Ben Saunders will look to complete his welterweight tournament run at Bellator 57. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Largely overshadowed by the massive hoopla surrounding UFC on Fox 1 “Velasquez vs. Dos Santos,” Bellator Fighting Championships trudges ahead with Bellator 57 on Saturday at the Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario, Canada. The event will air live at 7 p.m. ET on MTV2.
Bellator 57 will spawn the latest challengers for champions Hector Lombard and Ben Askren, as American Top Team’s Ben Saunders meets the fast-rising Douglas Lima in the Season 4 welterweight tournament final and Russian striker Alexander Shlemenko collides with Wand Fight Team representative Vitor Vianna to see who emerges as the last man standing in the middleweight draw.
The degree of difficulty awaiting the winners remains high.
Lombard -- who will be back in the cage at Bellator 58 on Nov. 19 for a non-title scrap with Trevor Prangley -- has won a staggering 19 consecutive fights since his July 2007 encounter with Kyle Noke ended in a draw. One of the game’s savage finishers, the 33-year-old judoka has stopped six of his past seven foes, including “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 alum Jesse Taylor, whom he submitted with a second-round heel hook in September. Lombard has not tasted defeat in more than five years.
Askren, meanwhile, escaped the stiffest test of his career at Bellator 56 on Oct. 29, when he claimed a split decision from Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts veteran Jay Hieron and successfully defended his welterweight belt for the first time. The 27-year-old, a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Missouri who competed in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, has seen his last five fights reach the judges, leading to criticism over his inability to finish.
Anchored by tournament drama, young talent and local flavor, here is what to watch for at Bellator 58:
Once the cornerstone of the International Fight League, Canadian lightweight Chris Horodecki will compete for the first time since the tragic death of his trainer and longtime mentor Shawn Tompkins on Aug. 14. Tompkins was 37. Horodecki’s matchup with the twice-beaten Mike Corey will undoubtedly brim with emotion, as he moves forward without the man who had such a profound impact on his career. Still only 24, “The Polish Hammer” will carry a two-fight winning streak into the bout. He defeated Chris Saunders by unanimous decision in his Bellator debut in July. Corey will want to hunt a finish, as Horodecki owns an 8-0 career mark in fights that go the distance, including a pair of split verdicts over current UFC featherweight Bart Palaszewski.
Finding ‘The Fugitive’
Dave Jansen won his first 14 professional bouts, including his World Extreme Cagefighting debut against Rich Crunkilton, and was on the radar of virtually every major organization. However, after consecutive defeats to Kamal Shalorus and Ricardo Lamas in the WEC, the 32-year-old became something of a forgotten man at 155 pounds. Jansen rebounded nicely from his costly two-fight skid in April, when he submitted Scott McAfee with a first-round brabo choke at Bellator 39 in his first appearance for the tournament-based promotion. An accomplished amateur wrestler, he was a state champion in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of Oregon. In his second Bellator outing, Jansen will lock horns with Ashkan Morvari, a Minnesota-based lightweight who has won four of his last five fights.
Incredible Turnaround for ‘The Hulk’
Known as “The Hulk,” Roger Hollett was a rising star on the Canadian scene after he wiped out UFC veteran Victor Valimaki in a little more than two minutes to win the Maximum Fighting Championship light heavyweight strap in August 2007. Unfortunately, a serious knee injury suffered in his ill-fated encounter with Lew Polley two months later derailed his momentum. Hollett, the son of a former Canadian boxing and kickboxing champion, lost that fight and two of his next three. Now back on track, he will ride a four-fight winning streak into his Bellator debut against Strong Style Fight Team representative John Hawk. Hollett, a 28-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, trains out of the Titans MMA camp but has also spent time at Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M. He needed just 99 seconds to blast through Martin Desilets at a Ringside MMA show in April.
Another Promising Brazilian
Alexandre Bezerra looks like a star in the making. The 24-year-old Brazilian featherweight has ripped through his first three Bellator opponents, dismissing two of them inside one round. Bezerra put away Scott Heckman with second-round punches at Bellator 49 in September and has not gone the distance in more than three years. Heckman entered the cage on a three-fight winning streak and had never before been stopped by strikes. Bezerra suffered his only career defeat in 2009, when he submitted to an anaconda choke from current UFC lightweight Charles Oliveira in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “Popo” will toe the line against UFC veteran Douglas Evans, a 31-year-old Alaskan who would like nothing more than to knock him from his perch.