Two Bellator regulars and two recent signees came out winners on Thursday night in advancing to the semifinals of the company's lightweight tournament.
Alexander "Tiger" Sarnavskiy (22-1) and David "Caveman" Rickels (12-1) were joined by debuting Saad Awad (13-4) and Will Brooks (9-0) in advancing in the tournament's first round from Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
It was the first show on Spike that didn't feature a championship match. The best known fighter in the tournament, Patricky "Pitbull" Freire, pulled out in the last week due to a knee injury which gave Awad the opportunity. The Southern California native, with virtually no training time, was able to finish Guillaume DeLorenzi (10-2) in just 31 seconds with an overhand right and a left hook that put his lights out.
Awad will face Brooks in the semifinals on a date not yet announced.
Brooks, who was signed after an impressive showing beating Japanese star Satoru Kitaoka on the that country's annual New Year's Eve show, kept top position and stayed out of serious trouble in beating Ricardo Tirloni (15-4). Brooks never came close to finishing. But he had the edge in the stand-up game, and scored takedowns in all three rounds to take a solid 30-27 decision where none of the rounds were close.
"I don't even know what to say," said Brooks, who broke down and cried as soon as the match ended, as he'd dedicated it to his adopted mother who had just passed away. "I'm just happy to be here, and happy to have the opportunity. I've been working my butt off, mama. Everyone sacrificed a lot for me to do what I do. I'm happy I can make them proud."
Rickels, who moved down from welterweight, defeated Lloyd "Cupcake" Woodard (12-3) via close decision, with all three judges scoring it 29-28. Woodard clearly won the first round. The second round ended up deciding it, which was close enough to go either way. Rickels clearly won round three.
Woodard dropped Rickels in the second round and jumped on Rickels on the ground. But Rickels landed hard shots later in the round before Woodard took him down. Woodard was tired by round three, and Rickels took over landing hard punches for much of the round.
Rickels will face Sarnavskiy, a Russian promoted hard by the company prior to the lightweight tournament last season. But Sarnavskiy then faltered, losing via decision in an upset by former UFC fighter Rich Clementi.
Sarnavskiy faced Thiago Michel (11-4), a Brazilian kickboxing champion, on Thursday. Sarnavskiy dominated the stand-up game in the first round. In the second round, Sarnavskiy got two takedowns, but was warned about not being busy enough on the ground. At that point, he took Michel's back and quickly got the choke, forcing Michel to tap at 3:43 of the round.
Bellator's next show on Spike will be on Feb. 7, from Duluth, Ga., headlined by a battle for the vacant middleweight title between Alexander Shlemenko (46-7) and hot-headed former UFC fighter Maiquel Falcao (31-4, 1 no contest).