It’s that time again, Bellator MMA Thursday’s is once again upon us and rapidly approaching with this week’s Bellator 94. Thursday’s event, which will be the promotions penultimate event of season 8, is scheduled to take place on March 28th, 2013 and will be coming to us from the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida.
The main card will be aired live on Bellator’s new home since the start of season 8, Spike TV at 10 pm EST, while the preliminary bouts will be broadcasted on spiketv.com or bellator.com immediately prior to the main card.
This week’s event brings you two, count them two tournament finals when for the second week in a row, Bellator will have a lightweight tournament final serve as the main event, while the finals of the light heavyweight tournament plays the part of co-main event. On the lightweight side of things we have the season 8 finals between a true Cinderella-story in Saad Awad taking on rugged grinder David Rickels. In the light heavy’s, two fighters who pulled off the upsets of their careers will be facing off to prove their upsets were no flukes. Emanuel Newton, who took out tournament favorite Muhammed Lawal in the semifinals, takes on Mikhail Zayats, who pulled off his own Rocky story in eliminating skilled but faded veteran Renato Sobral. All this supported by two feature bouts covering two weight classes with tournament implications hanging in the balance. So without further ado, let this preview commence.
As mentioned before, the main event of the evening will be for the lightweight tournament title, Saad “Assassin” Awad (14-4-0) taking on David “The Caveman” Rickels (13-1-0).
Rickels finds himself one win away from winning season 8 lightweight tournament. This is Rickels second tournament, as he reached the semifinals of the season 6 welterweight tournament, losing by split decision to Karl Amoussou. That loss to Amoussou is not only “The Caveman’s” last loss, but it also happens to be his only loss. Rickels won two unanimous decisions en route to earning his spot in the finals, defeating Lloyd Woodard and Jason Fischer in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively. Rickels is a big lightweight and his key to win this bout could be his size. Knowing how Awad dispatched both of his opponents to reach to finals, it would be to Rickels benefit to take Awad down immediately and grind out a victory. It may not be the most esthetically pleasing game plan but being this close to collecting that $100,000 check and earning a title shot, playing it safe may be the path of least resistance for Rickels.
For Awad, throwing caution to the wind against Rickels could be the way to go. Awad earned his spot against Rickels in the finals by utterly decimating his previous two opponents, Guillame DeLorenzi and Will Brooks in less than a minute each. Awad is the Cinderella story of this tournament; substituting for the injured Patricio Freire in the quarterfinals he’s made the absolute most of his golden ticket. Coming in as a heavy underdog against DeLorenzi and even more of an underdog against undefeated wrestler Will Brooks, Awad made it a short and painful night for both opponents. He used his patient and precise striking to attack when his opponents weren’t expecting it. The key for Awad against Rickels is stay away from Rickels ground game, avoid being taken down and look to land early and often, similar to how he took out Brooks, who is an outstanding wrestler. Awad didn’t allow Brooks to implement his strategy in the least bit. Taking that same avenue against Rickels could be Awad best chance at victory.
The other tournament final of the evening will be for the light heavyweight tournament championship between Mikhail Zayats (21-6-0) and “The Hardcore Kid” Emanuel Newton (20-7-1).
Zayats punched his ticket to the finals with two very impressive finishes. His opening round opponent was the highly experienced former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato Sobral. Zayats didn’t let that factor into the bout at all, finishing Sobral in the first round. The beginning of the end came when Zayats landed a spectacular spinning back fist that stunned Sobral, sending him to the canvas where Zayats went in for the kill. He would then follow that up with an armbar finish of semifinal opponent Jacob Noe, again in the first round. Zayats game plan against Newton should be a solid ground attack. He is a Combat Sambo National champion and a European Jiu-jitsu champion, which was ever present in his semifinal bout. Expect Zayats to stay away from Newton’s unorthodox striking and impose a solid ground game to come away with a victory.
