Dan Hornbuckle will try to grab hold of Bellator’s Season 5 welterweight tournament. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Welterweights return to center stage in Bellator Fighting Championships, as the promotion touches off its fifth season with its latest 170-pound tournament at Bellator 49 on Saturday at the Caesars Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Though he has a title defense looming against Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts representative Jay Hieron, reigning Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren will have a vested interest in the outcome of the eight-man draw.
Bellator 49 -- which will air at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV2 -- will feature all four Season 5 welterweight quarterfinals: Douglas Lima vs. Steve Carl, Dan Hornbuckle vs. Luis Santos, Ben Saunders vs. Chris Cisneros and Brent Weedman vs. Chris Lozano. In addition, Brazilian prospect Alexandre Bezerra will step into the cage for the third time under the Bellator banner, as he vies for a potential piece of the promotion’s next 145-pound tournament pie.
Replete with interesting storylines and compelling talent, here is what to watch for at Bellator 49:
At 23, Lima has emerged as one of the top welterweight prospects in MMA. He makes his Bellator debut on the strength of three impressive performances inside the Maximum Fighting Championship promotion in Canada, where he cut through Ryan Ford, Jesse Juarez and UFC veteran Terry Martin and captured the MFC welterweight crown; he needed only 74 seconds to dispatch Martin. The Atlanta-based Brazilian trains at an American Top Team affiliate and already has 22 professional bouts under his belt, with 16 of his 18 victories coming via knockout, technical knockout or submission. He draws the 26-year-old Steve Carl, who has won nine of his last 10 fights, in the Season 5 Bellator welterweight tournament quarterfinals. In an interesting twist, the Bellator tournament could provide Lima with the chance to avenge one of his four defeats, as Weedman, who submitted him with a second-round armbar in 2008, was also included in the eight-man field.
Hornbuckle won 20 of his first 22 professional fights. He will enter the Season 5 tournament having lost two of his last three. How “The Handler” handles adversity could go a long way towards shaping the remainder of his career. Hornbuckle has already fallen short of the intended mark in two Bellator tournaments, losing to Ben Askren in the Season 2 final and Weedman in the Season 4 quarterfinals. His path to Season 5 glory begins with the vastly experienced Santos, winner of 49 bouts. The Brazilian WEC veteran strikes well from a distance and has a nose for the finish, as evidenced by his 26 knockouts and 10 submissions. Santos poses an interesting style matchup for the lean, lanky and well-rounded Hornbuckle, who raised his profile in 2009 with knockouts over Akihiro Gono and Nick Thompson under the Sengoku Raiden Championship banner in Japan.
Drawing the Finish Line
Weedman has made it clear that he will pursue the finish, even to his own detriment. Might such unabashed aggression come back to haunt him against Lozano, a powerful puncher who has knocked out five foes inside the first round? Weedman went the distance in each of his last two outings -- a victory over Hornbuckle at Bellator 35 and a defeat to Hieron at Bellator 40 -- and has indicated he has no desire to do so again. The Louisville, Ky.-based welterweight has 18 wins on his ledger, 17 of them by knockout, technical knockout or submission. The unanimous decision loss to Hieron, which he disputes, halted his career-best 10-fight winning streak and interrupted the momentum he had worked tirelessly to achieve. Lozano will be no pushover. The once-beaten 28-year-old holds wins over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 9 alum Jason Dent and UFC veteran Yoshiyuki Yoshida.
A Brazilian on the Rise
Bezerra looks like the real deal. The Brazilian has dazzled in two Bellator appearances and choked Jesse Gross unconscious in less than 90 seconds at Bellator 47 in July. Bezerra, a 23-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, has finished his last five foes in the first round. He suffered his only career defeat in 2009, when he submitted to an anaconda choke from current UFC lightweight Charles Oliveira in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In Scott Heckman, he gets the Locked in the Cage featherweight champion. The 27-year-old trains at the Revolution Academy in Pennsylvania. Only two of Heckman’s 10 fights have reached the judges.
Streaks at Stake
Eight of the 18 fighters on the Bellator 49 roster will enter the cage on winning streaks of three fights or more: Chris Cisneros (seven), Lima (six), Bezerra (five), Brylan VanArtsdalen (five), Giedrius Karavackas (four), Azunna Anyanwu (three), Heckman (three) and Joel Roberts (three). The Hawaiian-based Cisneros, who has not tasted defeat in nearly three years, faces American Top Team representative and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 6 alum Ben Saunders in a welterweight showcase. Saunders has rattled off back-to-back wins since his 2010 release from the UFC.