Joe Warren will try to become Bellator’s first two-division champion. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Quick, name the Bellator Fighting Championships bantamweight titleholder.
Perhaps no major mixed martial arts champion flies under the radar quite as much as Zach Makovsky, a 5-foot-4 dynamo who has quietly emerged as one of the premier 135-pound fighters on the planet. A winner in seven consecutive fights, the 28-year-old Philadelphian won Bellator’s Season 3 bantamweight tournament with decision victories over Nick Mamalis, Bryan Goldsby and Ed West.
Now, Makovsky finds himself in the catbird seat, as he awaits his first challenger. That man will arise from a group of eight fighters who will enter the promotion’s Season 5 bantamweight tournament, which kicks off at Bellator 51 on Saturday at the Canton Civic Center in Canton, Ohio.
Replete with interesting storylines, tournament drama and compelling talent, here is what to watch for at Bellator 51:
Joe Warren, who captured Bellator’s 145-pound crown a year ago, will try to follow in the footsteps of B.J. Penn, Randy Couture and Dan Henderson and become a two-division titleholder. In a short time, the 2006 Greco-Roman wrestling world champion has made himself one of MMA’s more polarizing figures with his gift of gab and overwhelming self-confidence. Warren has tasted defeat only once since transitioning to mixed martial arts, and he has shown an incredible ability to absorb and recover from punishment. His road to 135-pound gold will not be an easy one, and it begins with an opponent with world-class wrestling credentials of his own.
Alexis Vila reached the pinnacle of the freestyle wrestling world more than a decade ago, when he competed at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and left with a gold medal draped around his neck. At 40 years old, the Cuban import’s margin for error is woefully slim. So far, Vila has had no issues with the transition to MMA. He has opened his career with nine consecutive victories, eight of them finishes. The American Top Team representative will enter the bantamweight draw as one of its more intriguing participants, as he has yet to be tested against top-flight competition. That figures to change when he collides with Warren in a blockbuster quarterfinal.
The Brazil-based Nova Uniao camp has emerged as a hotbed for MMA talent, spawning, among others, reigning UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Eduardo “Dudu” Dantas has all the tools to become its
The Shooto South American champion will enter his stateside debut on the strength of a three-fight winning streak. He suffered the only legitimate defeat on his ledger in 2009, when he dropped a close unanimous decision to Japanese ace Masakatsu Ueda. At 22, many view Dantas as the top bantamweight prospect in the sport. That hype will soon be put to the test. An aggressive and dynamic striker, he has proven vulnerable to takedowns during his 12-fight career -- a weakness that could cost him in a tournament featuring more than one world-class wrestler. Dantas will lock horns with Wilson Reis, a three-time 145-pound semifinalist, in one of four quarterfinal matchups.
A Return to Prominence
In March 2007, Chase Beebe was on top of his world, having captured the WEC bantamweight championship against Eddie Wineland. A successful title defense against Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Rani Yahya followed, and the sky seemed to be the limit for Beebe. Then came his ill-fated encounter with Miguel Torres, who submitted him with a modified guillotine choke at WEC 32. The defeat resulted in an all-out tailspin: five consecutive defeats, including a split decision loss to Mike Easton that was panned as one of the sport’s worst of 2009. Some wondered if Beebe had it in him to recapture the magic that made him a champion. Now based at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M., he has won seven of his past eight fights, including five in a row. More importantly, Beebe has finished six of those victories inside the first round. He faces two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion and fellow WEC veteran Marcos Galvao in his 135-pound quarterfinal.
Luis Alberto Nogueira submitted to a second-round armbar from Dantas in November 2008. Now, nearly three years later, he may get his shot at revenge, provided both men can advance in Bellator’s bantamweight tournament. A member of Brazil’s most prominent luta livre camp, Renovacao Fight Team, and a protégé of Marcio Barbosa, Nogueira is well-rounded, but, as one might expect, he wields the kind of choke and leg lock attacks that define luta livre’s greats. The once-beaten 26-year-old draws one of the more difficult opening-round assignments in West, who reached the Season 3 final and took Makovsky all five rounds in defeat.