Bellator Season Six Preview – Welterweight Tournament
Another weekend, another edition of the new Friday night wars, and once again despite Bellator putting on the superior show (and one of the most entertaining cards of the year thus far), the Ultimate Fighter captured the attention of more fans and viewers. At this point I’m convinced that fans are simply mesmerized by the allure of the UFC, and anything it produces, which is a shame, because judging by the viewership numbers there are about a million “MMA fans” who are consistently missing out on the best cards happening each weekend.
Of course, last weekend fans who did tune into Bellator were treated to an early Fight of the Year candidate in Lloyd Woodard’s upset victory over Patricky Friere. Rick Hawn showed that he is at least as dangerous at 155 as he was at 170. Brent Weedman and J.J. Ambrose put on what normally would have run away with the fight of the night, with a rare Von Flue choke finish. The only bout on the main card that failed to elicit excitement was the opening fight of the evening, primarily a kickboxing match between Thiago Michel and Rene Nazare, in which Michel saw his first career decision.
In terms of my picks, rather than improving as I had hoped I only managed a 2-2 mark last week, so looking ahead to this Friday’s Welterweight matches it’s time to get back on track.
The wisely chosen main event for this card doesn’t involve Heavyweights that nobody cares about, but once again is another fight designed to bring as much violence as possible. Chris Lozano (-180) has gone 2-2 in his Bellator career, beating Yoshiyuki Yoshida and Weedman in fights where his propensity to slug it out paid off, the Weedman fight can be seen in its entirety below. His opponent, Karl Amoussou (+140) should oblige him in that regard. Amoussou is a fun fighter to watch, but the losses on his record are Sam Alvey, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Lucio Linhares and Arman Gambaryan, who also happen to be the four best fighters he’s faced. Chris Lozano is on par with those fighters, and coupled with Amoussou’s willingness to brawl will result in Lozano emerging the victor in a highly entertaining bout. Lozano’s issue has always been how he fares when he moves up in competition. He was outclassed against both Lyman Good and Douglas Lima, and if he runs into some of the more established fighters in the tournament – which he will by the final, if not sooner – I see him faltering in his third crack at a Bellator tournament.
Next up is what I consider to be a clear showcase match for Bellator favourite, Ben Saunders (-365). While his opponent seems like a stern test, being 9-0, Raul Amaya (+255) has not faced anyone remotely close to Saunders’ skill level. On the Florida regional circuit (not the best of regional MMA scenes, mind you) Amaya has fought exclusively under the Art of Fighting banner, and finished 6 of his 9 victories by submission. Saunders should play his usual game, using his size and ability in the clinch to wear his opponent down before finishing him in the second or third round, likely by strikes. Judging from Bellator’s previous treatment of Saunders I would expect him to get the winner of the weakest fight in the tournament, greatly increasing his chances to make it to the final.
Speaking of the weakest quarterfinal, it wasn’t always meant to be that way. Unfortunately, Brian Foster was unable to be medically cleared to fight in the tournament – why Bellator tried to get Foster cleared in Ohio, which has historically been one of the strictest commissions is another question entirely – and Jordan Smith (-190) was tapped as a late replacement to face another undefeated fighter, David Rickels (+150). Rickels has fought three times in Bellator already against middling competition, and has won each bout with a triangle choke – which has accounted for five of his six submission wins. Despite coming in on short notice, I actually give Smith the edge in this fight, although it is the toughest of the bunch to call. His experience (and occasional success) against higher level competition, like Karo Parisyan, Josh Burkman, Tim McKenzie and Bristol Marunde gives him an edge that triangling scrubs on Bellator undercards simply can’t match. Smith sports a rather diverse kicking attack, and has the takedown defence to prevent Rickels from taking things to the ground. I feel that will be enough to earn him a decision victory. Unless Rickels has been working tirelessly on catching kicks and converting them into takedowns – which I doubt, since that isn’t a big part of Foster’s game – I think he’ll struggle to get the fight where he wants it to be here. Even though Foster isn’t in the tournament anymore, I couldn’t resist dropping this beauty of Knockout he put on Kyle Baker. Take a look:
Finally, just as the Lightweight tournament saw notable fighters dropping from Welterweight, this tournament sees Bryan Baker (-260) dropping down from Middleweight, a confounding thought given how huge he seemed at 185. So long as Baker handles the cut half as well as Hawn and Weedman did, he should be in good standing against longtime Brazilian veteran Carlos “Indio” Pereira (+180). Baker had power at 185, and even if he loses some of that down at 170, he still has more than enough wrestling to take that avenue to victory against “Indio”. In fact, since Baker’s biggest weakness has been the fact that he has been rather hittable in his last two losses, he may be well-served taking the “easy” route to victory in this bout, as the Brazilian’s biggest strength is his striking. Regardless of how he approaches the fight, I see Baker moving through to the semi-finals.
In the next round, I already stated that I see Ben Saunders getting the easiest match-up he can get, which would put him against Jordan Smith, essentially a fighter who is a less skilled version of Saunders. Long, lean, likes to use his legs, and has a serviceable grappling game. Should that happen, Saunders’ ticket to the finals is almost already punched. On the other side of the bracket, Chris Lozano would square off with Bryan Baker in a very interesting fight. Would Lozano be able to exploit Baker’s porous defence, or would Bryan’s more well-rounded skills carry him to victory? Operating under the assumption that Baker handles the weight cut well, I favour him to meet up with Saunders in the final, but I reserve the right to change that opinion after we see his Welterweight debut.
Regardless of the results of the fights this Friday, one thing I feel safe in assuming is that we will be treated to some more entertaining fights, as Bjorn Rebney and Sam Caplan have constructed a tournament with many aesthetically pleasing fighters.
From a betting perspective, I’m not a huge fan of any of the underdogs, so instead I’d look to be parlaying the favourites you feel most confident in. All four favourites pay +319 if you’re willing to go that deep on a parlay, and three of the four should pay in the +170 range.
Chris Lozano def. Karl Amoussou via R2 T/KO
Ben Saunders def. Raul Amaya via R3 T/KO
Jordan Smith def. David Rickels via Unanimous Decision
Bryan Baker def. Carlos Pereira via R1 T/KO
In the finals, I see Ben Saunders defeating Bryan Baker to earn his title shot, and potential redemption against Douglas Lima, should he usurp Ben Askren as Bellator Welterweight Champion.