Last week, the featherweights got their turn at the Bellator spotlight before Eddie Alvarez’s win over Patricky Freire. Now, it is time for the lightweights to take center stage.

This weekend, Bellator 77 emanates from the Reading Eagle Theater in the Sovereign Center in Reading, Pa., and the event plays host to the season-seven lightweight tournament, which will determine the next contender to the Bellator lightweight title.

Featured on this main card, Rich “No Love” Clementi enters the fray with the hunger for gold, but undefeated Russian prospect Alexander Sarnavskiy looks to use Clementi as his launching pad towards the top of the sport. Also, tournament vets Marcin Held, Ricardo Tirloni and Rene Nazare return to the tourney landscape, while Murad Machaev and Magomed Saadulaev make their debuts for the promotion via the tourney. Also featured in this tournament with a hunger for lightweight supremacy, Dave Jansen aims to defeat the competition en route to a title shot of his own.

Respectively, Tirloni faces Nazare, Held faces Machaev, and Saadulaev faces Jansen. As is the case with each Bellator tournament, the winner earns $100,000 and a shot at their division’s champion, though Michael Chandler could lose his gold if Rick Hawn, the last lightweight tourney winner, has his way.

As always, The MMA Corner remains your home for all things MMA, and with Bellator 77 fast approaching, we thank you for making The MMA Corner the home for your official Bellator 77 preview, which will feature predictions from Yours Truly for every fight on the card, from the main event of the night through the first fight of the card.

LW Quarterfinals: Rich Clementi (44-21-1) vs. Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy (20-0)

Sarnavskiy (Sherdog)

Potential never trumps experience on paper, but when UFC veteran Rich “No Love” Clementi steps into the Bellator cage with Rusfighters Sports Club’s Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy in the main event of Bellator 77, the fight aims to play out about the opposite of the way it plays out on paper.

Now at 44-21-1, Clementi rides a two-fight winning streak, including wins over Derek Campos and Robert Washington. Though known for nine wins by way of some form of knockout, Clementi’s name rings more bells due to his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game. Of his 27 official wins by submission, Clementi earned 23 of them by way of a crippling hold, with four submission wins coming due to punches.

The Russian prospect Sarnavskiy knows all about throwing heat to win fights. Five of his six TKO/KO wins involved throwing some menacing leather. Like Clementi, Sarnavskiy also holds his share of submission wins, and like Clementi, he doesn’t particularly care for decisions. As a matter of fact, Sarnavskiy only holds three wins by the judges’ scorecards, with only one official instance of the Russian winning the fight on all three of the judges’ scorecards.

As stated before, potential never trumps experience. Clementi’s track record shows names such as Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Terry Etim came into their fights with Clementi sporting unblemished records, but found their “0” taken from them against Clementi. Also, with Clementi’s noted ground work, one must not expect him to respect Sarnavskiy’s own submission expertise. In what should cap off a stellar main card of Bellator lightweight fireworks, Sarnavskiy must implement his kickboxing mastery in an effort to force some respect out of the veteran if the prospect aims to cement his status as Russia’s next young lion on the cusp of superstar stature.

I should know better than to go against a veteran like Clementi, but I have a soft spot for prospects, and that somehow has translated into confidence—don’t ask me how. Clementi says Sarnavskiy will not throw anything different from what past fighters have tried to throw at him, but if welterweight prospect Andrey Koreshkov has taught us anything so far about fighters who train with Alexander Shlemenko, it’s to never look past a Rusfighters Sports Club member. I like Sarnavskiy’s odds of a quick first-round knockout win if he can keep it standing against a game Clementi and overwhelm the veteran early, but don’t count the veteran out until you see his lights go out.

