Bellator returns to the airwaves this evening as they both move on with season 8, but also pick up what was never resolved during season 7. In tonight's main event, season 7 featherweight finalists Rad Martinez and Shahbulat Shamhalaev face off to face the winner of Daniel Strauss vs. Pat Curran.
In addition, both the light heavyweight and welterweight tournaments roll on. 'King' Mo Lawal returns to action against Emanuel Newton and Bryan Baker steps in on short notice to face Douglas Lima, among a host of other bouts.
What: Bellator 90
When: Thursday, the Spike TV-televised card begins at 10 p.m. Eastern on Friday. However, Spike.com will carry the entire fight card beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Where: The Maverick Center, West Valley City, Utah
Shahbulat Shamhalaev vs. Rad Martinez
This is an incredibly difficult fight to call. On the one hand, Shamhalaev has the clear edge in hand speed and power. He's offensive when he needs to be, but really excels when he's counterstriking and timing his opponents. Martinez plays right into that. He marches forward, often with loopy and off balance punches. I suspect whether he wins or loses, he's going to get nailed a number of times. Shamhalaev also possesses savage, quick strikes on top when he's grounding and pounding.
My problem, however, lies with the Russian's gas tank. It's not good and neither is his defensive wrestling. Those are both dimensions of the game where Martinez is excellent.
Martinez had tough striking battles to earn his way to the finals. Shamhalaev breezed through with quick stoppages. I don't think he's going to be so lucky this time even if I do admit he'll make things interesting early.
Muhammed Lawal vs. Emanuel Newton
Here's the good thing if you're a Lawal fan: everything Newton does, Lawal does better. He's also a better athlete. There's no obvious reason why Lawal should lose. Even better, this will make the second fight in a row where Lawal will be getting something of a tune-up fight. I don't mean to disparage Newton. He's a talented fighter and I like this bout because he's going to push Lawal at times. But I can't point to anything in Newton's very respectable arsenal or resume that tells me he's going any edge anywhere.
Lima is the best welterweight in Bellator not named Ben Askren. Then again, battling Leukemia while competing in MMA sort of makes Bryan Baker the baddest dude on the planet. In all seriousness, though, Baker is talented and a tough offensive wrestler, but there are two key problems. First, he gets hit a bit too much for my liking and Lima packs a serious punch. Second, even if we grant Baker has the takedown advantage, Lima is still excellent at sweeps and submissions from the floor. One way or another, the Brazilian is going to find a way to get it done.
I'm not particularly high on either guy and neither inspired the sort of confidence in their quarterfinal matches to make me lean one way or the other. The guy with the longer resume and better previous Bellator win (I guess) is Zayats, but I'm lean the other way because who knows?