February 21 Preview and Predictions
Every week, the staff here at spike.com will be providing their picks and insights into the evening's event.
Last week, Kevin Marshall was able to correctly predict four fights out of five, which was better than anyone else around here could manage. Let's see if he can keep rolling.
Spike.com's editorial staff is back with their picks as season eight kicks into a higher gear with the Light Heavyweight and Welterweght semi-finals. In our main event, we get the long-delayed Featherweight Tournament final from last season.
LET'S DO THIS!
MAIN EVENT: SEASON SEVEN FEATHERWEIGHT TOURNAMENT FINAL
Shahbulat Shamhalaev vs. Rad Martinez
No, that's not a typo. This fight was originally scheduled to go down last December, but the New Jersey State Athletic Commission cancelled the fight when it found Shamhalaev backstage stricken with food poisoning. Now the two will finally meet to determine the next challenger to champion Pat Curran.
Kevin Marshall (Writer): I'm going with Sha. Martinez has never been knocked out, and he's faced down some guys with heavy hands. But I think Shamhalaev is on a whole different level, and might just be the most dangerous fighter in the world at 145 not named Pat Curran.
Fred Richani (Coordinating Producer): Martinez has shown the ability to overcome adversity in and out of the Bellator MMA cage. Shamhalaev is the better fighter on paper and is downright scary, but fights aren't won on paper. Martinez will take everything Shamhalaev throws at him and then some, en route to a life-changing victory.
Michael Roberts (Social Media Editor): Shamhalaev's destruction of Mike Richman was eye-opening to say the least. The Russian's sense of calm in the pocket is eerie, as he throws his precise, powerful and violent hands with extreme confidence. The key for Martinez in this one is embracing the grind and wearing his wrestling roots on his sleeve. Shamhalaev will likely find the mark in the opening round, but I expect Martinez's heart and conditioning to be the difference as he takes the decision.
Brian Dermody (Senior Sports Writer): Martinez would get a unanimous decision if this was a "most heartwarming story" tournament, and he'll have the Utah crowd firmly in his corner, but I just don't think that's going to be enough to get past Shamhalaev. I'm predicting Shamhalaev gets a clean shot, jumps on top and GnPs his way to a crack at Curran.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT TOURNAMENT SEMI-FINALS
"King Mo" Muhammad Lawal vs. Emanuel Newton
Dermody: I really like Newton, and it's not just because he's beaten some of my personal least favorite fighters. He's 7-1 in his last 8 in Bellator and regional independent promotions, with his only loss a split decision to Attila Vegh in the Summer Series last year. But I expect King Mo to take care of business. Barring some knee-related catastrophe, Lawal is going to take this.
Richani: Contrary to popular belief, this is definitely not an easy fight for King Mo. Newton can certainly hang with Mo, but that's all he'll be doing Thursday night. Mo via Unanimous Decision.
Roberts: The well-rounded Newton is not someone to sleep on. As demonstrated in both of his Bellator wins, if you get lazy in a scramble he's more than happy to take your back and slap on a rear naked choke. Mo should be the favorite in this one, but he'll need an all business approach to get things done. Anticipate Lawal to showcase more of his wrestling and ground and pound, leading to a clear decision or late TKO.
Marshall: I like Newton too, but I also think Mo's wrestling is going to be too much for him to handle. Mo by Unanimous Decision.
Jacob Noe vs. Mikhail Zayats
Marshall: I picked Noe early on as a dark horse in this tournament, and had him going all the way to the finals. Other staff members said I was crazy. "You're mad," they said. WELL WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, HUH?! WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, MICHAEL ROBERTS?! AHHHH HA HA HAAAAA! Sorry, forgot myself for a second there. Anyway, for the sake of consistency, I'm going with Noe. I'm also predicting this to be the fight of the night.
Roberts: Both Noe and Zayats enter the semifinals coming off of first round TKOs in their biggest wins to date. Zayats' combination of powerful and unorthodox striking (SPINNING BACK FISTS!) will overwhelm Noe as he advances to the finals. I say this not because I want to prove Mr. Marshall wrong (though I do), but because I've already picked against one Russian on this card. In case you haven't been paying attention, they don't lose very often.
Richani: I agree with Marshall. This has best fight written all over it. It's two dudes who like to throw and have come out of nowhere to end up in the Bellator MMA tournament semifinals. Noe may have the nicer hairstyle, but this bout ain't sponsored by Johnson and Johnson. Zayats takes this one.
Dermody: Honestly, I was surprised when Zayats upended Babalu Sobral last month, and the way he did it was just savage in the best way possible. It was a more impressive stoppage than Jacob Noe had against Seth Petruzelli, a fighter I'll say is around Babalu's level at this point in their careers. I think Zayats rolls here with another impressive first round finish.
WELTERWEIGHT TOURNAMENT SEMI-FINALS
Bryan Baker vs. Douglas Lima
Note: Baker is replacing Brent Weedman, who had to pull out of the tournament due to an injury.
Roberts: Baker has been a bit of a slow starter as of late, either getting finished in the opening round or finding himself needing to play catch-up down the stretch. While he was able to survive against Ben Saunders and ultimately win the final two rounds, Lima is a stylistic nightmare for "The Beast." Expect the explosiveness of "The Phenom" to be on full display as Lima punches his ticket to the finals in a big way.
Richani: Baker has been here before. One would think that Baker can finally overcome the slow starts in fights and more recently, the "safety first," game planning approach that has plagued his career from going to the next level. Baker needs to show some desperation because if he loses, there's no guarantee he'll be back next time around. This could be his last shot and he better fight like it. Unfortunately for the Jackson-Winkeljohn product, that won't be enough to put away the all-around better fighter in Lima, who has been on an absolute tear since losing to Ben Askren. Lima beats Baker and becomes a two-time welterweight tournament finalist.
Marshall: It's tempting to pick Baker since he looked so impressive in the Season Six tournament until he got subbed by Karl Amoussou, but I'm going with Lima. He's a better all-around fighter and it's his tournament to lose. But it's going to be damn close.
Dermody: I have a bad habit of agreeing with Richani when he's right. He's right. I don't see Baker pulling the trigger, and as the old saying goes, "He who hesitates loses to Douglas Lima". I think Ben Franklin said that.
Raul Amaya vs. Ben Saunders
Roberts: It's rematch time for these two and sorry to be boring, but I'm expecting a similar outcome to their first meeting. Saunders' grappling and cardio edge should be enough to counter Amaya's early aggression, as "Killa B" scores another decision win.
Marshall: Amaya's looking to avenge the only blemish on his otherwise perfect record, which was against Saunders in the quarterfinals of the season six tournament. I don't think it's gonna happen here. Saunders by Unanimous Decision.
Dermody: Amaya's second loss will also come at the hands of "Killa B". Amaya is a talented fighter, but I haven't seen anything that speaks to his changing up his preparation. As much as Saunders is a known commodity at this point, I think he'll come in better prepared for what Amaya has. I see another unanimous decision in the future here.
Richani: Amaya wants revenge, but I have a feeling the veteran Saunders will outlast him via Unanimous Decision. In order to do that, the aggressive Saunders that made it to the finals a couple seasons ago has to show up--not the tentative guy who beat Koffi Adzitso in Week 2.