 LW Quarterfinals: Rene Nazare (10-2) vs. Ricardo Tirloni (14-2)

Tirloni (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Rene Nazare’s Bellator run engages minds like a fine work of literature. Last year, he came in with a 7-0 record and tore through three of his first Bellator outings. This season, he finds himself on a two-fight losing streak—including a split decision loss to fellow Brazilian prospect Thiago Michel. While he did establish himself early in his career as a finisher who ended fights on his own terms, he found himself outworked by Michel, and although some felt he took the first round away from Jacob Kirwan, Kirwan wore out Nazare in the last two rounds, taking a unanimous decision in the process.

MFC veteran Ricardo Tirloni will not make things easier for Nazare in their lightweight tilt, and for good reason. Tirloni owned an 11-fight winning streak before a lightning-quick knockout defeat to now-contender Rick Hawn. While Tirloni merely will come off one loss, the sting of losing his streak will motivate him greatly coming into this bout.

Tirloni also owns an early career loss to UFC lightweight kingpin Benson Henderson, so none will accuse him of losing to nobodies. However, Tirloni knows his best chance to win comes if he respects Nazare’s striking and implements a fast-acting ground game. Likewise, Nazare knows his best chance will come by keeping the fight on the feet and exposing an opening to land one fight-changing shot. With one inch of difference in reach, fans must not find surprise in a more tactical game plan from either man, as both men try to pick their spot and slow their opponents down before going in for the kill.

Nazare has plenty to prove, as does Tirloni, which should make for an enjoyable tactical tilt from both. While questions arise about Nazare’s takedown defense, Nazare will look to answer questions about Tirloni’s chin. I won’t bank on this turning in the best outing of the night, but I find it hard to go against Nazare, considering his back stands against the wall here. Look for Nazare to land a menacing shot that rattles Tirloni and rights his own ship as Nazare earns a third-round TKO win.

 LW Quarterfinals: Marcin Held (13-2) vs. Murad Machaev (9-0)

Held (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Marcin Held stands at 3-0 since he lost to current champion Michael Chandler in the season-four lightweight tourney, though fans argue that he should stand at 2-1 after reaching a split decision against Philippe Nover. Aside from that bout, however, Held owns wins over Derrick Kennington and Kaleo King.

Meanwhile, he faces a Bellator newcomer in Sambo specialist Murad Machaev. Like Held, Machaev owns the majority of his pro wins by way of submission, defeating five fighters by submission in an unblemished nine-fight winning record. Having not left his native Russia for his entire career, Machaev makes his U.S. debut against the polished Polish submission wizard.

Both men elect to finish, as they only combine for a total of five decision wins. Likewise, they only combine for a total of five wins by any form of knockout. That said, the fact that both men find their best successes on the ground always holds potential to cause one of these two to hunt for the knockout.

I anticipate Machaev proving competitive and giving Held fits, but while Machaev aims to give Bellator its first Russian-born world champion, let’s not forget that Held aims to even the score with Chandler. Whether or not Chandler will retain the gold will depend on his title bout with Hawn.

In any event, both will fight fire with fire in what potentially may provide a fun grappling battle, with Held doing just enough to deliver another decision victory, but this time, he will leave no doubt in all three judges’ minds.

 LW Quarterfinals: Dave Jansen (16-2) vs. Magomed Saadulaev (14-1)

Jansen (Andy Hemingway/Sherdog)

“The Fugitive” Dave Jansen presents a wild card in this bout, as he provides a popular name for Bellator diehards to watch, yet he flies under the radar in the lightweight division. If Jansen’s name rings any bells, it rings those bells because the M-1 veteran brought an undefeated streak into the WEC in the fall of 2009 and went 1-2 under that promotion’s banner. Since entering Bellator, Jansen owns a three-fight winning streak and looks to extend it to four with a “W” over Magomed Saadulaev.

Saadulaev brings a simple strategy into the Bellator cage. If a fighter lets Saadulaev get a hold of him, Saadulaev will submit them. If he does not submit his opponent, he will outwork them until he breaks their will and earns a decision from it. Saadulaev is a gritty product of the Greg  Jackson camp, and he owns eight of his stoppage wins by submission, with the only loss of his career coming by submission as well.

