The eighth season of Bellator is almost over. Tonight represents the penultimate event and features two of the tournament finals for this season. In the lightweight tourney, David Rickels and Saad Awad battle for a title shot against Michael Chandler. In the light heavyweight finals, one-time underdogs against the tournament favorites in Emanuel Newton and Mikhail Zayats will face one another for a shot at Atilla Vegh.
Can Emanuel Newton complete his journey and earn a rematch with Vegh? Will David Rickels' prove his drop to lightweight was worth it? I answer these questions and more with predictions for tonight's event.
What: Bellator 94
When: Thursday, the Spike TV-televised card begins at 10 p.m. Eastern on Friday. However, Spike.com will carry the preliminary fight card beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Where: The UCF Sun Dome, Tampa, Florida
I'll confess that I keep wanting to count Rickels out. I don't particularly care for his caveman shtick. He also once said he wanted to eat his own beard, which is just gross. But Rickels refuses to go away and that's a credit to his ability. For all of the weird comments and antics, the guy can fight. He's extremely durable, fearless in the pocket and surprisingly technical on the ground. Awad's been blasting guys out, but Rickels has more recently been in the trenches. Look to him to overcome any blitzkrieg by the talented but overmatched Awad.
I just have a hard time picking Zayats here. Newton is hard to hurt, has been quietly improving, is a decent athlete and a fairly well-rounded MMA fighter at this point. He can be out hustled, so Zayats might storm early, but can he sustain it over three rounds? I have my doubts. Amazing, however, that this was supposed to be Renato Sobral vs. Muhammed Lawal, right? That tournament is a killer.
Even with Houston's win over Jeremiah Riggs, I've been none too impressed with him. He's ok in scrambles, which is how he caught Riggs, but has poor striking defense. His striking relies heavily on one-shot attacks. He also has odd grappling recovery of bad positions, often turning his hips in the wrong direction. He's a big kid and can catch you if you're not paying attention, but a veteran as experienced as Melo should probably take the 'W'. I also have no idea why a bout like this is on a Bellator main card, but that's another issue for another time.
I don't think Mann will be a physical load at this weight, but he should be very strong. Lima's a tough competitor, decent everywhere and will not go away easily at all. But Mann's too well-rounded and too physical at this point to cede any bantamweight territory to 'Ratinho'.