Thursday nights in May mean Bellator Fighting Championships, hopefully on my TV and the TVs of all the other fight junkies out there.
Bellator 18 from the Monroe Civic Center in Monroe, La., will serve as the tastiest three-piece of violence yet from this season of the nascent promotion.
The lineup is headlined by maul-master middleweight champion Hector Lombard taking on up-and-comer Jay Silva in a non-title affair and backed up by the semifinals of the featherweight contenders tournament. Clearly, all fight heads have their Thursday night on lockdown, and you should, too.
Whittle down the time from now until the opening bell with a grown-man breakdown of the fistic buffet.
Middleweight Non-Title Bout
Hector Lombard vs. Jay Silva
The Breakdown: Thanks to Paulo Filho’s ongoing magical mystery tour, Silva comes in on all of a few days notice to take on Lombard, the reigning Bellator middleweight champion. Although the fight is a non-title affair, this undoubtedly represents the biggest opportunity of Silva’s career and perhaps his best chance to erase the memory of a disappointing 0-2 run in the UFC.
Lombard may be inconsistent, but his game is nasty and he has a wealth of big-fight experience, which Silva clearly lacks. Silva has made the same mistake here that he made signing with the UFC so early in his career; he has taken a fight he should have passed on. Opportunity can be a wonderful thing, but an opportunity with minimal hope of success looks more like a trap than anything.
Lombard’s world-class Judo skills will allow him to control where the fight goes, and he has proven the stronger of the two, whether they stand or hit the mat. A heavy hitter on the feet and the floor, Lombard has long been a top control tank, and his game is a unique synthesis of brute physicality and learned technique. Silva, meanwhile, is an athletically gifted striker who lacks some basic technique and the necessary takedown defense.
Chris Leben handled Silva on the mat, so it is hard to envision him avoiding a similar fate against Lombard, whose opponents often look as if they lost a fight with a chainsaw.
The Bottom Line: One has to feel bad for Silva, who remains a quality prospect. Lombard will not have much in the way of sympathy here, however, and the end game will come in a brutal technical knockout win for Cuba’s prized MMA export.
Featherweight Tournament Semifinals
Joe Warren vs. Georgi Karakhanyan
The Breakdown: The whole world is waiting on Warren to cash in his golden ticket and turn into a full-fledged face-smasher. Problem is, Warren doesn’t seem as interested as everyone else. Not a good sign considering Karakhanyan’s only disadvantage in this fight is his wrestling.
It’s a well-known fact that Warren can take down an apartment building, but he’s an undersized featherweight who seems more interested in reigniting his amateur wrestling career than becoming a real mixed martial artist. Submission defense, conditioning and striking technique are all obvious holes in his game, and Karakhanyan is a versatile offensive fighter as well as the bigger man. The story remains the same for Warren: He has to lean on his wrestling and toughness to gut out a win.
That combination served Warren well early on in his career, but he seems to have regressed since his stunning wins over Chase Beebe and Norifumi Yamamoto. Karakhanyan, meanwhile, is coming into his own and has both the striking and submissions to render Warren’s assumed wrestling advantage all but irrelevant.
While there is no arguing that Warren could run Karakhanyan through the meat grinder, he needs to execute that strategy to perfection for 15 full minutes.
The Bottom Line: Trying to bull around a bigger man is hard enough as is. Throw in Karakhanyan’s striking and submissions, and suddenly the task seems Sisyphean. Warren is going to learn that this isn’t 1998 much sooner than later, and Karakhanyan seems perfectly suited to lead the lecture. Much as in his fight with Bibiano Fernandes, watch for Warren to get caught in a submission before he can flex his supersonic shot.
Featherweight Tournament Semifinals
Patricio Freire vs. Wilson Reis
The Breakdown: All the Brazilian jiu-jitsu fanboys out there have reason to rejoice because Reis and Freire are going to put on a straight-up clinic on the intricacies of the mat. Who exactly has the edge is a worthy topic of debate. Reis’ slick half-guard game and Freire’s frenetic scrambling style make for a unique and likely entertaining mash-up.
The key for Reis will be to avoid Freire’s power striking style and suck him to the mat so he can get Freire on the defensive with sweeps and submissions. That approach has served Reis well thus far, but his half-guard dynamism will only create the scrambles Freire thrives on. Unless Reis can hit that perfect sequence on the mat, he’ll be playing into Freire’s game and there aren’t many featherweights around who are going to come out the better after rolling around with “Pitbull.”
Generic nicknames aside, Freire is the more versatile fighter anywhere this fight goes. Reis only knows two notes -- top-control passivity or half-guard trickery. The first likely won’t work against Freire and the second only gives Freire the fight he wants. Not the best of choices for Reis.
The Bottom Line: Going into this tournament, Freire was regarded as something of a wild card, but his performance in the opening round against William Romero was an eye-opening experience for his doubters. Reis will certainly keep things interesting, but it’s a matter of time before Freire puts fist to face and adds the extra dimension to this fight that will swing it in his favor.
This item was updated at 5:20 p.m. ET to update the main event preview.