Bellator 66 Preview: Aoki/Alvarez 2, Middleweight and Lightweight Semi-Finals
The first round of the tournaments are through, so to celebrate the occasion Bellator has put together their best card of the season. Unfortunately for them, the UFC is putting on some little fight this weekend as well, so the Lightweight superfight, semi-finals and Middleweight semi-finals will be overshadowed and hardly heard about. Still, that’s no reason we can’t take a look at an intriguing fight between two top 15 Lightweights.
The big attraction on this card is Shinya Aoki (+230) coming over to Bellator to take another shot against a top North American 155er in Eddie Alvarez (-270). Aoki’s last foray into a cage in North America didn’t fare so well, as he was dominated by Gilbert Melendez across five rounds. Since this fight has been talked about since Alvarez cemented his status as a top 155er in Bellator after losing to Aoki in 2008. I’ve had a similar thought on this fight for the past few years now, and that is the surprising narrative that exists from their first bout. People seem to think because Aoki won by submission in 90 seconds that he was the one who dragged the fight to the ground, when it was actually Alvarez who threw Aoki and haphazardly tried to stand up from half guard, leaving his leg on a silver platter for Aoki. Earlier in the round, Alvarez sprawled all over a shot by Aoki as well. I see no reason that a far more developed Alvarez would be unable to keep the fight standing this time around, and similar to Melendez punishing Aoki on the feet. Alvarez does have the power to finish Aoki, but I think a lot of this fight will take place either at an extreme distance, or with Shinya trying to convince Eddie to come down to the ground, so it will end up going to decision. After that, Alvarez will be primed to make his escape to the UFC as a top 10 Lightweight coming off a win over one of the more accomplished 155ers of this generation.
In action that will have an impact moving forward, we will be treated to four semifinals in the Middleweight and Lightweight divisions. At 185, highlight reel waiting to happen Brian Rogers (-360) gets a late replacement opponent in Andreas Spang (+300). Spang is primarily a striker, despite having 3 of 7 wins by submission. Spang’s style should make for a fun fight with Rogers, but I still favour Rogers heavily as the more dynamic striker (although the video below will show Spang doesn’t lack power), but also because if he does run in to any trouble on the feet, Spang still shows a disconcerting lack of wrestling and grappling skills (also shown by the video below, and in his only career loss in an MFC bout to Ali Mokdad).
The other Middleweight semi-final pits my pre-tournament pick of Maiquel Falcao (-140) against Russian prospect Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (+120). It was fun to watch Vasilevsky’s boxing and striking from top position absolutely dismantle Victor O’Donnell in the first round of the tournament, but at the same time I see that reliance on boxing being his undoing in this fight. He showed a blatant disregard for defending any leg kicks thrown at him by O’Donnell, and if he does the same against a much more devastating kicker in Maiquel Falcao, he won’t have any legs to get behind his punches by the second and third rounds. Even if Vasilevsky simply wasn’t concerned with O’Donnell’s kicking offence, checking leg kicks is more reflex than skill that fighters turn on and off. As such, I don’t expect that tendency to change in this bout, and it will make a huge difference in terms of keeping the fight at Falcao’s pace and range, as well as taking away the threat of Vasilevsky’s takedowns and leading to another decision victory for the former UFC fighter.
In the Lightweight division, I have two picks that advanced from the first round, and I expect those two fighters to meet in the tournament final. Both happen to be former Welterweight fighters who just dropped to 155 prior to this tournament, and both looked good in their debuts at the new weight. First, Rick Hawn (-300) takes on the surprising Lloyd Woodard (+250), who knocked off Patricky Freire in a fantastic fight earlier this year. As positive as Woodard’s performance was, he still showed that he needs lots of work, leaving gaping holes on defence both striking and grappling, and showing that his cardio isn’t spectacular. The lacklustre defense is the bigger concern in this one, as Hawn has shown the ability to make opponents pay for leaving their chins exposed. Woodard’s highly aggressive style could give Hawn some problems early on, but as the fight wears on Hawn will distance himself, that is unless he lands a hard shot earlier in the fight.
The other semi-final sees Brent Weedman (-260) taking on Thiago Michel (+220). I’ll be honest in saying that I wasn’t impressed in the slightest by Michel in his victory over Rene Nazare. His saving grace in this bout is that Weedman is the Bellator equivalent of Martin Kampmann, a guy who has skills everywhere, but simply fights to his own detriment much of the time. Even still, Weedman isn’t going to be overwhelmed on the feet like Nazare was, and he will be worlds ahead of Michel on the mat. I see this fight hitting the ground at some point in this fight, at which time the disparity in grappling skills will become quite apparent as Weedman notches his second submission victory in this tournament.
Eddie Alvarez def. Shinya Aoki via Unanimous Decision
Brian Rogers def. Andreas Spang via 1st Round T/KO
Maiquel Falcao def. Vyacheslav Vasilevsky via Unanimous Decision
Rick Hawn def. Lloyd Woodard via 3rd Round T/KO
Brent Weedman def. Thiago Michel via 1st Round Submission