Bellator MMA returns this Thursday night with a new network, a new night, a new name (“Fighting Championships” has been dropped in favor of “MMA”), and a new crop of fighters ready to make a statement. With the move to Spike now in effect, fans of the popular network will finally get the opportunity to witness the action that defines the promotion.

Two titles take center stage on the main card, as featherweight champion Pat Curran defends his crown against Patricio Freire, while lightweight kingpin Michael Chandler faces former judoka and season-six tourney winner Rick Hawn. Also, the light heavyweight tournament kicks off with Renato “Babalu” Sobral making his Bellator debut against Mikhail Zayats on the main card. Meanwhile, on the prelims (that’s right, part of the tournament will take place on the preliminary card), Jacob Noe fights Seth Petruzelli and Emmanuel Newton battles Atanas Djambazov.

Once again, The MMA Corner thanks you for making us your home for your official Bellator 85 preview, and as Bellator MMA prepares to make good on a successful debut on Spike, we thank you for allowing us to walk you through everything you must know about this card from top to bottom!

LW Championship: Michael Chandler (10-0) vs. Rick Hawn (14-1)

Hawn (Sherdog)

Let’s recap: Michael Chandler stands with a perfect 10-0 record, a heavy set of hands, an all-business wrestling game, and one of the brightest futures of any lightweight prospect in the stateside circuit. It’s hard to forget his 2011 win over Eddie Alvarez, where Chandler nearly finished Alvarez early and wound up scoring a fourth-round submission win over the former champ in an absolute classic thriller. Since the win, Chandler has gone on to score a quick finish over Akihiro Gono in May. But when he fights Hawn, he will be returning from an 11-month layoff.

Hawn’s knockout power made plenty work in his favor in wins over Ricardo Tirloni and Lloyd Woodard, while his judo worked wonders against Brent Weedman. That Hawn accomplished these feats after dropping down from welterweight to compete as a lightweight makes the it all the more impressive.

Hawn will own the experience edge, but Chandler’s lack thereof so far has yet to prove a hindrance in a pro bout. Hawn may look for one well-timed shot to catch Chandler on the jaw. Despite Hawn’s most honest efforts, Chandler will wear Hawn out and not only outstrike Hawn for a unanimous decision, but he will also out-wrestle Hawn, rendering his judo useless.

FW Title Fight: Pat Curran (17-4) vs. Patricio Freire (17-1)

Curran (Dave Mande/Sherdog)

What a road to this title fight. Pat Curran defeated Luis Palomino and Ronnie Mann before his now-famous head-kick knockout over former Sengoku featherweight champion Marlon Sandro. And then came Joe Warren. The then-featherweight champion looked to soothe the sting of his knockout loss to Alexis Vila in a season-five bantamweight quarterfinal, but three tough rounds against Curran proved too much for Warren. The punishment culminated in a memorable and somewhat infamous flurry which led to a stoppage that many felt came late.

While Freire still owns one loss to Warren and unquestionably would have desired the chance to avenge it, he at least gets to challenge for the featherweight crown after almost two years away from action. The last time Freire fought, he took Daniel Straus to a unanimous decision. Ironically, Straus awaits the winner of this bout after his own win over Sandro.

Freire and Curran will meet for the first time, with only one of the two men getting the chance to rematch Freire, and it should deliver a furious encounter from start to finish. However, questions arise due to both fighters’ respective layoffs. Freire will fight for the first time in almost two years, while Curran will fight for the first time in eight months. Though both men bring dangerous striking and respectable grappling games, Freire presents more questions to answer with his layoff.

Curran will get off to a bit of a slow start, likely respecting Freire’s skills early on, but as the bout progresses, he will look to turn it up on all fronts. Freire will not surrender, however, and while Curran will retain the belt, he will only escape with a split decision.

LHW Tournament Quarterfinal: Renato Sobral (37-9) vs. Mikhail Zayats (19-6)

"Babalu" (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Renato Sobral debuts for Bellator on the heels of his ONE FC win over Tatsuya Mizuno. “Babalu” will go up against Mikhail Zayats. The win over Mizuno helped the former Strikeforce champion improve to 6-2 in his last eight since infamously holding on to the choke that forced the tap from David Heath that led to Sobral’s UFC release, and he stands as a favorite to win the tournament if Muhammed Lawal should not accomplish the feat. Sobral’s jiu-jitsu remains some of the best in the division, and while the win over Mizuno marked his first victory in two years after a period of inactivity, it did reaffirm Sobral as a dangerous figure at 205 pounds.

