Eduardo “Dudu” Dantas has won eight of his last nine bouts. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Bellator MMA will host its second event of Season 10 on Friday, when Bellator 111 goes down from the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla.
The Spike TV-broadcast main card is headlined by a bantamweight title confrontation between reigning champion Eduardo Dantas and Season 7 tournament finalist Anthony Leone and will also feature the opening round of the Season 10 heavyweight tournament.
Here is what to watch for at Bellator 111:
I DREAM OF ‘DUDU’
I know such things are often out of our control, but I simply must see Dantas fight more than once a year.
Yes, I am aware that expressing such a sentiment is both whiny and selfish, but screw it. Dantas is arguably Bellator’s most dynamic talent, and if I have to suffer through Bellator’s less savory aspects, I better get to eat my ice cream sundae at the end of the night, dig? So, young man, no more of this injury business. Walk around in bubble wrap between fights if you have to -- whatever it takes.
In addition to being one of Bellator’s most exciting young fighters, Dantas is also one of its pound-for-pound best, despite suffering a highly publicized setback in the form of a 2012 knockout loss to Tyson Nam under the Shooto Brazil banner. In that fight, “Dudu” hit the ring like a 16-year-old valley dude whose dad just gave him the keys to a brand new Ferrari, and he paid the price for it.
This was not the case in his return to the Bellator cage one year ago, as Dantas deftly dodged the attacks of the dangerous Marcos Galvao. Showing the kind of respect for Galvao’s abilities that he neglected to display against Nam, Dantas scored an efficient, second-round knockout to retain his title.
The Brazilian was then expected to face Summer Series tournament winner Rafael Silva, but he will instead be paired with the man Silva outpointed to earn his title shot. The 25-year-old champion should be a heavy favorite heading into the bout. Can he take care of business against Leone?
KICK OR DIE
I do not know if either Peter Graham or Siala-Mou Siliga has what it takes to win this eight-man heavyweight tournament, but I do know that they are going to take big chunks out of each other in this quarterfinal round.
As far as Bellator heavyweights go, this matchup has plenty of potential, as both of these men are well-regarded for their standup abilities and K-1 kickboxing experience. True, both fighters are likely past their primes, but that will not stop me from enjoying this pairing.
Graham should hold a significant edge in the kicking department on fight night, and he would be wise to use that advantage to keep the powerful punches of “Mighty Mo” away from his face. Which of these veteran strikers will advance to the semifinals?
Just as the previously mentioned quarterfinal should contain no shortage of fireworks, I predict the same will hold true for Lavar Johnson’s meeting with Ryan Martinez.
Johnson has never been one to visit a second round unless he was dragged there kicking and screaming, and that is in large part due to the power he holds in both of his fists. The same could be said for Martinez, though the southpaw’s approach is typically a little more measured than that of the Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran.
Put two power punches in close proximity, and it does not take a rocket scientist to formulate a hypothesis as to the most likely outcome. Look for somebody to hit the deck in the first five minutes when Johnson and Martinez collide.
Can Alexander Volkov take his first step toward regaining Bellator’s heavyweight crown or will Mark Holata put the Russian’s aspirations on ice?
Volkov will no doubt walk in as the favorite in this tournament quarterfinal, given that he is longer, faster and more technical than the burly-but-raw Holata. Even so, if “The Machine” can work his way inside, he could rough up the wiry “Drago” with some hard shots; and if he can score a takedown, Holata is also capable of doing real damage with ground-and-pound from top position.
However, if Volkov uses his length appropriately, I think he should have a fairly easy time advancing to the Round of 4. The bigger question, in my mind, involves whether Volkov has gotten significantly better since his knockout loss to Vitaly Minakov in November.
THE BULGARIAN PHOENIX
If you were unaware, Blagoi Ivanov should already go down as one of the most miraculous comeback stories in the history of MMA.
A little more than three years after taking Fedor Emelianenko’s combat sambo world title in 2008, Ivanov was stabbed under the arm while reportedly attending a party in his home country of Bulgaria. The blade actually penetrated the heavyweight’s heart, and he was immediately admitted to the hospital in serious condition.
After a three-month recovery, Ivanov was released from the hospital and made his return to the cage in September, scoring a first-round submission of Manny Lara before doing the same to Keith Bell two months later. Ivanov still clearly possesses the power and talent to handle any heavyweight in Bellator, but I nevertheless hold reservations about his conditioning if his fight with Richard Hale goes beyond the opening five minutes.
Will Ivanov’s incredible comeback story continue or will Hale hand the Bulgarian his first loss?