Bellator returns to the Spike TV airwaves this evening when 'Fight Master' coach and former featherweight champion Joe Warren returns to action in the semifinals of the bantamweight tournament. In addition, the season nine lightweight tourney kicks off with some familiar UFC castoffs and groomed Bellator talent.
Can Warren get the bantamweight title shot he desperately wants? Who will advance to the lightweight tournament semifinals? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Friday's fights.
What: Bellator 101
Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR
When: Friday, 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 don't believe Kirk is in any way a bad fighter and Bellator is the place where upsets seem to come to life more than usual, but if we're being realistic, this is something akin to set-up a fight. That is, it's a legitimate sporting contest, but one where Warren should be able to win with his mix of takedowns and top control. Without getting into the details of how the two match up, it's basically safe to assume Warren will be able to execute his style of fighting en route to a victory.
Marcus Davis vs. Tiger Sarnavskiy
I've always appreciated how much Davis has dedicated himself to his craft and how thoughtfully he took the game. And I do believe he's a legitimate upset threat here. He has better takedowns, guard passing and top game generally than most remember or recognize. And given Sarnavskiy's less than stellar performance against Rich Clementi, one wonders if Davis can follow that blueprint. Still, I have to favor Tiger here. He continues to shore up deficiencies and on the feet packs a serious punch. He's also someone who can out duel Davis in terms of combination striking.
John Alessio vs. Will Brooks
This is a really difficult fight to call. I'm guessing Brooks can squeak it out on the feet, but I don't believe he's going to run over Alessio by a long shot. Whatever else Alessio's problems are, takedown defense isn't one of them. That isn't to say it's impenetrable, but it's good. Brooks is going to have to realize he can't rely on the takedown. If he stays proactive on the feet, he can push Alessio around, but this is no walk in the park.
Ricardo Tirloni vs. Rich Clementi
Tirloni is a well-rounded fighter who has lost three of his last four. He has a surprisingly tough bout in Clementi, but I think this is where he turns things around. If he can strike from the outside and win scrambles without spending too much time on the mat or playing a lazy jiu-jitsu game, he should be able to prevail. Clementi has had a nice run of things lately in Bellator and certainly has what it takes to get past Tirloni, but I'm wondering if this isn't the moment Tirloni finally puts it all together.
Saad Awad vs. Martin Stapleton
This is one of those bouts where I can't be sure exactly what's going to happen. If I had to guess, though, I'd say Awad is likely to catch the flat-footed Stapleton early in the first before the bout ever really gets going, putting him away there with his trademark handspeed and blitzing strategy.