No shame should come with owning eight submission victories in a 15-fight career, but the biggest questions about Saadulaev concern his stand-up arsenal. Jansen’s record suggests that he predominantly hunts for submissions as well, but if Saadulaev leaves an opening, nobody will stop Jansen from taking it. That said, Saadulaev’s ground game should highlight any breakdown of  his fights, and should Jansen not concoct a defense to Saadulaev’s submission game, he can expect a disappointing end to his Bellator lightweight tourney dreams.

In a battle of great ground players, anything can and will go down. Like the Held-Machaev bout that follows it, Jansen vs. Saadulaev promises a solid ground battle. Expect this one, however, to end in a close split decision, and if Jansen cannot find a finish inside of three rounds, expect Saadulaev to catch the better end of that close split decision verdict.

Preliminary Card

FlyW: Matthew Lozano (2-0) vs. Dave Morgan (5-1)

Matthew Lozano’s official record shows two fights, two wins, and two finishes for the Pennsylvanian prospect. Dave Morgan stands at 5-1 with one submission win via punches, but he also owns four unanimous decision victories. When Morgan gets fighters down, he likes to ground-and-pound them out, but after spending time in the bantamweight class, the 5-foot-4 fighter looks to take his persistence and his will to win down to 125 pounds. Look for Morgan to work his wrestling and grind out Lozano at every turn, earning yet another unanimous decision win in his first fight on a major stage.

FW: Eric Albright (0-0) vs. Brett Martinez (3-0)

Brett Martinez owns three first-round wins, two TKO wins, and one submission win in three pro bouts. He welcomes Eric Albright into the pro ranks, though Albright does present problems for Martinez in the form of his toughness and his willingness to go the distance. Albright will look to harm Martinez on the ground if it goes there, and if it should, anticipate a second-round TKO victory.

LW: Cosmo Alexander (3-1) vs. Mike Bannon (4-0)

“Good Boy” Cosmo Alexander knows how to strike, and the former kickboxer has shown it after losing his pro debut against Josh Quayhagen. Mike Bannon presents all the tools to hand Alexander another loss, though, as he knows how to find submissions with relative ease.  In typical Alexander fashion, he will keep the fight standing, and I would expect Alexander to use his striking to earn a third-round knockout, if he can put Bannon out.

MW: Duane Bastress (5-2) vs. Lewis Rumsey (8-8)

Duane Bastress  stands with only one loss in the Bellator cage, but he definitely knows how to close out a fight. Lewis Rumsey can claim to have never been stopped in a fight by knockout or TKO, but he does show a susceptibility to submissions.  Though Rumsey will prove a gamer, Bastress’s punishing all-around game will help him pull through and earn a clear unanimous decision victory, as Rumsey will find himself in danger but not stopped by Bastress’s best efforts.

Catchweight: Carmelo Marrero (14-5) vs. Lew Polley (11-4)

Lew Polley coached for Team Dos Santos on season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter, yet he holds a nice 11-4 streak of his own. Carmelo Marrero’s name may not ring many bells, but he does own a stint in the UFC, in which he kept a then-undefeated streak intact with a split decision win over Cheick Kongo. Marrero has struggled to remain consistent since then, but a recent unanimous decision win over Scott Barrett earns him as good a chance as anyone at coming out victorious. That said, I think Polley uses his wrestling credentials to outwrestle Marrero and submit him in the middle of the second round.

LW: Emanuel “E.J.” Brooks (7-0) vs. Darrel Horcher (5-0)

“EJ” Brooks owns an unblemished 7-0 record and at the ripe age of 26, he seems hungry to really elevate his name. Darrell Horcher stands one year younger and two fights less experienced than Brooks, but he already owns the reputation of a fighter who ends fights with his hands. Someone’s “0” must go, and despite Brooks’ promise, Horcher will find his mark and put Brooks in severe danger, thus earning himself a second-round TKO stoppage in the corner.

Photo: Rich Clementi (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.