I recently caught up with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney to talk about the storylines heading into Saturday's card. Check out the Q&A below.
Quarterfinal #1: Alexis Vila vs. Joe Warren
RH: Both men hold world-class wrestling credentials. Do you see one outwrestling the other or do you think the fight ends up being determined on the feet?
BR: You'd be hard pressed to think one of these two guys will outwrestle the other. Warren is a two-time world champion; Vila's got an Olympic bronze medal. My natural assumption would be that their wrestling will cancel each other out and it's going to be a striking battle. I think it's going to be the question of the evolution of Joe Warren's striking.
RH: There are certain variables, though, that could potentially give Warren the edge. Warren, the 145-pound champ, is looking for a two-division reign, while Vila arguably belongs in the 125-pound weight class. Another factor is that Vila is 40 years old, an age where fighters tend to be far removed from their explosive peak.
BR: Man, that's a tough call. If you've watched Vila's fights, he has been wildly explosive. The funny thing is that a lot of wrestlers rely on their takedowns to set up their punches. He hasn't. He's looked like a wickedly great in-shape puncher with a ton of gas. I don't know. It's an interesting question. He's an interesting specimen. None of these guys are young by any stretch of the imagination, but on the scale of not being young, Vila is a little bit more north of young than Joe Warren, but who knows? I wouldn't want to bet on any specific direction in this fight. We could both be wrong. Warren could be too big and too powerful and could he utilize his relentless style to take Vila down?
Quarterfinal #2: Eduardo Dantas vs. Wilson Reis
RH: At 22, the Shooto South American champion Dantas could be one of the hottest prospects, but he hasn't really faced top flight competition under Shooto Brazil. With an always gamer in Reis, I think this fight is Dantas' first big league test. Would you agree with that assessment?
BR: I would except for the long sitdown I had with Marlon Sandro talking about this and what Jose Aldo had to say about him. Sandro and Aldo are two of the greatest featherweights in the earth and both said this kid is absolutely a phenom.
I asked Sandro, "Where do you think he matches up?" And Sandro's answer was, "I don't know anyone in the world right now who could beat him."
The confidence his team has in him is at an elite, elite level. Now, has he faced world-class competition yet? No, he hasn't and Wilson dropping back down to 135 where he was at an elite level and this is the weight where he's enjoyed the vast majority of his success as a jiu-jitsu player. It's be a great test for Dantas and it'll be a real eye-opener for us in terms of where Dantas matches up.
If Dantas can beat Reis at this weight, it speaks to the fact that all of the accolcates that have been bestowed on Dantas are accurate. If Reis can beat Dantas, then Reis has found his right weight and perhaps can accomplish all that which he hasn't been able to accomplish under the Bellator banner at 145.
The Future of Joe Soto
RH: Wilson Reis stepped in for Joe Soto, originally slated to fight in this tournament. I know Soto is coming off losses, but since it was on a short notice fight on a lesser known show and after a serious eye injury. Still, I figured with his name value, he would still be an intriguing name in the bracket. Can you talk about the decision-making process to ultimately replace Soto with Reis?
BR: The fight that Joe took out of Tachi [Palace Fights] wasn't short notice. Tom called his manager and said to me, "Look, Joe is coming off of a serious eye injury, he hasn't been in the cage in a long time, I want to get him a fight before he comes in the tournament," and really handpicked the guy he wanted to fight, really hand-picked. He wanted Joe to get comfortable back in the cage. And unfortunately, because I'm a huge Joe Soto fan, Joe got dominated in that fight. For whatever reason, it was a very bad night for Joe. And given the amount of time he had to prep and given that his management really handpicked his opponent, we talked. It was kind of a team decision between Joe's management and us; it's not the right time to put him in this tournament.
RH: Do you have any current plans for Soto? Perhaps as an alternate?
BR: Right now, what we got to do with Soto is determine where his head is and what he wants to do with his career. If his decision is to press forward at 135, we'll get him some off-TV fights and get his feet back under him and not force him into deep waters.
Quarterfinal #3: Luiz Nogueira vs. Ed West
RH: Of the four fights, I found this one the most ambiguous. I don't really know at what level these guys are at and I'm curious to see how the winner performs in the semfinals. Do you have any inkling how this fight might transpire?
BR: I think ambigous is a very good way to put it. There's no one way to look at this fight and say, "If this happens then this will be the result."
From the day we signed Ed West, he's been amazingly athletic. He's constantly moving for submission, he has no lay-and-pray in him at all. He's a very exciting fighter. We haven't seen an awful lot of striking out of Ed except Ed seems to be able to seamlessly move from one aspect of the game to the other. Ed West prides as a true martial artist. Maybe striking Nogueira would have a little edge on Ed, but I don't know. Ed's never been forced to strike because everybody we've had in the other 135-pound tournament, Ed mowed down until he ran up against Zach (Makovsky].
Quarterfinal #4: Chase Beebe vs. Marcos Galvao
RH: Galvao looked tremendous against Warren and many feel he should have won the decision at Bellator 41 in April. Fighting another wrestling-based opponent, what do you think Galvao needs to do this time around to ensure a victory?
BR: I would do very little from the last time he fought. The flying knees, the strikes, the grappling, the ground and pound, everything looked good. There was no part of his game that didn't look great when he last fought under our banner and it was up against our 145 pound champion. In terms of doing anything differently, I wouldn't do too much differently if I were him. Chase comes from a wrestling background, I don't know if I would suggest that Marcos change anything much different.
Bellator's Quiet Champion
RH: Out of all the Bellator champions, the least recognized would have to be Zach Makovsky. As a promoter, how do you handle the challenge of making him a "name" alongside guys like Eddie Alvarez and Hector Lombard.
BR: I think what we've got to do as a company is we've got to provide him with the kind of platform and the kind of fighters that he's deserving of and that's what we're doing here. When this tournament ends, if Zach can beat the guy that comes out of this tournament and retains his title, then we'll be able to complement that with the support mechanism for Zach we've got: Putting him on Impact Wrestling on Spike, get him out there and really try to powerfully support Zach. Just the qualitative level of the guys that are in the tournament will justify a top 3 or 4 ranking on earth and then we'll be able to put the entire power of the machine behind him so that people can go, "Whoa! That's Zach." And it couldn't happen to a better guy. It'll be a pleasure to put that power behind him.