It's finally here. The biggest card Bellator can put together with their own homegrown talent is Saturday and while the road to the event has been rocky with bad press, fight cancellations and other undesirables, what the company has put together is a very excellent card.
Consider that the finale to Spike TV's Fight Master is part of a card where two outstanding featherweights battle alongside three title fights with some of the best MMA talent on the planet. The event is headlined by a rematch between two fighters who put on one of the best fights of 2011. One half of that main event is returning to action after a bitter feud with the promotion staging the event.
Can Eddie Alvarez reclaim his title and get revenge on Bellator? Will Michael Chandler prove the first fight was no accident? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Saturday's fights.
What: Bellator 106
Where: Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, California
When: Saturday, the six-fight preliminary card starts at 7 p.m. ET on Spike.com. The five-fight main card starts on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
I'm as excited for this rematch as any this year for a number of reasons, not least of which is how uncertain the outcome is. On the one hand, I can easily envision a scenario where Alvarez's ring rust and outside distractions cost him against an ever-improving Chandler. I can also see how Alvarez, motivated more than usual, can make adjustments to what he did in the first fight to end this one when he has the chance.
The big differentiator for me is not merely Chandler's improvement as such, but his hand speed. He cracks opponents before they ever have a chance to react and then follows up with an onslaught that's hard to stop. Alvarez was able to do it a number of times in their first fight. I'm guessing he's not going to be able to do that here. Even if he tries to use movement, Chandler has a way of forcing moments of brawling to serve his interests.
I don't think the result of their first fight is flukish to the point of being statistically insignificant, which Lawal and others have suggested. I do believe, however, that it wont happen again. I also find it hard to believe Newton, if Lawal performs as he's capable, will have much of an answer for the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion.
Newton does have enough defensive savvy to drag the fight late and make Lawal work more than some expect. I'd be surprised if Lawal somehow barnstomed Newton into a stoppage inside two rounds. This one could easily go the distance. But if and when it does, despite Newton landing clean strikes in their first bout, I see Lawal taking a much more methodical, wrestling-centric approach to this contest. It's just going to be difficult for Newton to win three of five rounds in that kind of dynamic.
There's lots of reasons to think Straus is outmatched here. He not only has a gaggle of legal issues to deal with once this bout is over, he's also previously lost to Curran, albeit four years ago. Still, there's even more reason to believe in Curran. Straus is talented everywhere: he can strike, submit, wrestle and go the distance. The problem is he tends to go on cruise control the longer a fight continues. By round three, he's fighting, but doing so aimlessly. For a patient finisher like Curran, that's a bad, bad sign. Look to Curran to wait for an opening to use his sensational boxing, after which he'll likely finish Straus off with quick impunity.
Bronzoulis demonstrated dramatic improvement during his run on Fight Master, but perhaps more than anything, he fought with focus, discipline and listened to game plan or coaching suggestion. He followed instruction really well and it took to the position he's in today. Riggs, by contrast, listened to corner advice and strategy just fine, but got through the competition on his dramatically superior skill set. Despite the standout performances from Bronzoulis, I see little reason why Riggs won't be able to do what he has been up to this point. I do expect Riggs to take his time. The UFC and Strikeforce veteran isn't as lethal a finisher as he used to be or could be, but he has enough tools in the arsenal in basically every dimension of the game to win the Fight Master reality series.
Oddsmakers have Stepanyan as the favorite and that's probably a defensible position, but not one I agree with. I'm going to take the underdog here in Richman. It's true he was blasted out pretty quickly by Shabhalat Shamhalaev, but also proved he can take a beating in longer, drawn bouts with Frodo Khasbulaev. For me, Stepanyan has improved dramatically under the Bellator banner and while the more complete striker, will likely fall prey to the hand speed and counter boxing from the Marine. I don't suspect this will end early no matter who prevails, but look to Richman to weather a storm before sitting Stepanyan down with strikes.