Every week, the staff here at BellatorMMA.spike.com will be providing their picks and insights into Thursday's event.
THIS WEEK: Bellator MMA
presents Bellator 360: Road To The Championships, which will highlight the best moments of the season so far and preview the upcoming tournament finals. Think we're going to take the week off just cause there are no live fights? Think again!
Ok so technically we're taking the week off of picking fights, which means Brian Dermody will remain in the top spot for yet another week. He's looking awfully comfy up there. With four tournament finals on tap for the end of the season and one unfortunately delayed until summer, here's what we're looking forward to the most as Season 8 winds down. Catch Bellator 360: Road To The Championships this Thursday at 11/10c.
Light Heavyweight Tournament Final
Emanuel Newton vs. Mikhail Zayats – March 28
Kevin Marshall (Writer):
Look, Bellator has some amazing depth in its lower weight classes, but Light Heavyweight is still the money weight in MMA. But that's only part of the reason why the Light Heavyweight Tournament Final is the one I find the most intriguing.
Given the participants, it's bound to be an exciting and unpredictable bout. In one corner you have Sambo expert Mikhail Zayats, 205 pounds of Russian destruction, who upset MMA legend Babalu in the opening round with a brutal spinning backfist KO. His opponent, "The Hardcore Kid" Emanuel Newton, also made his way into the finals with a shocking spinning backfist of his own against heavy favorite King Mo.
These guys aren't going to let it get past the second round. Newton is patient but relentless; a thoughtful knockout machine. Zayats, with his MMA experience and Sambo background, can end it on the feet or on the ground and has shown us both in this season.
Who'll come out victorious, the stoic Zayats or the slam-dancing, foot-stomping Newton? It's a pick I'm glad I don't have to make just yet. Either way, I can't wait to see this fight.
Lightweight Tournament Final
Saad Awad vs. David Rickels – March 28
Brian Dermody (Senior Sports Writer):
Plenty of people had Will Brooks pegged as the guy to beat this time out in the Lightweight tournament. Now that Saad Awad has done that, he gets to stare down David Rickels in the finals at the Sun Dome in Tampa on March 28. Be careful what you wish for.
Awad smashed his way through Brooks and Guillaume DeLorenzi, putting in a little more than a minute of fight time. Rickels had to grind out decision wins against Lloyd Woodard and Jason Fischer to get where he is, which has certainly put his body through the wringer. It's tempting to pick Awad to win on that alone, he's had so much less fight time to go through.
But I'm picking Rickels, because of the grind. Awad's got dynamite in his gloves, but The Caveman has fought guys like that before and never been knocked out. I expect Awad to fade in the deep waters of a round three and lose on points. David Rickels grinds out one more win. And if you think he hasn't earned his shot at Michael Chandler by that point, you're an idiot.
Featherweight Tournament Final
Mike Richman vs. Frodo Khasbulaev – April 4
Michael Roberts (Social Media Editor):
The featherweight weight class is probably my favorite in MMA, and Bellator's 145-pound tournaments seem to get better every season. It's an amazing feat considering former tournament winners Shahbulat Shamhalaev and Daniel Straus are still in line to fight the champ Pat Curran.
Khasbulaev has been nothing short of spectacular in his early Bellator career, going a perfect 4-0 and finishing every opponent. His brutal third-round TKO of Marlon Sandro in his last outing was impressive, particularly the Russian's aggression and effectiveness on the ground against such an outstanding and respected black belt. Khasbulaev proved he has the gas to go 3 rounds, even though his finishing ability rarely requires him to.
If you don't enjoy watching Richman fight, chances are good MMA isn't for you. "The Marine" has been a highlight machine since entering Bellator, from his blitzing of Chris Horodecki, to his head kick knockout of Jeremy Spoon, to his absolute clinic against Mitch Jackson. His back and forth 3-rounder against "Popo" laid to rest the notions that his ground game is non-existent, as the Minnesota native fought off everything the Brazilian threw at him in the opening round.
Khasbulaev and Richman are the types of guys that rarely, if ever, disappoint in the cage. The stats don't lie: the pair bring a combined 8-1 record with 7 finishes under the Bellator banner into the finals. Fireworks are arriving a few months early here, fasten your seatbelt come April 4.
Middleweight Tournament Final
Brett Cooper vs. Doug Marshall – April 4
Dustin Sussman (Senior Content Producer):
The Middleweight final is set with over-the-top power-punching Doug Marshall going to war with bearded badass Brett Cooper. Following his controversial decision last week against Sultan Aliev, Marshall AKA "The Rhino" is extremely lucky to be in this spot fighting Brett Cooper to begin with. And for $100,000 no less.
There's no doubt that Doug has some serious power in his hands (and in his mouth), but after his last fight with Aliev, it showcased The Rhino's inability to properly defend takedowns and work off of his back when held down.
Brett Cooper on the other hand not only has a mean uppercut and almost equal power in his paws, his wrestling is top-notch and will pose instant issues for Marshall throughout the fight. Expect both men to stand directly in the pocket and throw bombs at each other in the early minutes of the 1st round, but eventually I see Cooper closing the distance to limit Marshall's striking attack and put him on his back for the remainder of the bout. Needless to say, both of these men come to battle each and every time they step into the cage which instantly makes for an amazing match up for fight fans.
Welterweight Tournament Final
Ben Saunders vs. Douglas Lima – Summer 2013
Fred Richani (Coordinating Producer):
The good news: "Killa B" Saunders has the opportunity to win $100,000 and a earn a Bellator MMA welterweight championship match. The bad news: Saunders faces the man who knocked him out cold in November 2011 in "The Phenom" Lima.
At 25, with three straight knockout wins, Lima has never looked better and should only continue to improve. If Saunders is going to walk out with the win, he better do his best to not stand with Lima—at least for a long period of time. Saunders' best bet is to take this fight the ground, but even then, there's no guarantee he can do much damage to a young man who earned 11 of his 24 career wins via submission.
Luckily for Saunders, this is the tournament final, meaning his trademark "Killa B" elbows are legal. Maybe Saunders can stand and trade with Lima after all, but something tells me he won't take that risk again. Saunders needs to get the takedown and unleash hell with those elbows. As for Lima, he just needs to keep doing what he's been doing all season long and not take Saunders lightly the second time around. I expect this to be a hard fought rematch, but the result will be the same. Lima defeats Saunders with his accurate, powerful striking, earns a title shot—and a potential rematch with Ben Askren (should he defeat Andrey Koreshkov).