After a week off for Road to the Championship
, Bellator Fighting Championships
returns this Friday. Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler enters the cage for first time since capturing the lightweight title from Eddie Alvarez in one of 2011's most memorable fights
. Though his next title challenger is unknown – Rick Hawn and Brent Weedman fight in the tournament final later this month to crown the next No. 1 contender – Chandler wanted an quicker return and takes on PRIDE and UFC veteran Akihiro Gono in non-title action. Also on the card is the first of two welterweight semi-finals, as Ben Saunders fights Bryan Baker. Catch all the action this Friday, May 4 from Casino Rama
in Rama, Ontario, Canada, starting with the prelims at BellatorLive.Spike.com
at 7e/4p and continuing with the main card on MTV2 and Epix2 at 8/7c.
Chandler had a memorable breakout year in 2011, going from relative unknown to Bellator Lightweight World Champion in just four fights. Entering the Season Four Lightweight Tournament a perfect 5-0, Chandler tore through the competition. He submitted Marcin Held in the opening round, and defeated Lloyd Woodard and Patricky "Pitbull" Freire en route to earning a world title shot. Though he was expected to be a reputable test to Alvarez's throne, Chandler exceeded expectations from the opening bell and nearly finished the fight early on. After surviving a rough third round, Chandler rocked Alvarez again before taking his back and submitting him in the fourth round. Already possessing a strong wrestling base from his days at the University of Missouri, Chandler's boxing improvements make him a well-rounded threat with a world of potential. He takes on a veteran of the sport in Gono, who has more than five times as many fights as Chandler. The submission-savvy Gono has fought a who's who in his 18-year career, and holds wins over former world champs Hector Lombard and Gegard Mousasi. He'll look to shock the world and hand Chandler his first loss.
The Season 6 Welterweight Tournament continues with the first semi-final matchup, as two previous tournament finalists Baker and Saunders meet. A Bellator veteran and middleweight tournament finalist, Baker slimed down to 170 pounds for the first time last month. Though he was successful in the quarterfinals
, edging Carlos Pereira by split decision, Baker's performance was slightly lackluster. Admitting the cut drained him more than he anticipated, the inspirational leukemia survivor expects a better performance in his second welterweight outing. At only 26 years of age, refocused and training with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, the best of "The Beast" is still to come. In his way is Saunders, last season's tournament runner-up. A UFC vet with one of the nastiest muay-Thai clinches in the business, the American Top Team product's ground game continues to progress as evidenced by his quarterfinal performance. "Killa B" bested previously unbeaten Raul Amaya, nearly submitting him on several occasions en route to a lopsided decision win
. The lone knock on Saunders is that he has drifted astray from his striking roots. Look for the rangy welterweight to blend his devastating striking with his newfound grappling love moving forward. The winner of Saunders vs. Baker will advance to their second Bellator tournament final.
In a much anticipated welterweight feature fight, tournament veteran Luis Santos welcomes Canadian fan favorite Ryan Ford to Bellator. "Sapo" Santos is a dangerous task at 170 pounds, having compiled an astonishing 50-7-1 record with 36 finishes. Though he fell short against Saunders
in the semi-finals last season, his quarterfinal performance against Dan Hornbuckle was a definitive showcase of his craftiness
. The Brazilian shut down the former tournament finalist and frustrated him throughout the fight, never allowing him to get his offense going. He'll need to utilize similar tactics against Ford, who's one of the most explosive welterweights around. The beloved Canadian has captivated audiences throughout the Great White North with his relentless style. "The Real Deal" brings immense power and big slams to the table, making the Tristar product a natural finisher; all but one of his 17 wins are stoppages. Ford enters Bellator on a hot streak, having tasted defeat only once in his last six outings. The winner is likely to earn a spot in next season's 170-pound tournament.
Rounding out the main card is a heavyweight feature fight between Damian Grabowski and Dave Huckaba. The two are likely to start the main card off with a bang, as both have only been the distance three times in a collective 37 fights. Huckaba makes his Bellator debut on a six-fight winning streak, with five knockout wins in that stretch. The former Gladiator Challenge heavyweight champion is looking to make waves on the national scene in his first promotional appearance. Grabowski returns to Bellator for the first time since falling short against current heavyweight champ Cole Konrad. That defeat is the sole blemish in Grabowski's 16-fight career. Since then, the "Polish Pitbull" has scored a pair submission wins. Both are eyeing a spot in the upcoming heavyweight tournament.
Before the main card airs live, you can catch the prelims live at BellatorLive.Spike.com
. Welterweight prospect Nordine Taleb returns to Bellator after an impressive showing in April and faces fellow Canadian Matt MacGrath. Ontario natives William Romero and Matt Veal clash in a featherweight contest guaranteed to bring the hometown crowd to their feet. Esteemed kickboxer Cosmo Alexander returns to Bellator coming off a 20-second knockout last November and battles undefeated Lorawnt-T Nelson in a lightweight fight. See the full Bellator 67 card right here.
Prelims are live at 7e/4p at BellatorLive.Spike.com
Main card is live at 8/7c on MTV2 and Epix2
Catch more live fights at 10e/7p at BellatorLive.Spike.com