Bellator's eighth season will be historic for many reasons, including but certainly not limited to the fact that it means the return of live MMA to Spike.
Our inaugural broadcast on Thursday, January 17 at 10/9c will be just a taste of what Bellator has to offer. With its focus on the tournament format, the emphasis is on competition. Nobody gets a free pass, no matter what their pedigree or experience. Former champions and world-beaters still have to prove themselves in the field of eight to get a shot at gold.
Our current Light Heavyweight Champion, the dangerous Congolese phenom Christian M'Pumbu, will defend his title against Bellator Summer Series tournament winner Attila Veigh on February 28. Both fighters stormed through their respective tournaments en route to victory, and the clash of the two strikers promises to be explosive.
Waiting for them, though, will be a field of eight featuring a vast array of MMA practitioners that include upset artists, all-Americans, and wily veterans. It starts at the Spike premiere with our first quarterfinal match-up between Renato "Babalu" Sobral and Mikhail Zayats.
Before we get to that, though, a quick look at the field and how this author sees it playing out:
SETH PETRUZELLI vs. JACOB NOE - January 17 on Spike.com
Petruzelli will always be known as the guy that upset (we might go so far as to say exposed) Kimbo Slice on national television, but he won't have the advantage of being the surprise underdog in his fight against 8-1 fighter Jacob Noe. Noe has a versatile toolbox, and can end it with submissions, a knockout, or a straight up smothering. Petruzelli will likely go for a quick and decisive finish from the outset, but I expect Noe to survive the early onslaught and end it late in the second.
PREDICTION: Noe via TKO, R2
RENATO "BABALU" SOBRAL vs. MIKHAIL ZAYATS - January 17, 10/9c on Spike
Sobral may have met his match in fellow submission ace Zayats. But I expect experience to win the day, here, even if it's not going to be as easy as many seem to think.
PREDICTION: Sobral via Submission, R2
KING MO vs. PRZEMYSLAW MYSIALA - January 24, 10/9c on Spike
Does Mo really need an introduction? The former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion has a dangerous opponent in Mysiala, a striker who could easily provide a headache. But with his experience, the level of competition he's faced, and especially his confidence, this is Mo's tournament.
PREDICTION: Mo via Unanimous Decision
EMANUEL NEWTON vs. ATANAS DJAMBAZOV - January 17 on Spike.com
Coming out of the MAXFIGHTS promotion, Djambazov has proven to be a dangerous and aggressive fighter who goes for the early finish. In the opening round he drew a semi-finalist from our previous tournament, Emanuel Newton, who may have an edge in cardio. Yet I'm convinced from what I've seen that Djambazov is keyed to be the dark horse in the opening round.
PREDICTION: Djambazov via KO, R1
That takes us to what I predict will be our semi-finals…
RENATO "BABALU" SOBRAL vs. JACOB NOE
This could be the fight of the tournament, an interesting clash of styles pitting two aggressive fighters, one an experienced submission expert and the other a versatile young MMA practitioner, against each other. It's a tough one to call. I think that Sobral definitely has the experience necessary to survive and perhaps squeak out a decision victory, but as much heat as I might take for it, I think Noe's going to surprise a lot of people and advance to the finals.
PREDICTION: Jacob Noe via TKO, R3
KING MO vs. ANTANAS DJAMBAZOV
Mo will face another, more dangerous striker in this round, but I think his fight acumen and cage intellect will win the day here.
PREDICTION: King Mo via Unanimous Decision.
And the finals…
KING MO vs. JACOB NOE
This could be Mo's greatest challenge to date, an up and comer without an obvious hole in his game.
PREDICTION: King Mo via Unanimous Decision
Of course, that's just how I see it playing out. As we all know, and some of the fighters in this bracket have shown, the only sure thing in MMA is that there aren't any sure things. That becomes particularly true when you have a field that mixes some of the best young Light Heavyweights with the experience of guys like Babalu Sobral.
Better still, if you're in or near Southern California you can watch the Light Heavyweight tournament kick off LIVE in Irvine. You'll see Newton vs. Djambazov, Petruzelli vs. Noe and Babulu vs. Zayats, but that's not all.
The card also features two championship fights, Pat Curran will attempt to defend the Featherweight Title against Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, and a Lightweight Title fight pits Michael Chandler against Rick Hawn. Tickets are available now, but selling fast, so don't miss out!
How do you see the light heavyweight bracket playing out? Be sure to share your picks in the comments below.