Cheick Kongo (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)Bellator 115: Minakov vs. Kongo Preview and Predictions Riley Kontek April 1, 2014 Events, Previews, Spotlight Bellator MMA is set to return on April 4 to continue its 10th season. Live from Reno, Nev., the card boasts a lineup that includes a heavyweight title bout and the semifinals of the middleweight and welterweight tournaments. Champion Vitaly Minakov is set to defend his title against UFC vet Cheick Kongo, who won last season’s heavyweight tournament. Minakov could be a world-ranked heavyweight, and he has been an ace in the division since making his debut. The middleweights and welterweights will duke it out to see who makes it to the finals of their respective tournaments. Jeremy Kimball and Dan Cramer collide at 185 pounds and Andrey Koreshkov and Sam Oropeza meet at 170. Without further ado, let’s preview the Bellator 115 card and make some predictions. HW Championship: Vitaly Minakov (13-0) vs. Cheick Kongo (20-8-2) Russian dynamo Vitaly Minakov is set to defend his heavyweight title. In the way of his first successful title defense stands Cheick Kongo, a tournament winner and UFC vet with a tough style. Minakov is a devastating striker with good speed and power for a guy his size. He has gone to decision just once in his 13-win career. He earned the Bellator title in impressive fashion in his last fight when he completely outclassed former champion Alexander Volkov on the feet and finished him with ground-and-pound. Minakov needs to stay out of the clinch to be successful against Kongo. Kongo is a Muay Thai fighter, but he is known for having solid takedowns and a good clinch that allows him to grind guys out. Since entering Bellator, the Frenchman has gone 2-0, with both fights coming in tournament action. He earned a knockout over Mark Godbeer in the semifinals last season before grinding out Peter Graham in the tourney finals. Many people are going to peg Kongo as the favorite here, but that may not be the smart pick. Minakov has destroyed some credible opponents, and he has not shown many weaknesses in his game. He will strike with Kongo from a distance and avoid getting in a drawn-out grind fest. Minakov will retain his title, possibly with a late finish. WW Tournament Semifinal: Andrey Koreshkov (15-1) vs. Sam Oropeza (11-2) A spot in the welterweight tournament finals is up for grabs when former tournament winner Andrey Koreshkov meets Sam Oropeza. The winner will take on the victor of Nathan Coy’s semifinal bout with Adam McDonough. Coy and McDonough fight at Bellator 116. Koreshkov is a power striker who has been known to get things going early and end fights often. He needs to make sure his counter wrestling is tight—he was exposed in that regard by Ben Askren in his title fight. His quarterfinal bout against Nah-Shon Burrell was brutal and quick, as he exploded through Burrell with a nasty knee and punches. Oropeza is a well-rounded fighter, though he needs to get Koreshkov on his back. He has a solid submission game should he ground the Russian, which will be necessary part of the game plan for Oropeza if he wants to be successful. He earned a knockout over Cristiano Souza in the first round to demonstrate his viability as a dark horse in this bracket. If he tries to make this a striking affair, his chin will be seriously tested from the onset of the bout. This is not nearly the biggest test for Koreshkov, who has already beaten guys that are better than Oropeza. Look for another quick performance from the former tourney winner, who will move forward with passion and throw heat at the chin of Oropeza. It will end in devastating fashion. MW Tournament Semifinal: Jeremy Kimball (10-4) vs. Dan Cramer (10-4) Tourney vets Dan Cramer and Jeremy Kimball are set to collide with a spot in the middleweight tournament finals up for grabs. The winner will meet Brett Cooper in the finals, where a title bid against reigning champion Alexander Shlemenko will be on the line. Kimball is a striker with a wild, aggressive style that makes him highly entertaining. He is tough as nails, but needs to pace himself and not tire out like he did against Perry Filkins. He needs to rely on counter wrestling here. His strategy should revolve around striking from a distance and scoring points on the grinder that is Cramer. Cramer is a wrestler with a heavy top game and a chin of granite. There is no secret as to what he wants to do—he closes the distance, grabs a leg or two and puts his foe on the mat. Cardio may be his advantage here, but he needs to stay away from a firefight with Kimball, who has been known to force guys into playing his game. When it’s all said and done, wrestling will likely prevail. Kimball is tough and could give Cramer a few scares, but this is the type of opponent that Cramer has preyed on in the past. Expect a healthy dose of takedowns and top position for Cramer, who will take a decision and fight Cooper in the finals. MW: Mikkel Parlo (11-2) vs. Johnny Cisneros (8-2) To kick off the main card, Danish tournament veteran Mikkel Parlo takes on King of the Cage veteran Johnny Cisneros in a featured bout from the middleweight division. The winner could potentially earn a spot in a future middleweight bracket. Cisneros is a striker who has been a staple of the West Coast fight scene for a while. He is a durable brawler that looks to throw heat at his opponent’s chin early and often. He needs to avoid the clinch and ground game of Parlo, as his counter wrestling could be exploited by the Xtreme Couture product. Parlo is also a striker, but he has greatly improved his wrestling since moving his fight camp to America. He likes to close the distance and clinch, using that to set up takedowns and ground-and-pound from the top. Those skills are his key to victory against Cisneros. Parlo is easily the more skilled guy in this bout, and he is being set up for success here. This is his fight to lose. He will use his grinding style in unison with conservative striking to outlast Cisneros and run him to a convincing decision. Preliminary Card LHW: Volkan Oezdemir (10-0) vs. Kelly Anundson (6-2) Top light heavyweight prospect Volkan Oezdemir of Switzerland is looking to continue his brand of brutality on American soil, but in his way is The Ultimate Fighter 19 castoff Kelly Anundson. Oezdemir is a striker with a long, lanky frame. He peppers opponents with volume on the feet. He also has TNT in his hands, which allows him to put guys down early and often. Anundson is more of a grappler who insists on submitting foes on the ground with his solid wrestling and good jiu-jitsu. Oezdemir is tough to get in on because he can tag opponents. He will tag Anundson when the ground specialist closes into his distance. WW: Herman Terrado (11-3) vs. Justin Baesman (14-4) Herman Terrado looks to punch his ticket back to a tournament with a win over Justin Baesman in a battle of Bellator tournament vets. Terrado is a powerhouse who uses his sledgehammers to blast through his opponent’s chin. Baesman will need to stay away from a brawl with Terrado. Baesman’s best bet would be to grind him out on the ground. That will not happen, though. Terrado breaks through another man’s chin en route to a knockout victory. WW: James Terry (13-6) vs. Rick Reeves (9-4) Strikeforce vet James Terry looks to bring his talents to the Bellator cage, but in the way of a successful debut stands 13-fight vet Rick Reeves. Reeves is a veteran of the Lion’s Den gym, a camp that has really fallen off the map over time. He is a scrappy ground fighter, using the trademark style we used to see in the Ken Shamrock days. Terry is a Cung Le disciple with excellent striking, especially with his hands. He has dynamite in his punches, which should be enough to send Reeves into a slumber. HW: Josh Appelt (10-2) vs. Freddie Aquitania (6-1) The big boys are up next with a potential heavyweight-tournament berth on the line. Bellator vet Josh Appelt welcomes Freddie Aquitania to the Bellator cage for the first time. Aquitania is a big, powerful heavyweight with a notable win over Bellator vet Javy Ayala. He will look to bang with Appelt, who is known for his takedowns and powerful ground-and-pound. Appelt is 3-0 with the company, with wins over Ed Carpenter, Manny Lara and Josh Lanier. Appelt’s takedowns and experience will be what wins it for him here, as he will wear out the heavy Aquitania. LW: Jason Powell (0-0) vs. Sinjen Smith (0-0) Jason Powell and Sinjen Smith are ready to make their pro debuts with Bellator MMA. Powell is a grinder that uses his wrestling and position to suffocate opponents in the cage. He is a hard-nosed fighter that uses pressure and strength to break opponents down. Smith is a large lightweight with good athleticism and powerful hands. Both men were undefeated amateurs, but Powell’s wrestling will be the deciding factor here. FlyW: Benito Lopez (0-0) vs. Oscar Ramirez (2-0) Reno native Oscar Ramirez defends his home turf against Benito Lopez when the pair of young flyweights make their Bellator debuts. Lopez, fighting for the first time at the pro level, was impressive in his short amateur career, running a 4-0 tab. Ramirez is 2-0 with both fights ending in finishes. Home-field advantage and experience could be an x-factor here, as Ramirez beats a game Lopez to please the home crowd.