Attila Vegh (Pictured) and Emanuel Newton are set to meet again. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Bellator MMA is back for another week of Viacom-sponsored violence on Spike TV, undoubtedly broadcast specifically to gain control over the weak-minded among you.
Do not fear, loyal readers, for I will once again serve as your wilderness survival expert, using my razor-sharp brain machete to hack through the promotional brush and point you toward crystal-clear streams of caged excitement and delicious harvests of unapologetic fisticuffs. Also, I can kill and roast a wild pig for you if you ask politely. That part is not a metaphor.
Here is what to watch for at Bellator 113, which goes down Friday from the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kan.
TWO GUYS, ONE BELT
Based on the recent performances of Emanuel Newton and Attila Vegh, this light heavyweight title unification rematch is kind of a tough sell, despite the relatively high stakes.
While I refuse to grab a soapbox and start singing the praises of Bellator’s two heaviest weight classes, I will say that you would have to be willfully ignorant to argue that those divisions have not improved over the last year. As a result, Newton and Vegh are fighting to unify a title that will likely continue to gain legitimacy if Bellator carries on in its trend of seeking out new talent. On the whole, light heavyweight is not what it once was, and the winner of this rematch could easily find himself moving up the ladder in Sherdog’s top 10.
Between them, Newton holds the most recent finish, as “The Hardcore Kid” famously dropped heavy favorite Muhammed Lawal in the Season 8 semifinals last year. After edging Mikhail Zayats in the final, Newton proved his win over “King Mo” was no fluke in November by taking a unanimous decision from the onetime Strikeforce king to win the interim title. Meanwhile, Vegh knocked out Travis Wiuff in just 25 seconds to win the 2012 Summer Series after outpointing Newton in the semifinals. Next came an unspectacular but effective performance against Christian M’Pumbu to win the Bellator championship one year ago, but the Slovakian has been out of action ever since.
Can Newton avenge his defeat and claim the undisputed title or will Vegh push him to the back of the line?
‘PITBULL’ VS. ‘THE CAVEMAN’
There is a lot to like about David Rickels’ lightweight quarterfinal pairing with Patricky Freire.
Freire is arguably Bellator’s best-known lightweight not named Eddie Alvarez or Michael Chandler, but he has struggled in recent days, dropping consecutive fights to Lloyd Woodard, Alvarez and prospect Derek Anderson before righting his ship with a unanimous decision win over James Edson Berto in November.
Rickels, meanwhile, saw a four-fight winning streak snapped by Chandler in July, when the former champ viciously knocked out the “Caveman” in just 44 seconds to crush his title hopes. Although Rickels rebounded with a third-round stoppage of J.J. Ambrose, he must now deal with the hard-punching “Pitbull.”
I think the longer this contest goes, the more it favors Rickels, who has shown the ability to grind out opponents while retaining plenty of fuel for round three. By contrast, Freire’s best round is typically his first, and he is plenty dangerous early in a fight.
Whoever wins this matchup will likely be regarded as the favorite to take the whole enchilada, so you would be unwise to miss it.
While Freire and Rickels will rightfully receive the lion’s share of attention in this eight-man lightweight draw, there nevertheless resides plenty of talent outside of that marquee matchup.
Marcin Held, the adorable Polish prospect who cares little for the health of his opponents’ knee ligaments, is a particularly interesting addition to this bracket. We have seen Held many times before, but he has improved with every fight. His striking and wrestling have become effective weapons for him, and had his cardio not betrayed him after winning his first round with Dave Jansen, the young Pole would probably be in line for a title shot. If Held’s September knockout of Ryan Healy is indicative of where this 22-year-old is headed, we should expect big things from him against Rodrigo Cavalheiro Correira.
In addition to the Polish prodigy, I think Anderson is another fine young talent to keep an eye on. This lanky lightweight put on quite a performance against the aforementioned elder “Pitbull” brother in September, keeping the powerful Freire at bay with long punches and excellent footwork to win the last two rounds and take home scores of 29-28 across the board.
Anderson will now take on Brandon Girtz, who was originally expected to rematch Derek Campos until Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Terry Etim withdrew from his clash with Anderson due to an ACL injury. Like in his fight with Freire, Anderson should look to control the distance against the powerful Minnesotan. While Girtz definitely does not pack the same punching power as “Pitbull,” he could nevertheless present problems for Anderson if he is able to close the gap and take him down.
Just prior to that matchup, “Fight Master: Bellator MMA” alum Tim Welch will make his second tournament appearance, sliding in to replace Etim as the eighth man in the bracket. Still just 23 years old, the Missoula, Mont., product is a strong but green talent who has finished all 10 of his career victims by either knockout or submission. In Campos, he faces a 25-year-old Texan who rides a four-fight winning streak into his third Bellator appearance. With a spot in the Season 10 semis on the line, which of these lightweight prospects will seize the opportunity?