It seems like only yesterday that Bellator Fighting Championships was the new kid on the block.
Now promoting champions in eight different weight categories, the Chicago-based promotion kicks off its sixth season with a featherweight title showdown between reigning belt holder Joe Warren and Summer Series tournament winner Pat Curran at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind.
Airing on Friday at 8 pm. ET/PT on MTV2 and Epix, Bellator 60 marks the promotion’s Friday-night debut. Featuring an intriguing main event and a handful of anticipated tournament quarterfinal matchups, the event signals the start of arguably Bellator’s most ambitious season to date. Here is what to watch for at Bellator 60:
Baddest Man on the Planet
Talking trash works when you are winning. After you get laid out? Not as much.
That is the challenge that Bellator’s featherweight champion now faces. Known for his resilience as much as for his top-drawer Greco-Roman wrestling skills, Warren must find a way to rebound from his one-punch knockout defeat to Alexis Vila in the Season 5 bantamweight tournament quarterfinals in September.
Prior to that loss, Warren had been undefeated in the Bellator cage, fighting through adversity against Patricio Freire and Joe Soto to win the Season 2 featherweight tournament and then the world title. The problem is that Warren was just knocked cold while competing a weight class that was supposed to grant him advantages in that regard. While he cannot be faulted for trying to win titles in two weight classes, the maneuver most certainly backfired.
Warren himself has admitted that he is undersized as a featherweight, so it will now take some doing to convince most observers that his title reign at 145 pounds carries with it the same degree of legitimacy it did prior to the Vila knockout. Warren now faces arguably his greatest adversary in well-rounded countryman Curran. How will the 35-year-old respond?
Curran has one hell of an opportunity in front of him.
The only man to win Bellator tournaments in two different weight classes, Curran initially fought his way to the Season 2 lightweight tournament crown before he was outpointed by then-champion Eddie Alvarez 11 months ago.
Undeterred, Curran cut to featherweight and performed like a boss in the Summer Series tournament, first tapping Luis Palomino with a Peruvian necktie before outpointing British upstart Ronnie Mann in the semis. Curran saved his best performance for the final round, however, finishing former Sengoku champion Marlon Sandro with a precise head kick and ground-and-pound.
Can Curran succeed in his new weight class where he previously failed? A victory over Warren would be a sweet payday after coming oh so close to becoming champion at 155 pounds.
With that level of reward, however, also comes risk. Just as Warren likely feels the pressure to overcome his recent knockout, so, too, must Curran find his way over the hump to a title win. It is true that Curran is only 24-year-old and has plenty of time left as a mixed martial artist, but this is a wild sport. So many variables can affect the course of a career or even a single fight. Title shots must be seized with ferocity and sincerity, because it is never a given that another one will come.
Return of the Violence
Sandro has not yet shown what he is capable of in the Bellator cage.
In 2010, the heavy-handed Nova Uniao representative was selected to Sherdog.com’s All-Violence First Team following brutal one-punch knockouts of Tomonari Kanomata and Masanori Kanehara that saw both victims leave the ring on stretchers.
Put simply, Sandro has not delivered with the same type of killer instinct that gained him considerable notoriety during his Sengoku career. While this is tempered by the fact that the Brazilian holds a 3-1 Bellator record -- his only loss came to the highly regarded Curran -- fans of the 34-year-old are likely still yearning for a signature knockout on American soil.
Sandro rebounded from his loss to Curran to earn his first Bellator finish, tapping Rafael Dias with a slick arm-triangle in November. Can he capitalize on that momentum and find his first
Bellator knockout, or will the highlight-reel finish continue to elude him?
Second Chances for Straus, Mann
Daniel Straus and Ronnie Mann are two of Bellator’s most talented featherweights. Though they compete using different styles, they likely share a similar mindset heading into Season 6 after coming up short in their previous tournament attempts.
Straus looked tremendous in his first two Bellator appearances, outlasting a game Nazareno Malegarie before submitting Kenny Foster with a guillotine choke to advance to the Season 4 tournament final. The Ohioan could not overcome Freire, however, falling by unanimous decision to the Brazilian and losing his chance to challenge for Warren’s title.
Mann has also impressed in his Bellator career, knocking out Adam Schindler in the Summer Series tournament quarterfinals prior to losing on points to eventual winner Curran in the semis. “Kid Ninja” rebounded from the defeat by submitting Foster in October, finishing the Team Bombsquad representative with a triangle choke in arguably the Brit’s best Bellator performance yet.
Which one -- if either -- of these men will capitalize on a second opportunity to earn a crack at Bellator gold?
Casual observers may not know their names, but Alexandre Bezerra and Genair da Silva are two fighters worth watching.
Bezerra rides a seven-fight winning streak into his first tournament berth and has finished all four of his Bellator opponents, earning three first-round submissions along the way. “Popo” showed resourcefulness in his most recent outing, as he took serious damage in his Bellator 57 clash with Douglas Evans. After failing on a number of submission attempts and eating some brutal ground-and-pound as a result, Bezerra managed to lock up a fight-ending heel hook to snatch his sixth career submission win.
Meanwhile, da Silva drew a difficult Bellator debut in Sandro last year. Nonetheless, “Junior PQD” hung tough for the duration of their three-round Summer Series quarterfinal, dropping a split decision to the former Sengoku champion at Bellator 46. Da Silva bounced back from the defeat on Oct. 1, jumping all over Bryan Goldsby and ending his night with a brabo choke in just 3:51.
The bottom line: between the two Brazilians, only six of their 28 career outings have gone to the judges’ scorecards. Put these two in a cage together, and do not be surprised if fireworks ensue.