Next month, we will learn who will present the next challenge to the Bellator lightweight throne.

This Friday night, we will witness UFC veteran Rich Clementi compete against Marcin Held, as well as Dave Jansen vs. Ricardo Tirloni. The winners will square off at Bellator 84 to earn their crack at the lightweight gold.

Also, Marlon Sandro and Dustin Neace return to action as they battle each other in a promising featherweight bout, and German middleweight Jonas Billstein squares off with Perry Filkins in the night’s opening contest.

As always, The MMA Corner thanks you for choosing us as your home for your official Bellator 81 preview, and as the lightweight tournament draws closer to its closure in a matter of weeks, we thank you for allowing us to walk you through everything you must know about this card from top to bottom!

LW Tournament Semifinal: Rich Clementi (45-21) vs. Marcin Held (14-2)

Held (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Alexander Sarnavskiy came into his bout against Rich Clementi with great potential, but he learned over the course of three rounds that no substitute exists for experience. With his own decision win over Sarnavskiy, Clementi moved on to the semifinals of the Bellator season-seven lightweight finals. While he didn’t get to showcase his jiu-jitsu skill set against Sarnavskiy, he did live up to his reputation of creating a roadblock for undefeated prospects.

Luckily, Marcin Held already felt that sting when he lost to current Bellator champ Michael Chandler. Even still, Held’s game continues to improve in all aspects, and he remains a threat to all on the feet. He will not have the experience advantage over Clementi, of course, but he will have the comfort of youth on his side.

Naturally, one should not expect this to turn into an easier bout than Held’s tourney fight with Murad Machaev. Clementi and Held both excel in the grappling game, so anticipate both canceling each other’s grappling out and looking to put the other away on the feet without hesitation. In the end, Clementi will force Held to fight for his win as Machaev did, but Held will not find success this time as he drops a unanimous decision, albeit a close one, to the UFC vet Clementi.

LW Tournament Semifinal: Dave Jansen (17-2) vs. Ricardo Tirloni (15-2)

Jansen fights from the top (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Is it safe to say Dave Jansen has arrived? I should say so. The former WEC and M-1 veteran found a way to submit Magomed Saadulaev in the third round after battling back from a few first-round scares and wearing Saadulaev out in the second.

Jansen found his timing against Saadulaev eventually, but he cannot afford a slow start when he faces Ricardo Tirloni. Tirloni himself starts off with an intensity that not even Rene Nazare could match, and once he finds a way to win, he goes in for the kill. Even when he gets forced into defeat, he goes out on his shield, so Jansen will need to prepare for that.

That being said, Tirloni will prove wise to prepare for Jansen’s three-dimensional fight game. Jansen blends in his striking well with his wrestling and his submission game in an aggressive, offensive attempt to wear his opponents down before he hunts for finishes of his own. I will never question Tirloni’s heart or his own aggression, but I do question how he aims to set his ground game up against a fighter of Jansen’s caliber. Surprisingly, I don’t anticipate Jansen getting his submissions off, but I’ll get my hopes up on Jansen letting his hands go en route to a second-round TKO win.

FW: Dustin Neace (23-18) vs. Marlon Sandro (22-4)

Sandro (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Dustin Neace might ring bells to those who remember season fourteen of The Ultimate Fighter. As a matter of fact, his record shows that Bryan Caraway defeated Neace almost one year ago. Though Neace does possess a strong record of TKO finishes and knockouts, his submissions stand out more boldly.

All that aside, he never had to out-grapple or finish Marlon Sandro. Mind you, Pat Curran owns the honor of being the first (and only) man to finish Sandro, but that should not suggest a glass jaw or age setting in. Sandro still demonstrates one of the most menacing challenges to any featherweight on the feet or on the ground, and his right uppercut delivers surreal results when he sticks it in just the right area.

Neace needs to pick Sandro apart, get Sandro to the ground, and prove that he possesses a strong enough ground game to neutralize Sandro’s jiu-jitsu. Getting Sandro against the cage helps his chances so long as he puts Sandro’s back against the cage. If Neace’s back ends up against the cage, Sandro will earn another submission victory.

