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Bellator 96 predictions

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Bellator returns to Spike TV tonight with the beginning of their summer series. The first show opens with semifinals in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight tournaments with such names as King Mo, Babalu Sobral, the Bellator debut of Jon 'War Machine' Koppenhaver and many others.

Can Lawal get back on track after being derailed during season 8? After two years in prison, what does Koppenhaver really have to offer? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Bellator 96.

What: Bellator 96

When: The Spike TV-televised card begins at 8 p.m. Eastern tonight. However, Spike.com will carry the preliminary fight card beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Where: WinStar World Casino, Thackerville, Oklahoma

Muhammed Lawal vs. Seth Petruzelli

Whatever one thinks of Emanuel Newton's upset of Lawal, the reality is Newton was also criminally underrated by the majority of media (me included), fans and others watching. He's a fighter with his fair share of ups and downs, but is extremely experienced against very respectable opposition. Beating Lawal was unlikely, but not necessarily flukey.

The same cannot be said for Petruzelli. The Floridian's striking can keep him alive for a little while, but Lawal is just way, way too much for him. Provided Lawal exploits their skill set differential with his wrestling, this will be a short night. Even if he doesn't, I suspect he might be able to hang on long enough to earn a decision nod.

Pick: Lawal

Renato Sobral vs. Jacob Noe

What's left of Babalu? It's hard to say, but he's obviously not even close to what he once was, if for no other reason than he can't accept damage like he once did. Still, on paper he's got the tools to match Noe's wrestling and the rest of the MMA skills to make a decision happen for himself. The problem is the bumps in the road that could derail him from victory are a lot harder for Sobral to avoid. He's fighting on thin ice.

Pick: Sobral

Ryan Martinez vs. Richard Hale

This is a tough one as Hale has gone back and forth at light heavyweight and heavyweight while Martinez is coming in on very short notice. The truth is skills win fights in MMA and Hale is the more well-rounded fighter. But, for whatever reason, he loves to slug and go aggro on opposition he could easily dispatch if he was a little more calculated. I think he'll try to bang with Martinez, which is a terrible mistake.

Pick: Martinez

Vitaly Minakov vs. Ron Sparks

This one should end quickly. Sparks seems like an awfully nice guy, but is still out of his depth even in Bellator's heavyweight division. Minakov should positively cruise to a first-round stoppage.

Pick: Minakov

War Machine vs. Blas Avena

I don't know what to make of Koppenhaver being out for so long other to than to say it gives me pause about his capability after an extensive layoff. Still, he should be far more well-rounded than Avena, who is a fast starter with a big punch, but not a lot else.

Pick: War Machine

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