Bellator 61 Predictions

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Bellator returns for its second show of the year on Friday night, with its Season 6 middleweight tournament getting underway. The planned main event -- Thiago Santos vs. Eric Prindle to complete Bellator's Season 5 heavyweight tournament -- has been pushed back a week, but that's just as well: The middleweight action is going to be better than that heavyweight fight.

What: Bellator 61

When: Friday, the MTV2-televised card begins at 8 p.m. Eastern

Where: Horseshoe Riverdome, Bossier City, Louisiana

Predictions on the four middleweight tournament fights below.

Maiquel Falcao vs. Norman Paraisy

Falcao signed with the UFC in 2010, was dropped by the promotion amid questions about a prior assault charge, and is now back in the U.S. and fighting for Bellator. He's a fearsome striker who I think has to be viewed as the favorite to win the entire tournament, and I certainly think he'll beat Paraisy, who's a fine fighter but not really on the same level as Falcao.

Pick: Falcao

Vitor Vianna vs. Brian Rogers

Rogers and Vianna both lost to Alexander Shlemenko in last season's middleweight tournament, and now they draw each other in the first round of this season's tournament. Rogers hits hard enough that he could put Vianna in some trouble standing up, but Vianna is a world-class Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioner and I think he'll make Rogers tap.

Pick: Viana

Vyacheslav Vasilevsky vs. Victor O'Donnell

O'Donnell is back after losing to Rogers in last year's Bellator middleweight tournament, and he gets a tough draw in Vasilevsky, a very exciting prospect who is currently on a 14-fight winning streak but has never fought outside Eastern Europe. It's possible that O'Donnell could take Vasilevsky down and submit him but I think Vasilevsky will prove to be too good a striker and win by TKO.

Pick: Vasilevsky

Giva Santana vs. Bruno Santos

I was extremely excited when Bellator signed Santana, who's nicknamed "The Arm Collector" because he's won 13 fights by armbar while building up a 17-1 record. The 12-0 Santos may be savvy enough to avoid falling into Santana's trap, but I believe Santana will win even if he can't force Santos to tap.

Pick: Santana

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