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Vinicius Queiroz ‘happy to welcome’ Lavar Johnson to Bellator

Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Lavar Johnson makes his Bellator debut this Friday night, and Vinicius Queiroz is happy to be his first opponent inside Bellator’s cage.

Johnson and Queiroz meet at Bellator 102 in the semifinals of this season’s heavyweight tournament, and the Brazilian is confident he will advance to the final.

"I’m happy to welcome him to Bellator," Queiroz told MMAFighting.com. "He’s a well-rounded guy that has fought in the UFC and Strikeforce, but I’m confident. I’m better than ever."

Johnson has won most of his fights by knockout, but the Brazilian isn’t worried with his opponent's striking.

"He has 17 wins and 15 knockouts, so he has heavy hands," he said. "His ground game is a little weak and he’s not such a technical striker, he’s a brawler. He throws his hands, and if one connects, you’re out. But I saw some openings in his standup game and I will work on that. My striking is better than his."

Queiroz fought in the heavyweight tournament during Bellator’s seventh season but lost to Bellator’s heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov in the semifinal. More experienced, he expects this tourney to be a great challenge for his career with UFC veteran Cheick Kongo meets Mark Godbeer on the other side of the bracket.

"This tournament is as tough as the last one, but having two former UFC fighters makes it even better," he said. "If I beat them I’d be better ranked in the heavyweight division. Not that I intend to go to the UFC, but I’d be among the best."

Kongo went 11-5-1 under the UFC banner, but Queiroz doesn’t see him as the favorite in his Bellator debut.

"I’m not sure he wins", he said. "I mean, Kongo is a good athlete but it all depends on how he shows up. I don’t know if Kongo will try to stand and fight of if he’ll go for the takedown. I wouldn’t bet on Kongo. I’m not saying he will lose, but I don’t see him as the favorite."

Having two UFC veterans in the roster will prove that Bellator’s heavyweight division isn’t weak, Queiroz says.

"Everybody says that Bellator’s heavyweight division is weak," he said. "A well-ranked fighter like Diego Nunes came (to Bellator) and lost to Patricio (Freire) with a one-punch knockout… I mean, Kongo can do good fights here, but I don’t think he’ll run through the division and become the champion in two days, and that will show how deep Bellator’s heavyweight division is."