After a solid quarterfinal outing against Atanas Djambazov, Emanuel Newton truly made his presence known in this tournament in the semifinals by eliminating tournament favorite Muhammed Lawal with a sneaky spinning back fist after missing a haymaker over-hand right. Not only did Newton replicate Zayats feat in eliminating a tournament favorite, but he did it in similar fashion. Newton should attempt to use this type of unorthodox striking to confuse Zayats in order to come out victorious. Newton has an underrated ground game and it should be noted that he defeated the aforementioned Djambazov by rear naked choke. However, testing his ground skills against an experienced Sambo artist isn’t the best idea. But rather, he should use his ground skills to stifle Zayats ground attack in order to execute his striking. Expect Newton to keep the fight standing while implementing a tactical striking strategy. Winning this bout will give Newton his first Bellator tournament championship and earn him a title shot at the current champion Attila Vegh, who happens to be the most recent loss in his record. It would be a best case scenario for Newton, avenge a loss and win Bellator’s light heavyweight title in the process.
The next match-up is a welterweight feature bout where the winner gets a secured slot in Bellator’s next welterweight tournament. Experienced Brazilian Luis “Sergio Junior” (28-11-3) will take on Trey “That Just Happened?” Houston (10-1-0). Yea, that’s his real nickname.
Junior will be making his Bellator debut; however he is far from being a novice in mixed martial arts. Sporting a record of 28 wins, 11 losses and a whopping 3 draws, Junior is quite the experienced fighter. Fighting in such organizations as Jungle Fight and Shooto, Junior is currently riding a five-fight win streak, the first in his long and incredibly active career. He is a well rounded fighter, as shown by his record which includes 11 KO/TKO’s and 13 submissions with only winning 4 fights by decision. Even with the large number of fights on his record, Junior hasn’t fought anyone noteworthy which most likely will change should he defeat Houston on Thursday night. Winning this bout will earn him a spot on the next welterweight tournament, expect Junior to make the most of this opportunity and come out guns blazing.
Houston will be making his second Bellator appearance and will be looking for his first win with the promotion. He made his debut last October, losing by rear naked choke to Billy Horne. That was Houston’s first professional defeat, prior to that, he won 10 straight, fighting for promotions such as Strikeforce and XFL. A product of the Miletich camp, you can expect Houston to be extremely well rounded with a solid wrestling base and above all, a strong mental game. Houston has finished all of his previous opponents, 4 by knockout and 6 by submission, so you can expect Houston to follow a similar game plan. This bout will earn him a spot in next season’s welterweight tournament so you can expect Houston to try to finish him opponent as impressively and quickly as he can.
The opening bout of the card features the returning Englishman Ronnie “Iron Mann” Mann (21-5-1) taking on Brazilian prospect Rodrigo “Ratinho” Lima (10-1-0).
Mann will be making his return to the Bellator cage after two unsuccessful attempts at the featherweight tournament title. Mann was eliminated in the semifinals by eventual tournament winner and current featherweight champion Pat Curran in the 2011 Summer Series. He later entered the season 6 tournament, losing to Mike Corey in the quarterfinals. After making a name for himself in the featherweight division, Mann has now elected to try his hand at bantamweight and just like the welterweight feature bout; the winner of this bout has his spot set for the next bantamweight tournament. Mann will most certainly be one of the favorites to win it all, but he’ll have to get past the young Brazilian across the cage on Thursday night. Mann has excellent striking and that will most likely be his game plan against Lima. Coming off a loss, Mann will have his hands full against Lima.
Lima will also be looking to get back in the win column after dropping a unanimous decision to Hiroshi Nakamura in his Bellator debut. He was undefeated prior to that loss to Nakamura, only going to the judges three times during that stretch. Like Marcin Held in the lightweight division, Lima is only 21 years old with an immense amount of potential to refine his skills with Bellator, particularly in the talent-laden bantamweight division. A win over Mann could propel him to greater heights in next season’s bantamweight tournament. All but one of Lima’s submission wins came by way of the choke, but before he can lock in that submission, he must take the fight to ground, which is where he’ll excel. Mann’s previous losses were decisions where he was held down for the entire fight; Lima’s game plan should be to implement this same strategy. The common stereotype for English fighters is their lack of a solid wrestling base and truth be told, there’s no need to mess with Mann on the feet, therefore we can expect Lima to control the ground-game and look for a submission.