Bellator Season Six Preview – Featherweight Tournament
While the UFC has one of their longer gaps between events in recent memory, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for the biggest non-Zuffa organization in North America. Bellator resumes action this weekend with its 60th offering, kicking off their sixth season of tournaments. This season, tournaments from the Bantamweight through Middleweight divisions will be bringing us fights every week for the next few months.
Bellator never seems to get the attention or credit that it deserves from fans, constantly being overshadowed by the UFC (often for good reason), which makes these next few weeks that much more crucial for them. If the organization can engage viewers with the unique, fast-paced tournament structure they’ve become known for, they could build an audience as their brackets progress and help foster a more financially secure future for fighters and executives alike. For those who follow the organization closely, you know that Bellator often delivers exciting fights. Given the extended lull between UFC cards there is no better time for the company to put their best foot forward, and with the slate of tournaments CEO Bjorn Rebney has lined up for season six, I feel like they’ve done just that.
When looking at the tournaments, and Bellator’s divisions in general, one division stands out to me as the best by a significant margin, and that is the Featherweight division. Through organic talent development as well as shrewd free-agent signings, the division now boasts as many as four of the top 15 Featherweights in the world (Champion Joe Warren, Season 4 winner Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire, Summer Series winner Pat Curran, and former Sengoku Champion Marlon Sandro). Also, featuring rising stars such as Ronnie Mann, Alexandre Bezerra, Daniel Straus and Jeremy Spoon, this is no division to be trifled with.
Wisely, the first round of the Featherweight tournament will be kicking off season six, and looking to make a positive impression on new and returning Bellator fans alike. In addition to the tournament bouts, we’ll also be treated to a Championship contest between Joe Warren and Pat Curran – as a side note to the tournament breakdown, I’m picking Curran via a wide, wide Unanimous Decision. He may even stop Warren late, but given Curran’s low-volume style I’d bank more on the decision.
Despite being the deepest division in the organization, the Featherweight tournament is likely the easiest to break down, and it is due to one man. Marlon Sandro is the clear favourite to earn his crack at the Featherweight belt and potential redemption against Curran, who knocked Sandro senseless in a fight that the Brazilian was winning up until that point. Sandro is an interesting case study in MMA, as he has transformed from someone who was seen as a relatively boring top position grappler in his time with the Shooto Brazil and Pancrase organizations, to the most feared knockout artist in the Featherweight division save for a certain teammate of his by the name of Jose Aldo. He still retains the high level of Jiu-Jitsu that most Nova Uniao students show, but prefers to show off the freakish power that had Japanese Featherweights cowering in fear only seconds before being carted off on stretchers.
If you gave me the option of taking Sandro or the field for the tournament winner, I’d go with Sandro, and probably give you odds as well. Between the Jiu-Jitsu pedigree from Andre Pederneiras, his shocking power, and the signature Nova Uniao takedown defence (which they all seem to learn by osmosis), Sandro has all the skills necessary to get in line behind Patricio Freire for a shot at the Featherweight belt.
Sandro’s road to the tournament title isn’t a cake walk by any means however. Fighters in each of the other three quarterfinal bouts could pose problems for him. Ronnie Mann, who was originally scheduled to face former top 5 Featherweight Wagnney Fabiano in the first round, now has a slightly easier time with replacement Mike Corey, but has the type of well-rounded skill that makes him a difficult out for anyone, and with 26 fights at only 25 years old, Mann has seen his fair share in MMA. His only two losses in the past four years have come to the aforementioned Curran, top contender in the UFC’s Featherweight division, Hatsu Hioki. Mann has been in there with some of the best, but has yet to get over that hump of beating a top 10 opponent, but I’m sure that he would welcome the opportunity to try once again with Sandro.
Next, Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra, who finally gets his shot in a tournament after four stoppage wins inside the Bellator cage, brings the type of dynamic grappling violence to the cage that can cause problems for any fighter. Bezerra’s only career loss came to the UFC’s Charles Oliveira, and 11 of his 12 career victories have come inside the distance. Most notably, in his last Bellator appearance, the young Brazilian showed a tremendously active guard in throwing submission attempt after submission attempt at UFC veteran Doug Evans. Evans was close to being caught in multiple armbars, but survived that onslaught and began raining down blows to Bezerra, severely swelling his right eye. Evans was not ready for the resilience and well-rounded ground attack from “Popo” however, as he was caught in a vicious Heel Hook which forced the tap in the first round. While Sandro is a seemingly impossible stylistic match-up for Bezerra, his willingness to attack with submissions from any position makes him dangerous to anyone, even a grappler of Sandro’s quality.
Finally, the most intriguing of the quarterfinals sees Season Four runner-up Daniel Straus take on undefeated Jeremy Spoon. I give Straus the edge in this fight, because his style is similar to that of Adam Schindler, whose takedowns gave Spoon issues in his last bout. Unlike Schindler, Straus won’t tire midway through the second round allowing Spoon to land at will on the feet. This means that in order to remain unbeaten and move to a semi-final contest (likely) against one of the aforementioned men, Spoon will have to show off the submission game that has garnered him eight victories thus far in his career. As his level of competition has improved, Spoon’s submission output has dropped, and whether that denotes an issue with ability, or merely game planning, remains to be seen.
The first round of any Bellator tournament tends to be a showcase round of sorts, and while I favour Mann, Bezerra and Straus, the depth in the Featherweight tournament doesn’t make any of them a lock. If there is one fighter who can play spoiler to how I see this tournament shaking out, it would be Genair “Junior PQD” da Silva, Bezerra’s quarterfinal opponent who took Sandro to a split decision in the 2011 Summer Series tournament. Mike Corey also recently took Chris Horodecki to a draw, and should bring a size advantage into his bout with Mann.
Marlon Sandro def. Roberto Vargas via Round 1 T/KO
Ronnie Mann def. Mike Corey via Unanimous Decision
Alexandre Bezerra def. Genair da Silva via Round 2 Submission
Daniel Straus def. Jeremy Spoon via Unanimous Decision
It’s difficult to pick the semi-finals because we don’t know what matches Bellator will make, but I see Marlon Sandro defeating Ronnie Mann in the final to take home the tournament title.
Stay tuned for the breakdown of the Middleweight Tournament next week.