Can Michael Chandler rebound from his first loss as a pro? | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Well, this is unfortunate.
I had written some nice words about Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler and why the rubber match is such a wonderful and unique event in combat sports, but all that prose is now resting in my figurative trash can.
Alvarez sustained a head injury in training, forcing Bellator MMA officials to pull the lightweight champion from Saturday’s pay-per-view headliner. Instead, Chandler will now lock horns with Will Brooks at Bellator 120, which takes place at the Landers Center in Southaven, Miss.
Brooks has already made his mark with the promotion, rebounding from a knockout at the hands of Saad Awad to avenge the setback and win the Season 9 lightweight tournament. As the lightweight title was expected to be tied up, Brooks elected to stay active against 18-fight pro Nate Jolly, but he will instead rise to meet the greatest challenge of his young career in Bellator’s inaugural pay-to-watch event.
Opposing him will be Chandler, a man whose accomplishments are well-known. Chandler captured the lightweight strap from Alvarez in 2011, defending his belt twice and establishing himself as one of Bellator’s finest pound-for-pound talents before relinquishing the belt to Alvarez in their sublime rematch in November.
On paper, Chandler-Brooks probably will not invoke the same type of anticipation in fans, but that does not mean these two lightweights will fall short of the expectations established by Chandler’s canceled rubber match with Alvarez. Honestly, I would not be shocked if Chandler and Brooks put on a “Fight of the Year” nominee. God knows they both possess the technical and athletic ability to do so.
This interim lightweight title tilt is only one reason to scope Bellator’s pay-per-view debut. Here is what else to watch for at Bellator 120:
LONG TIME COMING
Quinton Jackson and Muhammed Lawal are finally going to lock up.
While this fan-friendly pairing may not amount to what it would have had these light heavyweights battled a few years ago, it is nevertheless still a matchup Bellator is no doubt pleased to promote.
While I am not certain that knockouts of Joey Beltran and Christian M’Pumbu will translate into a completely rejuvenated “Rampage,” I will admit he looked far better in those fights than he did a year or two ago during the end of his Ultimate Fighting Championship run.
Although Lawal’s two losses to Emanuel Newton are black eyes on his Bellator record, it should also be noted that Newton is a crafty fighter who has earned everything he has received. Furthermore, Lawal has bested every other foe he has been booked against since joining the Viacom-owned promotion, looking particularly impressive in his performances against Jacob Noe and Seth Petruzelli.
Which of these former champions will capture the Season 10 tournament crown and earn a crack at Newton’s gold?
‘STORM’ ON THE HORIZON
I refuse to truly commit to the idea that Tito Ortiz is fighting Alexander Shlemenko until the bell rings to start round one. It is not because I lack morbid curiosity about what will happen, but I still approach this matchup as though I am slinking through the woods trying to track a Sasquatch.
Provided injuries do not force Bellator officials to scrap this one, however, I think it could prove to be an entertaining contest. Although Shlemenko -- a small middleweight to begin with -- will give up an enormous amount of size to Ortiz, I give “Storm” the edge in this bout.
Ortiz’s best-case scenario involves taking the Russian to the canvas and elbowing him in the face hundreds of times. If the RusFighters Sport Club patriarch can stay off his back, however, the former UFC champion will likely be in trouble. Shlemenko’s varied standup attack and toughness are second to none, and he will almost certainly hold more gas in his tank than Ortiz if the fight goes to a third round.
This matchup is definitely on the zany side, but I think it is also worth a watch.
Bellator decided to put Michael Page on pay-per-view for a reason, and I like the move.
While Page has not yet been truly tested as a mixed martial artist, I believe he possesses the potential to become one of Bellator’s best.
Page transitioned to MMA from a point karate base, and he is anything but apologetic for it when he steps in the cage. The Brit’s striking style is both deadly and unique, and he might just possess the fastest hands in the welterweight division. Page’s striking is more akin to a cracking whip than a cannon, but his cobra-like strikes have already provided plenty of entertainment for fight fans. Page now meets Ricky Rainey, a man with twice his MMA experience. The Brit has thus far been brought along slowly, and his bout with Rainey should provide a good indication of whether this 27-year-old is deserving of a tournament berth.
BEST OF THE REST
There is much to like about what lies beneath the three main pay-per-view bouts, including the Season 10 tournament final pitting Alexander Volkov against Blagoi Ivanov. Both of these heavyweights are on the verge of completing comeback stories, with Volkov losing his heavyweight title last year and Ivanov nearly losing his life after being stabbed in 2012.
The undercard will also see former UFC talent Cheick Kongo attempt to rebound from a failed title bid against Vitaly Minakov, as the Frenchman takes on seven-fight pro Eric Smith. Additionally, ex-featherweight title challenger Shahbulat Shamhalaev locks horns with Brazilian talent Fabricio de Assis Costa da Silva, while Goiti Yamauchi battles fellow hard-hitting 145-pounder Mike Richman.
The stakes are high in each of these matchups, with several of these competitors hoping to avoid consecutive defeats. Which of them will stop the bleeding and take a step forward?