With only two weeks left on the schedule, Bellator’s season 8 tournaments are starting to reach their climax. This Thursday’s card from Tampa, Florida exemplifies that perfectly, as it is headlined by a pair of tournament finales in the lightweight and light heavyweight divisions. At 155, David Rickels looks to extend his Bellator record to 8-1 and put himself in line for a title shot against the winner of the yet to be announced Michael Chandler/Dave Jansen fight. Rickels – who has taken the maximum 30 minutes of fight time to get to the finals – will be taking on Saad Awad, who breezed through his first two tournament fights in a combined 74 seconds with a couple of quick knockouts.
The other tournament final features the two men who beat the fighters Bellator likely wanted to see in this bout. Emanuel Newton was the biggest underdog in MMA to win this year, when he hit Mo Lawal’s off-switch with a perfectly placed spinning back fist in the semifinals. His foe, Mikhail Zayats, did his work a little bit earlier in the tournament as he dispatched Renato Sobral in the first round via TKO. Newton and Zayats are both quality fighters, but in terms of having big names on TV you can bet that Bellator was hoping Lawal and Sobral would be in the finals instead.
MMA Oddsmaker Nick Kalikas released the lines for this card today over at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Take a look:
David Rickels -265 Saad Awad +185
Emanuel Newton -210 Mikhail Zayats +160
Luis Melo -165 Trey Houston +122
Ronnie Mann -210 Rodrigo Lima +160
Brad’s Analysis: Although Awad does have those two quick knockouts to his credit, we’re still yet to see him pushed in any of his Bellator bouts. In fact, throughout Awad’s career he is 12-1 in fights that end in the first round and just 2-3 in fights going past the first five minutes. Rickels has the type of grinding style that should be able to take over late in this fight, if he’s able to survive that long. One concern about Rickels is that this will be his third fight since January 31st, and fourth since November 30th of last year, and all have gone to decision. That kind of torrid schedule can cause a decline in fighter performance. ‘The Caveman’ is yet to show any ill effects of his recent activity, but one slip up against Awad could have him staring up the Sun Dome’s lights on Thursday night. Oddsmakers do give Rickels the edge here, but that will serve as no deterrent to Awad, who was a large underdog in each of his previous tournament bouts.
Many thought that Newton deserved to beat Attila Vegh in their tournament semifinal last year, and now that Vegh holds the Bellator light heavyweight title, Newton certainly has his eyes on a rematch. Before he gets there, he must get past Mikhail Zayats, another of the Rusfighter team who has been taking over Bellator of late. Both fighters have shown well-rounded skills throughout their careers and in this tournament in particular, with each winning one fight by T/KO and one fight by submission to reach the finals. The edge on the books goes to Newton based on being the more durable of the two fighters and the fact that he will have more public backing coming off of the huge win over Lawal.
Trey Houston seemed to be on the fast track to a Bellator tournament with his 10-0 record and exciting fighting style, but that came crashing to a halt when he was stopped in the first round by Billy Horne back in October. Houston now looks to rebound against veteran Luis Melo who sports 42 career fights and a current five-fight winning streak on the Brazilian regional scene. Melo has been stopped by punches in his last two losses however, and Houston has shown the ability to end fights quickly with his power, so this could be a way for the Oklahoma native to get back on track. Melo’s recent string of success is enough to make him the favorite heading into this bout, but it’s close.
First on the main card is Ronnie Mann making his return after a year long absence from the Bellator cage, and making his debut at bantamweight. Mann was one of the more heralded featherweight prospects in MMA when he fought in Sengoku’s featherweight grand prix in 2009 and subsequently moved over to Bellator, but losses in two of his past three fights convinced him to drop an extra 10 pounds. His foe here will be Rodrigo Lima, who has also been out of action for nearly a year following his close decision loss in the opening round of last year’s bantamweight tournament. The Team Nogueria product is still just 21 and has a ton of potential to go along with his exciting and aggressive style, so this fight should go a long way to earning the winner a shot in the next Bellator 135lb tournament. Mann’s size and experience make him the slight favorite here, although this being his first time fighting at 135 mitigates some of those advantages, as it will bring some unknowns into the cage as well.
The main card of Bellator 94 can be seen on Spike TV, while the prelims – which feature notable fighters like Jessica Aguilar, Felice Herrig and Bruno Carvalho – will be streamed on Spike.com.
Brad began following MMA closely in 2004, and started writing about the sport in 2008. Since then he has contributed to websites like Sportsnet.ca, but now primarily writes and edits for MMAOddsbreaker.com. You can also follow Brad’s personal MMA bets on his website.