Bellator 66 Preview

April 18, 2012

Bellator Fighting Championships heads to Cleveland, Ohio this Friday with one of the best cards in the promotion's early history. Former Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez returns for the first time since losing his title and faces Japanese superstar Shinya Aoki for the second time. Also on the card is a pair of middleweight and lightweight semi-finals, which will determine both tournament finals. Bellator 66 goes down April 20 at 8/7c on MTV2 and in HD on Epix2, starting with the prelims at live at 7e/4p.

The last time Alvarez entered the Bellator cage, he engaged in a four-round war against current champ Michael Chandler in one of 2011's best fights. The loss ended the Philadelphia native's incredible run, which saw him capture Bellator's inaugural lightweight title, finish UFC veterans Josh Neer and Roger Huerta, and defend the title against current featherweight champ Pat Curran all in two years time. The longtime top-five lightweight unquestionably lost some stock in the Chandler fight, and finds himself at a crossroad heading into Friday's contest. Alvarez passed up entering this season's lightweight tournament, saying big fights are his immediate priority. He'll get one, along with a chance to settle an old score, against Aoki. The multi-promotional champ and Alvarez first met in December 2008, a fight Aoki won with a heel hook early on. One of the best grapplers in the sport, Aoki has earned submissions in 19 of his 30 career wins. Having only tasted defeat once in his last 11 fights – a decision loss against lightweight powerhouse Gilbert Melendez – Aoki makes his Bellator debut with a wealth of momentum. The winner of this critical lightweight tilt cements themselves as one of the best 155-pounders in the world.

Two season six tournaments continue Friday with the semi-final rounds. In the middleweight division, Ohioan Brian Rogers returns to Bellator coming off an incredible flying knee knockout win in the quarterfinals. It was vintage form for the fittingly nicknamed "Predator," and was his eighth career first-round knockout. Now a two-time tournament semi-finalist, all nine of Rogers' wins have come in the first round. Originally slated to face stocky grappler Bruno Santos, the StrongStyle product was thrown a wild card earlier this week as it was announced Santos withdrew due to injury. In his place is Andreas Spang, a tall striker who's a near polar opposite match up. The once-beaten Swede has shown to be somewhat susceptible to takedowns and giving up his back, yet has knack for reversing opponents into more advantageous positions. His lone defeat is an exception, as he succumbed to a rear naked choke. Though Spang holds three wins by submission, he is comfy on the feet where he possesses strong high kicks and a vicious left hook, the latter having one shot KO power. Expect a stand up clinic while this one lasts.

Maiquel Falcao and Vyacheslav Vasilevsky meet in the second middleweight semi-final, and fans can expect another striker's delight. Though he holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Falcao's 23 knockout wins reveal his passion for striking. He effectively mixed up leg kicks and heavy hooks in his Bellator debut to stump Norman Paraisy. Though Falcao rocked him on several occasions, he seldom followed up and instead taunted Paraisy en route to settling for a decision. He'll need to be all business against Vasilevsky. The Russian's first fight in Bellator was as advertised. The former M-1 Champion torched Victor O'Donnell on the feet with smooth, accurate combinations and won decisively. Though Vasilevsky rarely deviates from his boxing attack, his specialist style is one few can answer; his quarterfinal victory extended his winning streak to 15. "Slava"'s straight punches could make all the difference in this battle of international talents.

The lightweight tournament provided one of the most entertaining opening rounds in Bellator tournament history and continues this Friday. Rick Hawn and Lloyd Woodard collide in a guaranteed barnburner. Hawn looked impressive making his 155-pound debut last month, as he decimated Ricardo Tirloni and handed the Brazilian his first knockout loss in 16 fights. The world-class judo player enjoyed success as a welterweight – he was one scorecard away from claiming the Season Four Welterweight Tournament Championship – but appears to be a new kind of beast at lightweight. The Olympian meets the scrappy Woodard, who last month pulled off one of the more shocking upsets in Bellator history. Matched up against previous tournament finalist Patricky Pitbull, the Montana native was a decided underdog. Unfazed, he boldly stated he would finish Pitbull. "Cupcake" did just that, coming out aggressive before ending a whirlwind of a fight with a vicious second-round kimura. Paired with Hawn in the semis, their combined 24-2 record and 18 finishes is a recipe for fireworks.

Completing the main card is another lightweight semi-final between Brent Weedman and Thiago Michel. Weedman's debut at 155 pounds went accordingly to plan, as the Bellator vet picked up a much needed win. His long jab dropped J.J. Ambrose in the opening minute and Weedman forced him to tap after securing a rare Von Flue choke in the second. Plenty critical of himself for brawling too much in past tournaments, Weedman fought a disciplined fight and will have to do the same against highly touted striker Michel. In his Bellator debut last month, Michel showed off his renowned kickboxing skills against Nazare. Though his grappling remains a slight hole, Michel continues to show improvement and survived a late ground attack to win. On the feet he remains a constant threat, as the decision win was the first time Michel didn't knockout an opponent in victory.

Before the main card airs live, presents a talent-rich prelim card live. In women's action, Ohioan favorite Jessica Eye battles Anita Rodriguez. The two are early in their MMA careers, but have already compiled 6-1 and 5-2 records, respectively. Eye returns to Bellator for the first time since outpointing Casey Noland last October. In two pivotal light heavyweight contests, Attila Vegh meets Dan Spohn and Marcus Vanttinen faces John Hawk. Vegh and Vanttinen were announced as participants in the upcoming 205 tournament this summer, though the Ohio-based Spohn and Hawk will look to pull off the upsets. Check out the full Bellator 66 card.

Catch the prelims live Friday, April 20 at 7e/4p at
Watch the main card live Friday, April 20 at 8/7c on MTV2 and Epix2
The prelims continue live Friday, April 20 at 10e/7p at