After taking a week off, Bellator Fighting Championships returns to MTV2 on Friday with Bellator 67. Emanating from Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario, the event marks the Chicago-based promotion’s second trip to Canada during its ongoing sixth season. While this card does not hold the same promise on paper as its predecessor, it still has the potential to please.
Here is what to watch for at Bellator 67:
Chandler the Champ
Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler has one hell of an act to follow.
The Season 4 tournament winner’s last in-cage appearance came in November, when he submitted Eddie Alvarez to capture the world title in a “Fight of the Year” contender at Bellator 58. Now, Chandler returns to the Bellator cage for a non-title contest against 37-year-old UFC and Pride Fighting Championships veteran Akihiro Gono.
While it may appear Chandler has little pressure on him leading up to this non-title affair, the perceived lack of heat could work against the American if he is not careful, despite Gono being regarded by most as a clear drop off in competition in comparison to Alvarez. It appears the odds are long against the respected Japanese veteran pulling off an upset against the hard-punching wrestler, which could provide him with some opportunities to be effective if the champion relaxes.
Will Chandler walk into the cage with the same killer instinct he used to defeat Alvarez and win the title, or will Gono take advantage of his underdog status and catch the titleholder off guard?
Saunders’ Second Chance Continues
Ben Saunders’ second attempt at qualifying for a welterweight title shot will be a challenging one if his quarterfinal contest with Raul Amaya is a sign of things to come.
After fighting his way to the final of Bellator’s Season 5 tournament, Saunders found himself on the receiving end of Douglas Lima’s power punching at Bellator 57, falling by knockout to “The Phenom” and failing in his inaugural effort to capture Bellator gold.
Back for another taste in Season 6, “Killa B” took control of his quarterfinal bout with Amaya in the early going, but “Smash Mode” proved resilient, fighting tooth-and-nail until the final bell. While Saunders was awarded a well-deserved unanimous decision, one must wonder how much that bout took out of him, especially when considering the man he faces in the semifinals.
Welterweight Beast or Burden?
Brian Baker may have earned a win in his welterweight debut, but it was not pretty.
Taking on hard-hitting Brazilian Carlos Alexandre Pereira, neither “The Beast” nor “Indio” lived up to the fight’s buildup as a probable slugfest. At a listed 6-foot-3, Baker was already lanky for a middleweight, and the cut to 170 pounds has only emphasized that trait. He appeared to have a difficult time in gauging his range for much of his bout with Pereira and was unable to let his hands fly.
Now facing an equally wiry opponent, will Baker look more comfortable at welterweight in his second go-around, or will Saunders’ wealth of experience in the weight class prove too much for “The Beast” to overcome?
‘The Real Deal’
Ryan Ford could prove to be a valuable commodity for Bellator depending on how he performs in his promotional debut. Ford is well-known in his home country of Canada but has received limited exposure in the United States due to travel restraints placed on him related to a 2003 arrest.
Despite appearing on HDNet as a Maximum Fighting Championship talent, Ford will likely be an unfamiliar face for many tuning in to MTV2. Ford should seize the opportunity to make a good first impression in his inaugural effort with an American organization. While it is unclear if Ford will ever compete in a Bellator tournament due to his aforementioned travel limitations, he could become a main card staple for the promotion as a steady draw north of the U.S. border.
Currently standing in the way of that potential situation is Luis Santos, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who fought his way to the semifinals of Bellator’s fifth-season tournament, only to be submitted by Saunders and have his path to a title shot derailed. “Sapo” possesses solid takedowns and a potent top game but should be at a disadvantage if he spends too much time in Ford’s range while standing.
Will Ford impress in his Bellator debut, or will Santos make a case for his inclusion in Bellator’s next welterweight tournament?