This Friday, March 7, marks the opening round of Bellator's Heavyweight Tournament. There are some interesting matchups which, similar to most heavyweight bouts, are likely to end in either slow fought decisions or lightning fast KOs. I preview each matchup below and offer some background.
1) Blagoi Ivanov vs. Rich Hale. Catching the attention of the MMA world with a sambo win over Fedor Emelianenko, Blagoi Ivanov is perhaps Bellator's best heavyweight. Strange that his fight is relegated to the prelims. Ivanov's two appearances in the Bellator cage ended inside of the first round. He made quick work of Manny Lara with a guillotine choke in his debut. In his second Bellator appearance, Ivanov was rocked on the feet by Keith Bell. He nearly instantly recovered and ended the fight with an RNC. He faces Rich Hale. Hale is a fairly technically sound fighter who doesn't appear to particularly excel at any facet of the game. He sports an admirable 26-5 record but is on a two fight losing skid. Ivanov likely takes this fight by submission.
2) Alexander Volkov vs. Mark Holata. The former Bellator heavyweight champion, Volkov relies on stand up technique with a karate background. Mark Holata relies on a boxing style. Holota has lost a few fights by KO, so his striking defense may not be up to par. Although Volkov may seem to be more of a point fighter, his record shows that 14 of his 19 have come via TKO or KO. Despite the fact that Holata fights out of Oklahoma, he doesn't seem to rely on a wrestling heavy style. Expect Volkov to outpoint Holata via decision.
3) Peter Graham vs. "Mighty Mo" Siala-Mou Siliga. Interesting matchup as these two Oceanic kickboxers are unlikely to grapple. Graham holds kickboxing victories over Mark Hunt, Ray Sefo, Paul Slowinski, Sam Greco and Alexey Ignashov. Based on the fact that Graham has a far better kickboxing record, and neither fighter is much of a grappler, it's not too much of a stretch to conclude that Graham will take this fight via KO or TKO.
4) Ryan Martinez vs. Lavar Johnson. This fight has the potential to end in an explosive KO. Martinez holds a win over former NCAA division I national wrestling champion Mark Ellis. Martinez also showed some good takedown defense in his last fight vs. current champion Vitaly Minakov. Unfortunately, he ultimately fell to Minakov's strikes. Despite being a brawler with his punches, Martinez displayed striking defense that was fairly impressive against Minakov. He holds KOs over Rich Hale and Travis Wiuff in the Bellator cage. Lavar Johnson was released from the UFC after posting a 2-2 record and testing positive for steroids. He won KO of the Night honors twice with victories over Joey Beltran and Pat Barry. I predict Martinez will weather Johnson's early storm and earn a KO win in the second round.
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