Bellator Fighting Championships returns with the second installment of its three-part Summer Series, as the promotion touches down with Bellator 72 on Friday at the Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla.
The event features the Season 6 welterweight tournament final between Karl Amoussou and World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Bryan Baker, along with a pair of Summer Series semifinals in the light heavyweight draw: Emanuel Newton vs. Attila Vegh and Travis Wiuff vs. Tim Carpenter. The winner of the Amoussou-Baker showdown will earn a crack at unbeaten Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren.
Amoussou will carry a three-fight winning streak into the cage. The 26-year-old Frenchman advanced to the 170-pound final with a split decision over the previously unbeaten David Rickels at Bellator 69 in May. Amoussou has delivered 12 of his 15 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
A 26-year-old judo black belt, Baker secured his spot in the final with a unanimous nod over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 6 alum Ben Saunders at Bellator 67 in May. Now based at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M., he has recorded 12 wins in his last 14 appearances. All three of Baker’s defeats have come at 185 pounds.
Here are seven questions and answers worth pondering ahead of the event, which airs on MTV 2 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT:
Question: Regardless of who wins the Season 6 tournament final, does Amoussou or Baker have a prayer of actually beating Askren?
Answer: A prayer, yes; a good chance, no. Neither Amoussou nor Baker matches up particularly well with Askren, a relentless wrestler and gifted scrambler with a developing submission game. Few fighters in MMA can execute a game plan as well as the 2008 Olympian, and one would have to favor the man they call “Funky” against either of the two finalists, especially in a five-round fight.
Question: Is Paul Daley here for a paycheck or a title belt? Will he even consistently make 170?
Answer: Only Daley knows what goes on in that head of his. It is hard to believe he was within striking distance of a welterweight title shot in the UFC a little more than two years ago, before an ill-advised after-the-bell cheap shot on Josh Koscheck earned him a pink slip. Daley has fought a constant battle with scale over the years, and that figures to continue inside Bellator. With that said, his signing was a calculated risk for a fledgling promotion, as Daley can interject some excitement into the welterweight division even if he never reaches the top. Perhaps his performance against Rudy Bears will provide some clues as to what his future holds.
Question: Will Newton make a statement and show he has moved beyond potential and is now ready to start winning some big fights?
Answer: Newton has a golden opportunity to make waves, as the 28-year-old Reign MMA representative finds himself in the light heavyweight tournament semifinals against Attila Vegh with some momentum behind him. Newton has won his last six fights, including a Bellator 71 submission against Cesar Gracie protégé Roy Boughton. The now-or-never cliché certainly applies here.
Question: Which Vegh will show up, the guy who smoked Zelg Galesic or the one who went three ugly rounds with Dan Spohn?
Answer: His handlers would probably welcome either one, so long as a victory is involved. Like his opponent, Newton, Vegh will enter the cage on the strength of a six-fight winning streak. However, European fighters generally struggle against foes with a hearty wrestling base. That could spell trouble for the Slovakian against Newton.
Question: Carpenter and Wiuff are definitely on the “boring” side of the bracket, but is either man a sleeper to beat the winner of Vegh-Newton in the finals and earn a title shot?
Answer: Many saw Wiuff as a favorite to win the tournament before it began, and he did nothing to change their view in the quarterfinals with a first-round TKO over Chris Davis. Experience, strong takedowns and a heavy top game should give him an edge against Carpenter, provided he can stay out of harm’s way on the ground. Wiuff would be a definite factor against either Vegh or Newton in the final.
Question: Where does Saunders fit in as a Bellator welterweight? Will he ever win a tournament, or is he now trapped in an unenviable long-term contract?
Answer: Saunders is a solid welterweight with an exciting style who will likely never get over the hump against wrestlers with stout submission defense. Depending on how a hypothetical bracket fell, he could certainly win a tournament and find himself in a championship bout. However, as long as Askren remains under Bellator employ, Saunders will likely find the road to promotional gold blocked.
Question: Will Marius Zaromskis and Waachiim Spiritwolf finally finish their fight?
Answer: Odds are they will not. Too much offense and too little defense means one of them will not see the finish line.