Former UFC poster boy Roger Huerta last month became Bellator's biggest star with the inking of an exclusive deal. So expect all the attention to be on Huerta as he enters a field against seven other fighters with much less mainstream exposure.
Check out my preview below along with MMAFighting.com staff predictions of this year's Bellator lightweight tournament.
Roger Huerta (20-3) vs. Chad Hinton (6-0) - Bellator 13 on April 8
Despite coming off two losses, Roger Huerta is the clear favorite (all four of us at MMAFighting.com are picking him to take the entire tournament). As a member of the UFC roster, he won his first six fights before falling to top-ranked Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard. There were rumors that he would sign with Strikeforce, but Huerta says he ultimately chose Bellator for the opportunity to fight on a consistent basis. And he will: There will be four fights for him by fall if he keeps winning.
Chad Hinton of Cleveland, Ohio is taking a huge step up in competition considering his previous experience of only local cards in Indiana and Ohio. A notable win for Hinton was a year ago when he knocked out former UFC fighter Jeff Cox.
Ray's Pick: Huerta
MDS' Pick: Huerta
Ariel Helwani's Pick: Huerta
Mike Chiappetta's Pick: Huerta
Janne Tulirinta (12-3) vs. Carey Vanier (7-2) - Bellator 13 on April 8
Carey Vanier has fought mostly out of nearby cards in Minnesota and his one notable opponent is UFC fighter Nik Lentz. Only one of his fights have gone to a decision.
Janne Tulirinta out of Finland has been fighting the last two years on M-1 Challenge cards. He's finished six of the seven M-1 Challenge fights.
My Pick: Tullrinta
MDS' Pick: Vanier
Ariel's Pick: Vanier
Chiappetta's Pick: Vanier
Mike Ricci (5-0) vs. Pat Curran (9-3) - Bellator 14 on April 15
Canada's Mike Ricci has finished four out of five of his fights and benefits from being a training partner of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Pat Curran, the cousin of former WEC contender Jeff Curran, is a 22-year-old with a wrestling background. Curran carries a record of 9-3, mostly through Jeff's local XFO cards in Illinois. In his most recent fight, Curran defeated former Cage Rage champ Robbie Olivier by unanimous decision.
My Pick: Curran
MDS' Pick: Curran
Ariel's Pick: Ricci
Chiappetta's Pick: Curran
Toby Imada (23-13) vs. Ferrid Kheder (16-5) - Bellator 15 on April 22
Toby Imada is the only returning lightweight and was a finalist last year before he was submitted by Alvarez. He's most known for one of the best submissions in MMA history, the inverted triangle choke performed last May in Bellator against Jorge Masvidal.
Ferrid Kheder, who currently fights out of the TapouT Training Center in Las Vegas under Shawn Tompkins, is a judo specialist who has fought all around the world. In 2000, Kheder finished seventh in the Olympics for France.
My Pick: Kheder
MDS' Pick: Imada
Ariel's Pick: Kheder
Chiappetta's Pick: Kheder
MMAFighting.com's Overall Picks:
Ray's Tournament Favorite: Huerta
MDS' Tournament Favorite: Huerta
Ariel's Tournament Favorite: : Huerta
Chiappetta's Tournament Favorite: : Huerta