Bellator's eighth season will debut live this Thursday at 10/9c
. Two titles are on the line, as Pat Curran defends the Bellator Featherweight Championship against Season 4 featherweight tournament winner Patricio Pitbull and Michael Chandler defends the Lightweight Championship
against Olympic judoka and Season 6 lightweight tournament winner Rick Hawn. Chandler and Hawn have impressive resumes coming into the fight, and knowing the mindset of both men it's almost certain their minds are both fixed on Thursday's bout. Which is good, because waiting in the wings are eight more men in this season's Lightweight Tournament.
Let's take a look at the field and how I see it playing out:
LLOYD WOODARD vs. DAVID RICKELS
Woodard's nickname may be "Cupcake," but he's anything but sweet. He also had sort of a rough go of it in his childhood, admitting to being a badly behaved kid who reformed his ways. He's coming off a shocking submission win over fellow quarterfinalist Patricky Pitbull in the season 6 tournament quarterfinals and could give David Rickels quite a headache. Rickels has only tasted defeat once in his pro career in a controversial split decision loss to Karl Amoussou in season 6's welterweight tournament semi-finals. Dropping to Lightweight can reap benefits for some fighters, but unfortunately Rickels won't have a significant size or experience advantage with this draw.
: Lloyd Woodard via Submission, R2
THIAGO MICHEL vs. TIGER SARNAVSKIY
Another explosive match-up that pits two finishers against each other. Thiago Michel is a skilled kickboxer and knockout artist. His weakness is his lack of experience on the ground, but he's drawn a fellow striker with a propensity for keeping it on the feet. The one deciding factor could be that Sarnavskiy has fought almost exclusively in Europe, where the competition isn't as fierce as it is in the States. When he did arrive he found himself on the losing end to Rich Clementi. I don't expect this one to last long, but I do expect whatever the finish will be to end up a part of Bellator ads and highlight reels for years to come.
: Thiago Michel via KO, R1
RICARDO TIRLONI vs. WILL BROOKS
Brazilian submission ace Tirloni is probably still seething from his split decision loss last season to Dave Jansen, a fight that Tirloni and many others still think he won. But his road to redemption is blocked by Will Brooks, a prospect on an eight fight win streak who is stepping up in competition and coming off a high profile win on New Years Eve over Japanese fighter Satoru Kitaoka. On paper, it's a tough match-up to call, but I think the experience and especially the competition Tirloni has faced will give him the edge here.
: Tirloni via Unanimous Decision.
PATRICKY PITBULL vs. GUILLAUME DELORENZI
Bellator vet Patricky Pitbull is at a crossroads, having just lost three of his last four fights. Granted, two of those were against top ten fighters Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler, but he was also submitted in shocking fashion by Lloyd Woodard. The question here is if Patricky can attain that top level status he previously held. His opponent, Guillaume DeLorenzi, has some scary ground and pound, but is susceptible to fighters who are smart on their feet. Patricky's experience and versatility should win the day.Prediction
: Patricky Pitbull via Unanimous Decision.
LLOYD WOODARD vs. THIAGO MICHEL
I think this is where Michel runs into trouble. Woodard is good enough to survive on his feet, and on the ground he's dangerous, as he showed in his most recent fight.
: Lloyd Woodard via Submission, R1
RICARDO TIRLONI vs. PATRICKY PITBULL
This one could prove interesting. Both have redemption on their minds, clearly, and both are skilled with submissions. But Patricky's more skilled on the feet, and if Tirloni's not careful it could be an early end to his night and put a damper on his Lightweight title aspirations.
: Patricky Pitbull via KO, R2
PATRICKY PITBULL vs. LLOYD WOODARD
Well, would you look at that. Woodard strives on being the underdog, and in fact almost feeds on it. The problem is, after you beat a guy like Patricky Pitbull, the expectation is for you to win. Now he's one of the top seeds of the tournament, and though he won't have much trouble up to this point, I don't think it's going to be easy. Patricky definitely won't be underestimating him, nor will he be surprised by anything in Woodard's toolbox.Prediction
: PATRICKY PITBULL via Unanimous Decision
And there you have it – a lightweight tournament filled with interesting style match-ups and tales of redemption. It's a competitive and dangerous field, but I think it's ultimately going to be the story of how Patricky Pitbull overcame a disappointing 2012 to come roaring back into contention in 2013.
But, of course, that's just one man's opinion. How do you think the tournament will play out? Let us know in the comments and tune in LIVE this Thursday at 10/9c for the premiere of Bellator on Spike, and on January 31st at 10pm/9c when all four Lightweight quarterfinals will be broadcast live.