Marlon Sandro (right) and Pat Curran (left) will collide Saturday at Bellator 48. | Photo: Al Quintero
Bellator Fighting Championships ties the bow on its 2011 Summer Series with Bellator 48 on Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
The event -- which will air at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV2 -- features the 145-pound tournament final pitting reigning featherweight King of Pancrase Marlon Sandro against the fast-rising and ever-improving Pat Curran. In addition, the spotlight will shine down upon current Bellator heavyweight kingpin Cole Konrad, Xtreme Couture MMA prospect Nik Fekete and resurgent former UFC heavyweight titleholder Ricco Rodriguez.
Chock full of interesting storylines and compelling talent, here is what to watch for at Bellator 48:
From Finisher to Distance Fighter
Sandro entered Bellator as equal parts hype and substance. The 34-year-old Nova Uniao representative won his quarterfinal and semifinal bouts by decision and, in doing so, looked nothing like the savage finisher who sent three opponents out of the ring on a stretcher between May 2009 and June 2010. Wins are wins, but finishes, especially those of the violent variety, make one memorable and marketable on this side of the Pacific. Sandro has actually gone the distance in each of his last three fights dating back to his loss to Hatsu Hioki, the man who took the Sengoku featherweight title from him eight months ago in Japan. Bellator undoubtedly thirsts for the Sandro who laid out Nick Denis, Tomonari Kanomata and Masanori Kanehara in 66 seconds combined to resurface. That will be no easy task against his Bellator 48 foe, as Curran has never been knocked out and went five full rounds with lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in April.
A Shot at History
The 23-year-old Curran has a chance to make a little history here and become the first fighter to win Bellator tournaments at two different weight classes. He won the Season 2 lightweight draw in 2010 and has now returned to his more natural weight of 145 pounds. Wins over Luis Palomino and Ronnie Mann paved his way to the Summer Series featherweight final, further entrenching his position as one of the sport’s premier young fighters. Unlike his better-known cousin, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and former WEC title contender Jeff Curran, he has made his name, in part, on effective and deft counterpunching. The younger Curran has posted six wins in his last seven outings, including an upset over Roger Huerta at Bellator 17 in May 2010. Now, he has the chance to eliminate another pre-tournament favorite, Sandro, this time for the right to challenge mouthy Bellator featherweight champion Joe Warren.
No Brain Freezes for ‘The Polar Bear’
Like so many of the high-level wrestlers of his generation, Konrad finds himself on the fast track to stardom. Unbeaten through seven professional outings, he has made no apologies for the wrestle-heavy approach he carries with him into the cage. In this age of the booing bloodthirsty fan who would seek to do away with certain aspects of the “mixed” in mixed martial arts, Konrad’s stance represents a breath of fresh air for purists. He can only be described as a wrestler who leans heavily on his base in order to achieve victory, sometimes at the expense of entertainment. A longtime training partner of former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, the 27-year-old Appelton, Wis., native has transitioned beautifully to the submission side of the sport. However, his striking remains a rudimentary work in progress. Konrad, a four-time NCAA All-American and two-time national champion wrestler at the University of Minnesota, faces the well-traveled Paul Buentello in a non-title super fight at Bellator 48. Most foresee the 6-foot-5, 265-pound champion dominating with takedowns and positional control unless, for some reason, he decides to stand and trade with “The
Headhunter.” In that scenario, all bets are off.
There was a time not all that long ago when Rodriguez was one of the best heavyweights in the world. The man who once elbowed UFC hall of famer Randy Couture into submission, shattering his orbital bone in the process, was a force to be reckoned with. However, battles with substance abuse, legal woes and issues with weight have largely dimmed his once considerable potential. Still, the 33-year-old is in the midst of a renaissance, having rattled off 12 consecutive victories -- the longest such streak of his career. Rodriguez may never again recapture the magic that made him a UFC champion, but the 1998 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist remains a handful on the ground. That will likely come into play against his Bellator 48 opponent, Seth Petruzelli, a fighter forever identified as the man who felled the myth that was Kimbo Slice. He will have his work cut out for him against Rodriguez, who has not been finished since he surrendered the UFC heavyweight crown to Tim Sylvia in 2003, 42 fights ago.
All-American on the Rebound
When Fekete entered Bellator’s Season 4 light heavyweight tournament, many viewed him as a dark horse, considering his extensive wrestling background: he was an NCAA All-American at Michigan State University and had worked at length with the United States Olympic team. Training out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas only raised his profile once his attention turned to MMA. Fekete entered his promotional debut at Bellator 38 as an undefeated prospect and left it as a victim, undone by a spectacular inverted triangle choke submission from Richard Hale that rendered him unconscious. Hale went on to the 205-pound final. Fekete has not fought since. Now, he returns to face Mark Griffin in what figures to be a far more manageable fight with far less danger attached.