Although Sobral always poses a threat to any opponent, Zayats owns a five-fight winning streak and a gold medal victory at the 2008 World Combat Sambo Championships. On paper, it may not signify much, but in reality, it signifies a well-rounded skill set. With roots in multiple styles of wrestling and Kodokan Judo, Zayats possesses the credentials needed to grapple and wrestle with the best in the world.

However, all those Sambo credentials merely signify that he can hang with Sobral on the ground, but they don’t suggest he will best the veteran on the mat. If Zayats does not try to strike with Sobral, then Babalu will take him down and end it within the first two minutes of the fight. However, let’s give Zayats some credit and say he lasts until Sobral finds a rear-naked choke early in round two.

Preliminary Card

LHW Tournament Quarterfinal: Jacob Noe (8-1) vs. Seth Petruzelli (14-6)

Seth Petruzelli looks to shed his skin as “The Kimbo Killer” with each passing fight, and he does hold some favor over Jacob Noe. While Noe enjoys the “prospect” label, Petruzelli owns a share of experience. Petruzelli may find himself in trouble a few times throughout the bout, but he will take a second-round TKO.

LHW Tournament Quarterfinal: Atanas Djambazov (17-2) vs. Emanuel Newton (18-7-1)

Arguably, Emanuel Newton should have fought Travis Wiuff in last season’s light heavyweight finals, but Newton now has a chance for redemption. He faces Atanas Djambazov, who inexplicably flies under the radar despite a 10-fight winning streak. Newton holds the advantage in experience, but Djambazov will hurt Newton early and finish the fight via TKO in the third round.

LHW: Jason Lambert (25-12) vs. Hector Ramirez (9-4-1)

Jason Lambert comes in off a loss to Tony Lopez, while Hector Ramirez enters after a win over Matti Makela. Lambert knows his way around a stoppage, but Ramirez’s lone defeat by a finish came to James Irvin, and Lambert doesn’t bring Irvin’s fight. Nonetheless, Lambert takes a split decision.

FW: Joe Camacho (13-17-3) vs. Aaron Miller (12-8)

Joe Camacho holds veteran status over Aaron Miller, but his losses read more impressively than his wins. Miller owns a three-fight winning streak and excels in earning decisions. Camacho lost the majority of his fights by decision, but Miller will find the submission against Camacho.

WW: Joe Williams (7-1) vs. Jamie Yager (6-3)

Jamie Yager recently lost to Josh Burkman at Showdown Fights, while Joe Williams defeated Rod Montoya in October. Although Yager generally loves to get the knockout, he will find it difficult to finish Williams. Expect Yager to outstrike Williams for three rounds and take a unanimous decision if Williams doesn’t go down by the midway point of the first round.

LW: Mike Guymon (14-5-1) vs. Savant Young (10-9)

To this day, Mike Guymon still has yet to be stopped inside of a sanctioned contest, not counting submissions. Strangely enough, his opponent, Savant Young, owns the majority of his losses by submission and only has an early-career loss by knockout to his name. Guymon will find an arm and sink in a late second-round armbar for the win.

160-pound Catchweight: J.J. Ambrose (18-4) vs. Brian Warren (18-16-1)

J.J. Ambrose rebounded from his loss to Brent Weedman with a second-round knockout of Dong Sun Choi, while Brian Warren lost to Ben Saunders in just 22 seconds. It doesn’t help Warren’s cause that Ambrose can finish any way he sees fit. If Ambrose can’t find the submission in the first round, he will find the knockout in the second round once again.

FW: Cleber Luciano (7-4) vs. Mario Navarro (4-2)

Depending on how the main card plays out, Spike viewers might see this fight on television or they may have to go to to view it. Either way, we must point out that both men earned stripes as finishers and that Mario Navarro has never tapped out or passed out in his career. Expect the trend to continue, and expect Navarro to find a heel hook in a quick first-round victory.

Top Photo: Michael Chandler (top) (Keith Mills/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.