Bellator 77 Preview

October 18, 2012

Coming off one of the most exciting fight cards of the year, Bellator Fighting Championships returns Friday with the lightweight quarterfinals. With lightweight world champion Michael Chandler's first title defense against Season 6 lightweight tournament champion Rick Hawn tentatively scheduled for early 2013, the winner of this tournament emerges as the next title challenger. The field features returning veterans and new prospects alike, and is topped by Rich Clementi taking on undefeated Russian Alexander "Tiger" Sarnavskiy. Bellator 77 is live this Friday, October 19 on MTV2 and EPIX2 at 8/7c.

With more than 60 professional fights under his belt, Clementi is a true veteran of the sport. The Louisiana native has seen just about everything you can in the cage and has unquestionably rebounded from adversity. After a recent rough stretch, "No Love" responded by posting a 3-1 record in his last four fights. Clementi has won his last two fights by submission, including a first round guillotine in Bellator last May. He'll face highly touted prospect "Tiger" Sarnavskiy, who brings a perfect 20-0 record into Bellator. The Russian has a solid and constantly improving ground game, especially off of his back, but his strength still lies his stand up game. His striking is reminiscent of his RusFights Sport Club teammates, as spinning attacks certainly have a place in Sarnavskiy's arsenal; he used a spinning back fist to set up an early knockout against Victor Kuku. Of his 17 finishes, 15 have come in the first round.

Rene Nazare battles Ricardo Tirloni in a battle of tournament veterans looking for success the second time around. Both Brazilians posted winning records before entering the Season 6 tournament, but fell short in the opening round. The well-rounded Tirloni is a jiu-jitsu black belt with powerful leg kicks and good knees in the clinch. His only two losses have come to elite company in tournament champion Hawn and lightweight kingpin Benson Henderson. Nazare is a three-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion who fell in love with striking. He was unable to get his game going until late in his fight with Thiago Michel last spring. Look for him to establish the range earlier against Tirloni while remaining unpredictable with his ground attacks.

Murad Machaev makes his Bellator debut against Polish prospect Marcin Held. Nicknamed "The Strangler," Machaev certainly has the squeeze to warrant his nickname; he forced Zubair Tukhugov to tap with a standing right naked choke with only one hook in. Machaev brings a perfect 9-0 record into Bellator. He'll face dangerous leg lock practitioner Held in the quarterfinals. Since losing to current Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler, the 20-year-old has remained perfect. While his decision win over Phillipe Nover was heavily scrutinized, a vicious heel hook in his last outing left no doubt and reminded everyone of his dangerous submission skills. He carries a three-fight winning streak into his second Bellator tournament.

In the final quarterfinal matchup, Magomed Saadulaev meets surging veteran Dave Jansen in what's shaping up to be an entertaining chess match on the ground. Standing 5'5", Saadulaev's compact frame gives him a solid base on top, a position he's incredibly aggressive in. He's shown excellent timing in setting up takedowns and will duck under punches and counter leg kicks at ideal times to get fights to the floor. Jansen, meanwhile, has enjoyed a hot streak in Bellator. His three consecutive wins include two submissions and he showed an impressive survival tactics in his last bout against Jacob Kirwan, escaping an incredibly tight rear naked choke before collecting the victory. The winner of the lightweight tournament earns a world title shot and scores $100,000.

Before the main card airs, presents the prelims at starting at 6e/3p. Kickboxing champ Cosmo Alexandre returns to Bellator as he battles undefeated Mike Bannon in a lightweight tilt. Carmelo Marrero and Lew Polley are set to make their Bellator debut in a catchweight bout. A pair of undefeated prospects meet in lightweight action, as E.J. Brooks makes his fifth Bellator appearance against Darrell Horcher. Check out the full Bellator 77 card.

Bellator 77 main card is live Friday, October 19 on MTV2 and EPIX2 at 8/7c
Prelims are live at at 6e/3p

Image: Eric Coleman /Eric Coleman Photography /Bellator Fighting Championships