During “Bellator season” (a distant cousin to “wabbit season”), the cards we’re privy to usually follow the same sort of theme. They sometimes begin with a former contender or otherwise important fighter coming off a loss against a guy that is pretty much washed up, but still has name value (with Karo “I wasn’t out!” Parisyan being the most recent example). Then they trot out the tournament fights. Finally, the main event consists of a title fight, a champion fighting in a non-title fight (always a bummer, but I can see the logic behind why this has been done), or two good fighters fighting to stay relevant in the division. Or, God forbid, Christian M’Pumbu and Vladimir Matyushenko.
They’re pulling out all the stops with this card. This card features two title fights, several noteworthy guys on the undercard, the opening round of a solid bantamweight tournament (on the undercard!), the remote possibility of a King Mo embarrassment, and a fun banger to get things started (Friere-Downing). These two title fights are exactly the kinds of fights we want to see. And tomorrow, we get to see them. But first, a preview. I’m going to cherry pick the fights I want to write about because, as is often the case with Bellator undercards, I don’t know who Richard Jacquez is.
Will Brooks vs. Cris Leyva
When a guy like Saad Awad bursts into the spotlight and starts knocking guys out in less than 60 seconds, it’s almost a guarantee that his run will end just as quickly as it started. History has all but proven this, whether it’s with Shane Carwin, Houston Alexander … there are countless examples. The thing about Brooks getting knocked out by Awad is that we didn’t really learn anything about either guy. I still think Will Brooks is a better fighter, and honestly, it’s not even close. But that’s the fight business for you, and that means Awad gets to lose a title shot opportunity because he got tired right after his punching fury didn’t finish off his opponent, and it also means that Will Brooks gets a rebound fight against a guy who has lost four in a row (albeit to decent competition).
Look for Brooks to methodically take apart Leyva wherever the fight goes before finishing him with ground and pound later in the fight. Also, don’t hold that Awad loss against him. Will Brooks can fight.
I predict that prospects Shawn Bunch and Bubba Jenkins will take care of business, and I like Frank Baca and Rodrigo Lima to advance in the bantamweight tournament. Lima in particular is impressive. Let’s get to the main card.
Ryan Martinez vs. Vitaly Minakov
Winner of this fight gets a title shot against Alexander Volkov. Yep. A tubby ex con that might not be terrible takes on a guy who allegedly knows how to throw a combination and, at the very least, can uncork a solid and very Russian looking right hand. Minakov by KO.
Muhammed Lawal vs. Jacob Noe
Noe thanks. Mo by TKO.
Ben Askren vs. Andrey Koreshkov
On paper, this is a fight that will hoodwink some people into picking Koreshkov. He’s young, he’s undefeated, he’s fighting a guy that people both hate and are bored to tears watching, and he’s an electrifying striker. I know I’ve used that word before, but it really applies to Koreshkov. There are maybe 9 or 10 guys in MMA that can do what Koreshkov does on the feet. Watching Andrey Koreshkov fight, I sit there on my couch emitting noises like “Oh!!” and “Woah!” over and over. He’s awesome. And he’s going to get grounded and pounded into a (possibly) bloody pulp on July 31st.
Alot of people find Ben Askren dreadful to watch, and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, this doesn’t make him any less formidable and dominant. People seem to subconsciously do this with “boring” fighters all the time. In MMA, labeling someone as “boring” is really just a more scathing way of calling someone unimpressive. Fans want guys to look impressive, and be exciting, and fight for the fans, and finish fights, and yadda yadda. So when they do the opposite of that, but still win in lopsided fashion, people tend to view them as less legitimate than they really are. They look at their wins as a product of their opponents weaknesses. And when it happens over and over, the narrative becomes “Just wait until this guy has to fight this other guy who is a stylistic nightmare for him!”, without taking into consideration whether or not that guy actually exists.
This, I strongly suspect, is the case with Ben Askren’s title reign. His smothering wrestling base is so potent that guys eventually just stop fighting. He’s fought a great striker like Koreshkov before (Douglas Lima), but I think Andrey will be more aggressive than Douglas, and Askren will have to adjust more quickly and find those takedowns from weirder angles, as Andrey will likely employ wild spinning techniques. But Askren is one of the best wrestlers in the world, and Koreshkov is a double leg or a kneetap takedown waiting to happen. I’d be pretty shocked if Koreshkov had any measure of success here. He’s great, but he’s not the guy to beat Askren. Askren by decision.
Michael Chandler vs. David Rickels
Michael Chandler is the one guy Bellator has that I’d undoubtedly favor against most of his UFC counterparts, champ Ben Henderson included. Think about it. Alexander Volkov would faint just looking at Cain Velasquez’s tattoo. Jon Jones would beat Attila Vegh on his way to the cage to fight someone else. Alexander Shlemenko is excellent, but he’d ultimately fall to Chris Weidman. I think Ben Askren would run into trouble against a few of the more stalwart wrestlers at 170. Pat Curran is good, but he ain’t beating Jose Aldo unless Jose drops dead due to exhaustion. I could see Eduardo Dantas giving Renan Barao fits, but I’d still favor Barao. Chandler, though, is the best lightweight on the planet to me, and he might just be getting started.
Be honest. You didn’t think that David Rickels would ever win his way to a shot at Michael Chandler. You thought Lloyd Woodard would dust him. You thought Saad Awad’s power would be too much. After being taken to the brink by Jason Fischer, you didn’t think much of his prospects at lightweight. And I was right there with you. How could you not feel this way? Rickels was a slow guy who was prone to getting taken down. He always fought his ass off, but when you’re going tit for tat with Jason Fischer, that isn’t an indication that you’re headed for a shot at the strap.
Then, something happened. Rickels’ competition got better, and so did he. He completely humiliated Lloyd Woodard, potshotting him with ease and hammering down coffin nails on the idea that Woodard would ever make any real noise in he lightweight division. The way he took out a tired Saad Awad was a thing of beauty, and it was exactly the way he needed to fight that fight to win.
Is he beating Michael Chandler? Probably not. However, I think this will be the most competitive fight on the card. Andrey Koreshkov might want to hang himself by the second round of his fight with Askren, but there will be no such capitulation from David Rickels, even though he might lose more thoroughly and violently.
Don’t discount Rickels’ stand up skills, as I foresee him landing some quality strikes on Chandler. Chandler is going to put in work here, though, as Rickels’ speed disadvantage will play a factor. Takedowns, great boxing, and even a submission are all things I could see happening for Mike, but I think Rickels goes out on his shield and loses a decision. Regardless, I feel a void in my life ever since Dave came out with a prosthetic tyrannosaurus rex in tow. It’s been too long.