Bellator 56 Preview

October 27, 2011

For the first time in Bellator Fighting Championships Season 5 a world title is on the line. Undefeated welterweight champion Ben Askren meets Season 4 tournament winner Jay Hieron at Bellator 56 in Kansas City, Kan. Also, four hard-hitting heavyweights collide in the semi-finals this Saturday, Oct. 29 on MTV2 and in HD on Epix2 at 9/8c.

In his two years as a mixed martial artist, Askren has gone from an amateur wrestling machine to a world champion. The four-time Division 1 All-American and two-time NCAA wrestling champion has made a seamless transition from the mat to the cage. Askren defeated Lyman Good in October 2010 and won the Bellator welterweight title. It was only the seventh professional fight of his then 20-month-old career. Askren recently started training with acclaimed striking coach Duke Roufus to further develop his striking skills, making him an increasingly dangerous fighter. Now sporting a perfect 8-0 record, which includes five wins in Bellator, “Funky” is set to defend his title for the first time against a more experienced foe. Hieron enters his title fight against Askren on a 10-fight winning streak dating back to 2007. While that stretch alone edges Askren’s experience, Hieron has fought professionally for eight years. The former IFL champion bested notables Brent Weedman and Rick Hawn en route to winning Bellator’s Season 4 welterweight tournament. Approaching his first title fight in three years, Hieron looks to claim Bellator gold and hand Askren his first career loss.

Before Askren and Hieron settle their score, four heavyweights meet in the Season 5 tournament semi-finals. Two fighters in particular are looking to make the most of a special opportunity. After the quarterfinals were over, both Thiago Santos and Neil Grove were not expected to be in the tournament. Santos was originally scheduled to fight in the quarterfinals, but a Visa issue prevented him from leaving Brazil. Angered by the delay and a potentially missed opportunity, he won a tournament alternate match a week later by first-round submission. As fate would have it, Santos took Mike Hayes’ semi-final spot after Hayes broke his orbital during his quarterfinal fight. Santos was more than happy to fill the void and enter the tournament. Grove also makes a surprising return to the tournament after being on the wrong end of a razor-thin split decision in the quarterfinals. Grove met Hayes earlier in the tournament and though he lost the fight, Grove left the cage unscathed. When semi-finalist Blagoi Ivanov discovered he broke his hand and had to withdraw from the tournament, Grove, who was already campaigning for a quick return, immediately accepted the fight.

The second semi-final match features powerhouse Eric Prindle and knockout artist Ron Sparks in a fight guaranteed to produce fireworks. With an 8-1 record that includes four first-round finishes, Prindle can be a dynamic finisher. It was the former U.S. soldier’s resilience, however, that ensured him a spot in the semi-finals. Prindle found himself in trouble during his quarterfinal fight, as his opponent’s speed left him stumped. Not one to panic in a firefight, Prindle maintained his composure and outlasted Abe Wagner in an immensely entertaining three-round battle. His chin will likely be put to the test again as he takes on Sparks. Nicknamed “The Monster,” Sparks truly lives up to his moniker. He won his quarterfinal fight by KO in 84 seconds and extended his record to a perfect 8-0. It was the Louisville-native’s seventh first-round finish. His three Bellator fights have lasted an average of 90 seconds. The winner of both semi-final matches will meet in the tournament final later this season to crown the tournament champion, who will earn a title shot against Bellator heavyweight title holder Cole Konrad.

Before the main card airs live, brings you seven preliminary fights live at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. Dan Spohn enters the Bellator cage for the second time, coming off a nine-second knockout in his debut. He looks to keep his perfect 6-0 record intact against rising light heavyweight Kelvin Tiller. E.J. Brooks also puts his undefeated record on the line and makes a quick return to the cage, looking for his second Bellator win in October as he faces Willian De Souza in a lightweight battle. Two submission-savy featherweights meet as highly-touted prospect and undefeated Jeremy Spoon takes on Adam Schindler.

Catch the prelims live Saturday Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT