Alexis Vila will carry his world-class wrestling skill and savage punching power into Bellator 59. | Dave Mandel
It was the confrontation many envisioned at the start of the Bellator Fighting Championships Season 5 bantamweight tournament: the grizzled, 40-year-old Olympic bronze medalist pitted against the 22-year-old Brazilian upstart with talent to burn.
Alexis Vila and Eduardo Dantas have their marching orders.
With bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky awaiting the victor, Vila will meet Dantas at Bellator 59 on Saturday at Caesars Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. The event, which airs on MTV2, will bring to a close Bellator’s memorable fifth season, which included a “Fight of the Year” contender between Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler on Nov. 19, along with news of a planned move to Spike TV in 2013.
Vila, a 1996 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world champion in freestyle wrestler, has won all 11 of his professional mixed martial arts bouts. The American Top Team representative has paired his world-class wrestling skills with savage punching power, leading to nine finishes among his 11 victories. Vila, a natural flyweight who defected from Cuba, earned his way into the 135-pound final with his horrific 64-second knockout against Joe Warren and a narrow split decision over two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Marcos Galvao.
Another exceptional prospect spawned by the Nova Uniao camp in Brazil, Dantas has rattled off five straight wins since his decision defeat to Japanese ace Masakatsu Ueda in July 2009; it remains the only legitimate loss on his resume. Many view Dantas, a training partner of UFC featherweight king Jose Aldo, as the sport’s top prospect at 135 pounds, and the 22-year-old Shooto South America champion has done nothing to dissuade his believers to this point in his career. Dantas’ tournament run in Bellator included a spectacular multi-strike knockout against Wilson Reis and a workmanlike decision over Ed West.
With the Vila-Dantas tournament final as its focus, here is what to watch for at Bellator 59:
Irresistible Force, Immovable Object
It took a little more than half a minute for Thiago Santos to announce his intentions in the Season 5 heavyweight tournament. Appropriately nicknamed “Big Monster,” the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Brazilian capitalized on his opportunity at Bellator 56 in October, when he stepped in for Mike Hayes, who bowed out of the draw with a fractured orbital bone. Santos blitzed UFC veteran Neil Grove in 38 seconds, submitting the heavy-handed South African with a rear-naked choke. A jiu-jitsu practitioner by trade, he cut his teeth brawling in Rio de Janeiro’s underground Rio Heroes league, winning the vale tudo promotion’s one-night heavyweight tournament in 2007 with three finishes. Now, Santos finds himself one win away from locking up an unlikely title shot against unbeaten Bellator heavyweight champion Cole Konrad. The brutish Eric Prindle, who dispatched the previously undefeated Ron Sparks in 40 seconds in the semifinals, stands between him and a crack at promotional gold.
Kurt Pellegrino enjoyed a lengthy and quietly successful run in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It included one “Fight of the Night” bonus, two “Submission of the Night” awards and a four-fight winning streak but ended with consecutive defeats to “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 6 semifinalist George Sotiropoulos and American Top Team’s Gleison Tibau. Victories over Fabricio Camoes, Josh Neer, Robert Emerson and Thiago Tavares were not enough to save his job in the UFC. Still, the experienced 32-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has secured more than half (10) of his 16 career wins by submission. Pellegrino’s Bellator debut will be no picnic, as he locks horns with Season 4 lightweight tournament finalist Patricky Freire, who has posted five wins in his last six outings -- his lone loss came in a decision to reigning Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler -- and has never been finished as a professional.
Taste of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’
It seems like eons ago that UFC President Dana White claimed he had found “the next Anderson Silva.” Phillipe Nover never reached those lofty expectations. A finalist on Season 8 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Nover was released by the UFC following his loss to Emerson at UFC 109 in February 2010. It ended his tumultuous run in the UFC, which included a controversial defeat to Kyle Bradley and a pre-fight backstage collapse that forced the cancellation of his scheduled bout with Sam Stout at UFC Fight Night 19. Doctors later blamed the fainting spell on a combination of anxiety and a taxing weight cut. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who has dabbled in muay Thai, Nover put the brakes on a three-fight losing streak in August, when he outpointed Jake Murphy and won a unanimous decision under the Hoosier Fight Club banner. In his first Bellator outing, Nover draws 19-year-old Polish wunderkind Marcin Held.