As much I enjoy Bellator Fighting Championships, going into its summer season series opener I did question why they were beginning their new season with a featherweight tournament? Especially considering they just ended season four with one in the same weight class (145lbs.). However, after watching the four quarterfinal matches in this season's tourney on Saturday night, I now understand why.
Even though featherweight champion Joe Warren still hasn't defended his title against the season four tournament winner Patricio Pitbull, which takes place next month, Bellator wasted no time in stacking the field for their next featherweight title challenger. Someone else who wasted no time in his quest was tournament favorite Ronnie 'Kid Ninja' Mann (pictured at left). Mann (20-2-1, 3 KO's 10 subs) used all of four minutes to handle his business as he TKO'd challenger Adam Schindler.
Schindler (9-2, 6 subs) came into the fight the naturally bigger fighter, having fought his first 10 fights at lightweight (155 lbs.), but it wasn't enough to stop the man known as 'Kid Ninja'. Mann, using superior striking and good takedown defense, was able to counter any offense Schindler tried to muster and eventually caught him with a straight right/left hook combination that dropped his opponent. He then pounced on Schindler with a flurry of hammerfists that rendered Schindler defenseless and unconscious. Mann looks right on point with two successive wins in Bellator.
The second quarterfinal match featured relative, but talented, unknown Jacob Devree (10-2, 3 KO's 4 subs) taking on highly touted Nazareno 'Naza' Malegarie (20-1, 5 KO's 12 subs). Although Devree was game, his relative inexperience at this level was evident against the highly skilled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt from Argentina. Malegarie, whose only loss came in the first round of the season four tournament, came back with a vengeance as he out wrestled and eventually submitted Devree with a slick guillotine choke early in the third round. Malegarie looks like he's on a mission.
Quarterfinal fight number three was another match-up of an early tournament favorite against another talented newcomer as former Sengoku featherweight champion Marlon Sandro (18-2, 7 KO's 3 subs) faced off against fellow Brazilian Genair Da Silva, Jr. (10-4, 6 KO's 1 sub). Sandro, who trains out of the famed Nova Uniao gym in Rio de Janeiro with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, showed his superior world class level as he won a surprising split decision against Da Silva. This fight was the first outside Brazil for Da Silva and that inexperience showed against Sandro who's fought 10 of his 20 fights in Japan. Considering that disparity in experience, Sandro did not look overwhelming in his victory; it remains to be seen if his best is yet to come.
In the fourth and final fight of the night, former lightweight tournament winner Pat Curran (14-4, 3 KO's 5 subs) took on fellow Bellator veteran Luis 'Baboon' Palomino (16-7, 8 KO's 2 subs). Curran, who was coming off a unanimous decision loss to lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez after coming out of nowhere to win the season three 155lbs. tournament, moved down 1o pounds and he looked stronger than ever. After dropping Palomino with a crisp right hand to the jaw, both fighters went back and forth on the ground. It was there that Curran went for a D'Arce choke and transitioned it beautifully into a Peruvian neck tie submission choke.
With all four favorites winning, the semifinals look to be top notch and exciting. Depending on the match-ups in the next round, if the brackets fall the way I think they will, I am predicting a final that will feature Ronnie Mann against Pat Curran with Mann ultimately winning the tourney. Whatever the match-ups, one thing's for sure, Bellator continues to impress with their tournaments and their matchmaking as their summer season has started with a bang.