Not only is that a possibility, but I see it happening midway through the first round, and by Sandro’s signature arm-triangle at that.

MW: Jonas Billstein (9-2) vs. Perry Filkins (6-1)

Billstein (R) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Jonas Billstein represents a good streak waiting to happen and a true German prospect waiting to rise. So far, his reputation stands as a finisher who only goes down if one out-grapples him. Otherwise, Billstein does possess a good striking game for a person at this stage of his career, as well as a good grappling game.

Perry Filkins must weigh somewhat on the mind of Billstein as we draw closer to the fight. All six of Filkins’ wins came by TKO, and his only loss came by unanimous decision. Filkins will make his Bellator debut against Billstein, the latter of whom currently stands at 1-1 in the promotion.

Will first-time Bellator jitters hit Filkins? With his will to finish, I suspect not, and I also suspect that Billstein will come into this fight aware of the task he faces in attempting to expose a hole in Filkins’ game. The first round can go either way, but if it gets midway through the second, Billstein will mount the pressure on Filkins and score yet another TKO victory.


BW: Robbie LeRoux (4-1) vs. Ruben Rey (5-4)

Robbie LeRoux and Ruben Rey close out the prelims, but while LeRoux wants to bump himself up to a three-fight winning streak, Rey wants to snap a current three-fight skid. Rey will hunt for a TKO, while LeRoux will aim for victory by any means necessary, even if it comes by decision. As a matter of fact, I see LeRoux outclassing Rey on his way to taking a unanimous verdict.

LW: Paul Barrow (4-2) vs. Matt Bessette (8-3)

Paul Barrow has alternated between wins and losses in his past five fights, as has Matt Bessette. Bessette also aims for a Jan. 5 date at Reality Fighting’s “New Year’s Bash,” and I can see him going into that fight with Jeff Anderson on the strength of a win here. Give me Bessette by a split decision.

WW: Sam McCoy (4-0) vs. Brennan Ward (4-0)

Brennan Ward earned a nice 4-0 career run up until now, including a three-win run in CES MMA. Though many list 11-6 prospect Valter Roberto as Ward’s foe, Sam McCoy and his untouched 4-0 record stand as the official challenge for Ward. Provided McCoy presents the official opposition for Ward, Ward will end McCoy’s undefeated stretch via first-round TKO.

Catchweight (210 lbs.): Matt Uhde (3-1) vs. Mike Mucitelli (3-0)

With Dan McGuane out, undefeated Mike Mucitelli risks his streak against Matt Uhde. Mucitelli will ride the strength of his win over Matt Van Buren, while Uhde lost his “0” in Titan FC. Despite the opponent switch, Mucitelli will stay on point wherever Uhde chooses to take this fight, thus earning a late second-round TKO stoppage.

MW: Dan Cramer (8-3) vs. Joe Lamoureux (3-1)

How the UFC let Dan Cramer go after making his pro debut at UFC 94 and only losing to Matt Riddle, I will never know, though going 1-1 at the time probably had something to do with it. Anyway, Cramer stands at 4-1 in his last five fights, whereas “Sloppy” Joe Lamoureux lost his pro debut to Dan McGuane but followed up with three straight wins. Experience will trump potential here, as Cramer outworks Lamoureux and earns himself a clear-cut unanimous decision.

LW: Andrew Calandrelli (5-3) vs. Eric Brown (3-2)

Andrew Calandrelli submitted Matt Nice in his Bellator debut. Meanwhile, BAMMA USA veteran Eric Brown owns a three-fight winning streak. I will give this one to Calandrelli by TKO, but I don’t expect a pretty fight here.

LW: Murad Machaev (9-1) vs. Lorawnt-T Nelson (4-1)

Murad Machaev made Marcin Held work for the unanimous decision that Held earned in the season-seven lightweight tourney quarterfinals. Lowrawnt-T Nelson’s last loss came against Cosmo Alexandre, and Nelson bounced back from the loss with his current two-fight winning streak. Expect Machaev to return to form and get a submission win in the early minutes of the second round.

Photo: Rich Clementi (Keith Mills/Sherdog) [ready for edit]

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.