Bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky will compete in a non-title bout at Bellator 54. | Photo: Dave Mandel
The setup was perfect from a Bellator Fighting Championships standpoint: a compelling five-round title fight featuring one of the promotion’s most coveted stars against one of its most promising talents, all on a night when the UFC sits still.
Fate, it seems, had other plans.
Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez was slated to make the second defense of his 155-pound crown against unbeaten challenger Michael Chandler. One of the company’s centerpieces, the 27-year-old Alvarez has won 12 of his past 13 fights, including seven in a row. Chandler, an NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri, kept his perfect professional record intact by winning the Bellator Season 4 lightweight tournament. Unfortunately, an undisclosed injury to the champion has put the Alvarez-Chandler showdown on hold and left Bellator without a true headliner this Saturday at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
The show will still pack plenty of punch, with a pair of middleweight tournament semifinals on tap, along with a non-title super fight featuring the promotion’s bantamweight champion. Here is what to watch for at Bellator 54:
Zach Makovsky remains one of MMA’s best-kept secrets. The Bellator bantamweight champion will meet UFC veteran Ryan Roberts in a three-round, non-title matchup. The 28-year-old Makovsky will carry a seven-fight winning streak into the cage with him, having stopped Chad Robichaux on third-round punches in his last outing at Bellator 41 in April. Spawned by the Philadelphia Fight Factory, the Makovsky game bears a striking resemblance to that of former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk. A two-time gold medalist at the FILA Grappling World Championships, the Bethlehem, Pa., native wrestled collegiately at Drexel University and comes armed with a potent top game.
Middleweight Dark Horse
Some view Bellator’s Season 5 middleweight tournament as a three-horse race between Bryan Baker, Alexander Shlemenko and Vitor Vianna. Brian Rogers wants to crash that party. A Strong Style Fight Team product, the 27-year-old has rattled off seven consecutive wins, all of them first-round finishes. Rogers secured his spot in the semifinals with a first-round technical knockout against Victor O’Donnell at Bellator 50 in September, as he dispatched “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum with a head kick and follow-up punches in less than two minutes. Rogers has an accomplished background in traditional sports, having played inside linebacker at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio. He left the program second on the school’s all-time tackles list.
Stumbling Block or Stepping Stone
Outside of an unforeseen stumble, Rene Nazare seems a shoo-in for the next Bellator tournament at 155 pounds. The Team Bombsquad representative sports a perfect 10-0 mark and has finished five of his last six foes inside one round. A decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Nazare has medaled in a number of high-profile competitions, and his transition to mixed martial arts has been nothing short of seamless. Nazare made another move up the lightweight ladder in August, when he forced the cageside physician to call a halt to his bout with Renzo Gracie protégé Juan Barrantes at Bellator 48. The Brazilian made his promotional debut only six months ago, as he earned a first-round technical knockout against Luiz Azeredo -- the first man to defeat reigning UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Nazare will lock horns with Jacob Kirwan, an undersized lightweight, in Atlantic City.
Not long ago, Karl Amoussou was viewed as one of the top prospects in Europe. However, two losses and a draw in his last four appearances have taken some of the shine off his star. The 25-year-old judo black belt made his promotional debut at Bellator 45 in May, and it did not go well. Amoussou wound up on the wrong side of a split decision to the little-known Sam Alvey in a defeat that cost him a chance to compete in Bellator’s Season 5 middleweight tournament. Now 18 fights into his professional career, the Frenchman still lacks a signature win. Undercut by inconsistency, Amoussou has not won back-to-back fights in more than two years. He will face Joey Kirwan, a Ring of Combat veteran on a three-fight winning streak, in his second appearance inside the Bellator cage.
In Need of M’Pumbu-Related Repairs
Tim Carpenter reached the semifinals of the Bellator Season 4 light heavyweight tournament and carried a perfect professional record with him, until he ran into the hands of Christian M'Pumbu at Bellator 42 in April. That encounter rendered Carpenter’s considerable ground skills null and void and resulted in a first-round technical knockout at the Lucky Star Casino in Concho, Okla. M’Pumbu went on to win the tournament and become Bellator’s first light heavyweight champion. At 31, Carpenter has time to rebuild the momentum he lost in a flash, and the road back begins with a matchup against Team Bombsquad’s Ryan Contaldi.