Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bellator 63: Finally time to shine

The first three weeks of Bellator's sixth season hasn't been easy for the organization. A move to Friday nights had forced them to deal with opposition such as the NCAA Tournament and the start of 'The Ultimate Fighter's' new season, which also moved to Fridays. I readily admit, other than commercial breaks during March Madness and TUF, I didn't catch much live Bellator action the last couple of weeks myself.

However, this past Friday night the setting was different. With the basketball down to the Final Four on Saturday and TUF not beginning till 10PM, Bellator had the stage to themselves. It was finally their time to shine and they made most of the opportunity. With the quarterfinals of the season six welterweight (170 lbs.) tournament, Bellator 63 gave us not just four, but five exciting fights on the telecast.

Back at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT, the night started with a pre-tourney favorite in former UFC veteran Ben 'Killa B' Saunders (13-4 6 KO's 5 subs). A finalist in last year's tournament, Saunders won a very entertaining unanimous decision over previously undefeated, but untested, Raul 'Smash Mode' Amaya (9-1, 4 KO's 5 subs). Amaya may have been in smash mode, but the experience and five inches he gave up to Saunders was too much to overcome as the 'Killa B' put it on him both standing and on the ground.

To Amaya's credit, how he survived Saunder's onslaught of punches, knees and constant submission attempts is simply a testament of his heart and will. He was so determined that he even had his own moments throughout the three rounds. However, in the end it was Saunders making his way to the next round. Up next, it was Jordan 'Mata Ele' Smith (17-3, 7 KO's 7 subs) versus David 'The Caveman' Rickels (10-0, 2 KO's 6 subs).

Smith, a last minute replacement for Brian Foster, was ecstatic to finally be on the big show. His confidence wasn't lacking either as he boldly stated that regardless of his experience he felt he was a favorite in this tourney. Unfortunately, he forgot to tell Rickels as 'The Caveman' clubbed him upside his head a few times with some punches and ended his run in 22 seconds of the first round. Smith contested the referee's stoppage, but there was no dispute as he was clearly out on his way to the canvas.

Rickel's meanwhile must be vying for a Geico sponsorship because in his post fight interview with Jimmy Smith, when he was asked about his performance, his response was, "It was so easy a caveman can do it." Apparently somebody needed to tell the participant's of the next quarterfinal, Bryan 'The Beast' Baker (17-3, 8 KO's 3 subs) and Carlos Alexandre Pereira (33-10, 22 KO's 5 subs). Their fight lasted all three rounds and ended up in a very close split decision.

Baker, a former finalist in Bellator's middleweight tournament, was making his debut at 170 lbs. and it showed as the normally explosive 'Beast' started out fast, but faded just as quickly as the fight progressed; no doubt results from cutting the extra 15 pounds from middleweight to welterweight. Pereira meanwhile, came in with a reputation of heavy hands, but when it was all said and done, it was Baker winning a razor thin lackluster split decision.

However, give Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney credit for knowing how to schedule the order of the fights, because the night capper clearly stole the show. That is because the combatants Chris 'The Cleveland Assassin' Lozano (9-3, 7 KO's 1 sub) and Karl 'Psycho' Amoussou (14-4, 4 KO's 8 subs) clearly had no love for each other. At the weigh-in the day before, Rebney himself had to step in between the two as they had a heated head to head exchange.

Before last night's fight, referee Dan Miragliotta had to do the same as Lozano especially appeared fired up before the bell; notice I said before the bell. Once the fight started, reality set in and Lozano, for all his jawing, was tentative in his approach as the two circled and fainted for a minute and a half before anything happened. However, once it did happen, it happened fast and furious.

After a brief exchange where Amoussou connected with a left round kick to the face (pictured above), Lozano shot in and took the Frenchman down. Amoussou quickly pulled guard and Lozano made a major mistake as his posture was too high in that guard and allowed the 'Psycho' to pull of a swift and beautiful sweep. All of sudden it's Amoussou on top in mounted position and eventually on Lozano's back.

Showing a well rounded game, Amoussou sunk in a rear naked choke, tightened it up and just two minutes into the first round forced Lozano to tap. While the semifinal pairings have not been set, I hope Saunders and Amoussou find themselves on opposite ends of the bracket as those two appear to be the clear cut favorites. I'm no matchmaker, but I think a final between them would be dynamite and would just give Bellator more time to shine.

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