The season 7 lightweight tournament kicks off tonight with mostly talent from abroad. There are some returning fighters like Ricardo Tirloni as well as untested but highly-touted Russians.
What: Bellator 77
When: Friday, the MTV2-televised card begins at 8 p.m. Eastern on Friday. However, Spike.com will carry the entire fight card beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern.
Where: Reading Eagle Theater, Reading, Pennsylvania
Rich Clementi vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy
This might be a tougher fight than some expect. There's a belief that Sarnavskiy is going to walk over the UFC veteran in Clementi, but I'm not so sure. Clementi is tough and has the defensive fundamentals to offset the Russian's talents on the mat. Standing might be another issue, of course, but even there Clementi isn't likely to be blown out. I'll give the nod to Sarnavskiy, but this is a development fight for him against the right kind of challenge at the right time in his career.
Ricardo Tirloni vs. Rene Nazare
Tirloni and Nazare have roughly similar skill sets, but I'd argue Tirloni is a more physically imposing fighter of the two. Nazare might be slightly quicker and is plenty talented. An upset here wouldn't be too surprising, but Tirloni should be able to keep Nazare on the defensive en route to a decision victory.
Another untested Russian against at least something of a known commodity. I don't think Held is super elite, but he has good finishing skills particularly as a grappler. Maybe Machaev is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but there's little reason to believe at the moment the Polish brown belt won't move on in the tourney.
Dave Jansen vs. Magomed Saadulaev
Saadulaev has been training at Jackson's MMA, but I'm still going with Jansen. He's fought much better competition even if he's lost. He also is a good enough pressure grappler to stay out of trouble and likely put Saadulaev away.