off Pacheco because he’s a late tournament replacement, but so was Spang a couple seasons ago, and yet Spang beat Brian Rogers to get into the finals. Ward showed some great heart and skill against Torrey, but Pacheco has the submission chops that Torrey lacked to finish Ward on the ground. Pacheco will secure the submission finish midway through the fight and punch his ticket to the finals.

Preliminary Card

LW: Poppies Martinez (27-8) vs. Brandon Girtz (8-3)

Tachi Palace staple Poppies Martinez steps into the Bellator cage for the first time ever as he takes on Minnesota submission specialist Brandon Girtz. Martinez has been around since 2003. “The Tachi Kid” has taken on a number of California staples. He finds himself on an eight-fight winning streak, with his most recent coming under the Tachi Palace banner against Christos Giagos. Girtz is 1-1 in Bellator, coming off a loss in June to Derek Campos. The submission fighter has stepped in the cage against the likes of UFC vets Drew Dober, Eric Wisely and Alvin Robinson, showing that he is not fighting scrubs. Both men do most of their work via submission, yet both have been tapped in the past. Home-field advantage gets the nod here, as Martinez wins a razor-close decision.

LW: Bryan Travers (14-3) vs. Jonny Carson (11-6)

Fight Master‘s Bryan Travers steps foot in the cage for the first time since the show’s conclusion and takes on “The King of Late Night” Jonny Carson. On the reality show, Travers showed tremendous cardio, as well as a chin made of granite and a relentless pace. Those intangibles make him dangerous in any fight, especially if he works his takedowns on Carson. Carson is a member of the infamous Skrap Pack, but all of his losses come via submission. He looks to have a “glass neck,” as all of his defeats come by way of choke. That is exactly how Travers will take this one, overwhelming Carson and putting him away early.

LW: Cain Carrizosa (4-0) vs. Juan Quesada (2-1)

Two Californian lightweights will be looking to put their names on the map when Woodlake’s Cain Carrizosa takes on Pittsburg’s Juan Quesada. Carrizosa cut his teeth in the Tachi Palace Fights promotion, where he won three of his four career fights. He even notched a victory over notable Daniel Romero. This kid has true potential. He would be smart to bring this fight to the ground against Quesada, who is more of a striker. Quesada, who made his pro debut in March of this year, has looked good since dropping his first fight. Both of his wins came in the second round, which goes to show that he does have cardio going for him in this fight. Carrizosa is the more experienced guy here and has fought at a good level of competition. He should get a submission win.

HW: Brandon Cash (7-3) vs. William Richey (10-1)

The big boys are set to collide, as fellow Californians Brandon Cash and William Richey look to impress the Bellator brass. Cash is a heavy-handed striker who will look to avoid the ground, where he has suffered all three of his losses. He is aggressive and is at his most powerful in the first round, when he still has a gas tank to check his opponent’s chin. Richey is the more balanced fighter. He owns a good ground game and a similarly powerful stand-up game. Richey likes to bang and even owns a win over UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn. However, he would be wise to plant Cash on the mat and work his grappling, where he should be able to score a submission. Most of Richey’s wins come in the first round, so this one may not last long.

FW: Isaac de Jesus (10-5-1) vs. Scott Cleve (13-3)

The Colorado Fight Factory will send Scott Cleve into hostile territory to take on California vet Isaac de Jesus in an important featherweight bout. Cleve is a finisher. The striker has unleashed eight victories by way of stoppage due to strikes. He has good kicks and a resume to back up his record. He has defeated the likes of UFC veterans Abel Trujillo and Steve Berger. He takes on de Jesus, who is always on the cusp of a breakout, but seems to come up short. The Stockton native dominated at the beginning of his career, but has faltered in stepping up in competition against Georgi Karakhanyan, Micah Miller and Rob McCullough. Cleve should be able to score a TKO victory.

HW: Javy Ayala (5-3) vs. Thiago Santos (11-2)

Bellator tournament veteran Thiago Santos returns to the cage with a future tournament on his mind. He takes on California native and Bellator debutant Javy Ayala. Santos is a big, powerful striker with a smothering ground game. When he gets on top of opponents, they rarely can do anything about it in terms of getting anything going off their back. Ayala is a big lad himself, but he has been inconsistent against higher levels of competition. This is just an appetizer for the Brazilian, who will secure a takedown and smash Ayala from the top to a TKO stoppage.

Photo: Cheick Kongo (R) (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.

  • Uncle Tim

    I think you’re spot-on with the Butcher/Parlo fight. Jason’s striking is steadily improving, but he’s at his best on the ground. Thanks for the positive review!