What a difference a year makes? A year ago, Pat Curran (pictured @ left) was a relative unknown when he entered the Bellator season three lightweight (155 lbs.) eight-man tournament and won. Though he lost in his bid against lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, he showed his worth by lasting five rounds with one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world. This year, he appears to be doing the same thing, only this time it's in the featherweight (145 lbs.) division and he's a clear cut favorite.
Curran (15-4, 3 KO's 5 subs) won a unanimous decision last night in the tournament semifinals against highly touted and pre-tourney favorite Ronnie 'Kid Ninja' Mann (20-4-1, 3 KO's 10 subs) in a surprisingly one-sided affair. Always improving on his all-around skills, Curran used his length to keep Mann at bay as he picked him apart with clean and effective striking. A flying knee early on that caught Mann flush, seemed to set the tone for the remainder of the fight.
Mann had some moments in the second and third rounds where he was able to finally attack and reach Curran, eventually getting him to the ground and working some submissions, but in both cases it was within the last seconds of each round. A tight guillotine choke at the end of the second round may have proved to be Curran's undoing had the bell not have saved him, as Mann really had it sunk in deep. Up next for Curran in the tourney final is another stiff test in Brazilian Marlon Sandro.
Sandro (19-2, 7 KO's, 3 subs) won his semifinal against fellow Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Nazareno 'Naza' Malegarie (20-2, 5 KO's 13 subs) via unanimous decision as well. This was a South American Civil War as Malegarie is Argentinean, but the war was fought primarily on the feet for these two renowned grapplers where Sandro clearly had the advantage. While Malegarie took the fight to Sandro, he wasn't able to do much else as Sandro used superior striking and takedown defense to garner the decision.
Curran and Sandro will meet in less than one month, on August 20th, in the tournament finale for the right to meet the winner of the fight between current featherweight champion Joe Warren and last season's tournament winner Patricky 'Pitbull' Freire. Before last night, I had said that I felt the winner of the Mann/Curran semifinal would win the tournament and after last night I feel no different. I am picking Pat Curran to defeat Marlon Sandro next month and this time, eventually winning a world championship when he gets that shot again.
On the undercard, it was a sweet homecoming for London Ontario, Canada native Chris Horodecki (18-3, 7 KO's 3 subs), as he cruised to a unanimous decision victory in his three round affair against game Chris Saunders (9-2, 3 KO's 2 subs). Horodecki a veteran of numerous fights in both the International Fight League (IFL) and World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) used that experience to out wrestle and control Saunders AKA as 'The So-Cal Kid'. Horodecki looks like a great addition to Bellator's growing lightweight (155 lbs.) stable.
The only fireworks of the night came early and quick as huge heavyweights Neil 'Goliath' Grove (11-3-1, 11 KO's) and Zak Jensen (10-7, 6 KO's 4 subs) let it all hangout for exactly two minutes of the first round. While Jensen dropped Grove early with a right hand during an exchange, it was Grove who withstood the storm and eventually got on top of Jensen on the ground. When he got there, he was not going to be denied as he powered shots that included punches, elbows and hammerfists alike, right through Jensen's guard forcing the referee to stop it. Grove is looking towards an eventual rematch against Bellator champion Cole Konrad who defeated him last October in his championship bid.