The tenth season of Bellator rolls on, this time with the launch of their heavyweight tournament capped off with a bantamweight title defense. It's the title defense they wanted or had even originally booked, but better to keep the young Eduardo Dantas busy than not.
As for the tournament, we're still waiting on the winner of Vitaly Minakov vs. Cheick Kongo before we know who this season's winner will face, but it many not matter. Bellator's heavyweight division is better than it has ever been, but still requires development. This tournament is, in fact, harder to predict because so many of the competitors are hard-changing, heavy-swinging heavyweights with uneven skill sets.
Will Dantas be able to retain his title? Who will move into the semifinals of this season's heavyweight tournament? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Friday's fights.
What: Bellator 111
Where: WinStar World Casino, Thackerville, Okla.
When: Friday, the six-fight preliminary card starts at 7 p.m. ET on MMA Fighting and Spike.com. The four-fight main card starts on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
Rafael Silva was supposed to get the title shot, but an injury forced Bellator to change things up. Now, they shouldn't get a ton of credit here, but some is worth acknowledging. That is, rather than just put the champion and the title shot on ice because Silva was injured, Bellator called up one of the next closest contenders to take Silva's spot. It allows the champion to keep competing, something that had previously not happened in cases like this in the Bellator organization. It's the right call even if it results in sub-optimal matchmaking.
As for the match-up itself, there's not much to it. Whatever Leone is good at it, Dantas is better. Leone might have a bit of an edge in takedowns, but it won't matter much. He'll likely get lit up on the feet or out maneuvered on the ground by the Nova Uniao product. Credit to Leone for stepping in, but he's outgunned here.
Martinez might be my favorite non-elite heavyweight. He looks scary, but doesn't necessarily give off the vibe that he's an athlete as such. Appearances, however, are deceiving. He is far, far more athletic than he looks and while he doesn't necessarily have the best guard, he's surprisingly agile, very heavy handed and more technical as a grappler and anti-wrestler than you'd think. Johnson packs a serious punch and can probably knockout anyone, but I'm betting Martinez shines in this performance.
This is a tough call. Too tough strikers past their prime, but still capable of a big punch when they need it. Their games are completely lopsided, but that'll be good for the fans in attendance. I think. Anyway, this one is probably a bit of a coin flip. I'll go with Graham even if I think Mo has the better pure, one-punch power if only because Graham probably won't get as tired as quickly.
Here's another bout where it's hard to tell what's going to happen. Holata isn't well rounded, but he is strong and big, for whatever that's worth. Volkov has no real ground game to speak of, but can work lesser heavyweights out on the feet. Holata is probably that guy if Volkov can work his range and chip away at the bruising Holata.