Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bellator review/UFC preview


One ends and another begins; it's not just the cycle of life, but the cycle of MMA as well. With the completion of Bellator's fourth season we are also on the cusp of UFC 130 in Las Vegas, where I'll be in just a few days taking in all the festivities. However, before then, I'll take a quick look back on this season's Bellator highlights and preview next weekend's big fights.

Bellator Fighting Championships mantra, "where title shots are earned, not given," was never more evident than this past Saturday night when their first ever light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion was crowned. Known for creating new MMA stars by giving relative unknowns an opportunity in their tournaments, Bellator appears to have found just that in Christian M'Pumbu (18-3-1, 7 KO's 8 subs). The French fighter, by way of the Democratic Republic of Congo, became the first African born champion in any major MMA organization Saturday night the same way he got to the finals, by TKO.

M'Pumbu (pictured above), AKA known as 'Tonton', hits like a "ton" of bricks as he knocked out all three of his opponents in Bellator's first ever light-heavyweight tournament to become champion; pretty impressive considering he literally walks around no higher than 200 lbs. Other tournament winners this season who've earned title shots in their respective divisions include Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire who will get a chance to avenge his only loss next season when he faces off against featherweight (145 lbs.) champ Joe Warren.

Another future star in the making, former All-American wrestler Michael Chandler, punched his ticket, (no pun intended), to the lightweight (155 lbs.) championship against one of the sports best in champion Eddie Alvarez. Finally, in the welterweight (170 lbs.) tournament, it was an early "thoroughbred" veteran favorite, Jay Hieron, who came out on top with an opportunity at a world title against current champ Ben Askren. With season four, the first on MTV2, another successful one and with the above listed title fights on tap along with more tournaments in store, season five in Bellator looks like it will be even bigger and better.

Looking towards next weekend, the UFC comes back to its home base in Vegas, with UFC 130 and another big card, literally. Oddly enough, it would've been even bigger had it not been for the loss of two little guys. The original main event, the lightweight championship and third fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard had to be scratched because of injuries to both during training. That bumps a light-heavyweight contender bout to the main event and a huge, in more ways than one, heavyweight fight to co-main status.

Former light-heavyweight champ Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (31-8, 14 KO's 7 subs) steps back into the octagon for the first time in six months since his split decision win against Lyoto Machida, to take on former 'Ultimate Fighter' alum, Matt' The Hammer' Hamill (10-2, 6 KO's). Hamill, the former three-time division-three national wrestling champion, is riding a five-fight winning streak and while it may not be the popular opinion, I expect him to do the same here. Rampage, who packs the power to put anyone to sleep with one punch, has not shown a willingness to expand his game and that will be his downfall here.

Rashad Evans, also a former collegiate wrestler, showed the formula exactly one year ago, on how to use wrestling to defeat Jackson and I believe Hamill will employ more of the same. Unless Rampage has worked on his wrestling and takedown defense, I see Hamill with an improved stand-up game, avoiding the big shot and taking one of his own, literally, over and over again to grind out a decision. If that happens, Hamill will be right on course to eventually meet up with current champ Jon 'Bones' Jones, who Jones was handling quite easily before losing via disqualification for illegal elbow strikes.

In the co-main event, it's a "huge" Vegas showdown when former heavyweight champion Frank Mir (14-5, 3 KO's 8 subs) takes on the man known as 'Big Country', Roy Nelson (15-5, 8 KO's, 5 subs). While both are big men, usually coming in right under the 265 lbs. limit, they are both agile and mobile in their fighting styles. Mir, who stands 6'4", looks more proportionate for the weight class, while Nelson at 6 foot even, looks like someone who you'd typically see at the end of the bar on a Friday afternoon. However, don't let that fool you; Nelson is a skilled fighter who knows exactly how to use his weight.

Mir knows this all too well as he lost to Nelson in a Jiu-Jitsu tournament a few years back. Both are high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts with very heavy hands, thus making this a very intriguing match-up that can go either way. Therefore, my decision is being made solely on the one factor I see separating the two, heart. While Mir has stepped in to the cage 19 times and has faced the best the division has to offer, for some reason, I've always felt he's lacked something emotionally. Not sure what it is, but it's there and it's something I know Nelson has, which is why I'll pick him to defeat Mir via TKO.

One punch by Mir can end this whole discussion and make me look bad, but that is what makes this sport so great. It is also why I'll be in Vegas this week to catch all the action live when it goes down. Hopefully, it will live up to the hype I've predicted, but if not I'll be in Sin City, so I'll have fun regardless. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I'll be back next week to tell you all about it; the fights that is.

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