Have we truly come to the end of Bellator Fighting Championships’ sixth season? Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Through 10 events thus far, the Chicago-based promotion has produced more than a few memorable moments -- par for the course for Bellator. After all, who could forget Thiago Santos’ inability to make weight for his rematch with Eric Prindle in the Season 5 heavyweight tournament final after his toe-punt to the American’s groin last fall resulted in a no contest?
Actually, never mind. Forget about that one. However, David Rickels’ 22-second knockout of Jordan Smith was pretty sick, as was Eddie Alvarez’s beatdown of Shinya Aoki. Brian Rogers started his middleweight tournament run with a highlight-reel knockout but ended his season flat on his back, courtesy of an Andreas Spang left hook. Lloyd Woodard shocked everybody by wrecking Patricky Freire’s elbow with a kimura, and Eduardo Dantas made a serious statement by choking Zach Makovsky unconscious to capture the promotion’s bantamweight title.
Indeed, Bellator’s sixth season has been a fun ride, and Bellator 70 on Friday at the New Orleans Convention Center should provide a solid bookend to an entertaining string of events. Here is what to watch for during Bellator’s season finale on MTV2, best enjoyed while listening to Vitamin C’s “Graduation.”
‘The Polar Bear’ Awakens from Hibernation
Remember Cole Konrad?
Bellator’s best heavyweight has not seen action since August, when he outpointed former UFC title contender Paul Buentello in a non-title bout at Bellator 48. Now, he will have to shake off the ring rust and defend his heavyweight championship against the heavy-handed Prindle.
While “The Polar Bear” has worked diligently to improve his striking, Konrad’s bread-and-butter will always be his wrestling. A two-time NCAA champion at the University of Minnesota, Konrad has used his potent takedowns and top control to go undefeated through 10 professional contests.
As he has done for the majority of his time in the cage, Konrad should plant Prindle on his posterior and keep him there to ensure victory. Will Konrad use his grappling superiority to overwhelm his hard-hitting foe, or will his strides in the standup game cause him to play dangerously in Prindle’s punching range?
No one needs to tell you Prindle is a sizable underdog in this main event.
Most believe his only hope to win is to land one of those sledgehammer shots on Konrad’s chin -- a daunting prospect considering the champion’s dedication to improving his standing skills. Though Prindle has displayed a surprising ability to scramble when needed during his Bellator career, this will likely not be the case against a wrestler as decorated as Konrad. The smart money says that each time Prindle’s back hits the mat, a little wind will be taken from his sails.
Still, Prindle should not be counted out. As has been said many times before, a puncher always has a chance. It also bears mentioning that this is a five-round title fight, meaning Prindle has 25 minutes, not the usual 15, to land that one solid shot.
Too often in mixed martial arts, dropping a weight class is viewed as type of “fix all” for a struggling fighter, only to find that the weight division was not the problem. This is not the case for lightweight tournament finalists Rick Hawn and Brent Weedman.
Formerly competing at welterweight, both men decided to shed an additional 15 pounds and make a run at lightweight in Season 6. The move paid off, as they have looked razor-sharp on their respective paths to the tournament final.
A former Olympic judoka, Hawn has primarily used his fists -- not his grappling -- to advance in the Season 6 draw, knocking out Ricardo Tirloni and Woodard in impressive fashion. It has become clear that 155 pounds is the ideal destination for the 35-year-old, who appears to now be one of Bellator’s stronger competitors at lightweight. Likewise, Weedman impressed in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, quickly submitting J.J. Ambrose before taking a split decision from skilled striker Thiago Michel Pereira Silva last month.
Which former welterweight will stake his claim as No. 1 contender for Michael Chandler’s 155-pound title?
‘Concrete’ vs. ‘Iron’
Bellator’s most recent bantamweight tournament may not be decided within the confines of Season 6, but that does not mean Hiroshi Nakamura and Luis Nogueira will not put on a show in their semifinal collision.
An interesting factor in this bout is that neither man really set the bar high in the quarterfinals. ‘Betao’ edged Alexis Vila in a ho-hum standup affair, while “Iron” held Rodrigo Lima on his back for much of their quarterfinal clash.
Odds are Nakamura will find that “Betao” is not nearly as easy to hold down as “Ratinho.” In that same vein, Nogueira cannot simply rely on his standup in this contest, as Nakamura will almost certainly keep him guessing as to whether a punch or a takedown will come next.
Will the Brazilian prove more effective with his strikes or can Nakamura smother Nogueira and ride out another decision victory to earn his spot in the final alongside Marcos Galvao?