UFC veteran Roger Huerta will meet the undefeated Chad Hinton in the opening round of the 2010 Bellator Fighting Championships lightweight tournament on April 8 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
The promotion last week announced the schedule for the first round of the eight-man draw, the winner of which will receive a crack at reigning Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez.
“As an MMA fan, I can’t wait to see these fights,” Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney said in a release. “There’s been great buzz about our 155 division, and it’s definitely warranted. This is a very well-rounded field, and each of these fighters is very dangerous.”
Huerta has not competed since he lost a unanimous decision to the world-ranked Gray Maynard at UFC Fight Night 19 in September. Still only 26, Huerta has delivered more than half (11) of his 20 career victories by knockout or technical knockout. His list of victims includes UFC veterans Clay Guida, Matt Wiman, Brad Blackburn and Naoyuki Kotani, along with former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Alberto Crain. Huerta has not been finished in nearly six years but will carry a two-fight losing streak into the Bellator tournament.
Far from the prototypical prospect, Hinton last appeared in October, when he knocked out Justin Moore in 2:11 at an Intimidation Cagefighting Event. The 38-year-old Ohioan, perfect in six professional appearances, also holds an April 2009 knockout against UFC and EliteXC veteran Jeff Cox. However, he will enter his match with Huerta, the tournament favorite, as a prohibitive underdog.
Another tournament matchup pairing Janne Tulirita with Carey Vanier will join the Huerta-Hinton showdown at the April 8 event.
The Finland-based Tulirinta will carry a four-fight winning streak into the bout. The 30-year-old has done much of his damage on the M-1 Challenge circuit, where he has won six of seven fights, an 11-second KO against Anthony Ford included.
A collegiate All-American wrestler who trains under famed mixed martial arts trainer Greg Jackson at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M., Vanier will ride a six-fight winning streak into the matchup. A Minnesota native, the 28-year-old last competed in October, when he stopped Paul Mann on second-round strikes at a Shogun Fights show. Vanier has finished five of his last six opponents.
The eight-man lightweight tournament will pick up again on April 15 at the Chicago Theatre in Chicago, as Pat Curran collides with unbeaten Canadian Mike Ricci.
Curran, who will make his promotional debut on April 15 in Chicago, has won three of his last four fights. The 22-year-old Adrenaline MMA veteran last appeared in February, when he earned a unanimous decision over Robbie Olivier at a Trojan MMA event in England. The cousin of UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Jeff Curran, he debuted in 2008 with a submission victory against former King of the Cage champion Tony Hervey. Curran has been finished only once in a dozen fights as a professional.
Ricci, 23, trains alongside UFC welterweight king Georges St. Pierre and middleweight contender Patrick Cote at the Tristar Gym in Montreal. A protégé of Firas Zahabi, he has not fought since November, when he outpointed Jordan Mein en route to a unanimous decision. Perfect through five professional bouts, Ricci finished his first four opponents inside the TKO, XMMA and Ringside MMA promotions.
The opening round of the tournament will conclude on April 22, when Season 1 finalist Toby Imada squares off with 2000 Olympian Ferrid Kheder at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
Imada defeated American Top Team’s Jorge Masvidal in the 2009 Bellator lightweight tournament semi-finals with a standing inverted triangle choke. It became an overnight YouTube sensation, and more than 650,000 people have viewed it online. Imada went on to face Alvarez in the final, where he succumbed to a rear-naked choke. The 31-year-old has posted nine wins in 10 fights. He knocked out Daisuke Hanazawa at King of the Cage “Toryumon” two months ago in Japan.
Kheder, a 34-year-old world-class judoka, trains under Shawn Tompkins in Las Vegas and has won 11 of his last 12 fights. He was a 13-time national judo champion in his native France. An M-1 Global, Sportfight and Jungle Fight veteran, Kheder, a third-degree judo black belt and Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, has rattled off three consecutive victories since his August decision loss to Daisuke Nakamura. All five of his defeats have come by decision.