Dave Jansen has won three in a row since joining Bellator. | Photo: Andy Hemingway
Let us not waste time with Bellator Fighting Championships formalities, for there is much to discuss. Bellator 77 takes place on Friday at the Reading Theatre at the Sovereign Center in Reading, Penn., and features the Season 7 lightweight tournament quarterfinals. Here is what to watch for during the MTV2 broadcast:
Futility for ‘The Fugitive’
Dave Jansen was the first professional fighter I ever met.
I was on my inaugural freelance assignment for Sherdog.com, covering M-1 Challenge 12 back when the Russian promotion was still using the country-versus-country format. I managed to swing an interview with Jansen thanks to a certain accommodating staff member who wrangled the lightweight after his one-sided unanimous decision win over Rio Heroes veteran Flavio Alvaro.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing at that point, but Jansen humored my green-as-grass questions and gave me some good quotes for my report. Though my career as an MMA writer was still in its infancy, I can remember thinking, “You know, this guy is really talented. He could blow up if everything comes together for him.”
That is not exactly how it went. After earning three more wins to extend his career unbeaten streak to 13 fights, Jansen was bounced from the World Extreme Cagefighting ranks following losses to Kamal Shalorus and Ricardo Lamas. Now, two years later, the 33-year-old has built a three-fight Bellator winning streak and rides a nice wave of momentum heading into his first tournament appearance.
Considering the division in which he fights, Jansen has little room for error at this stage of his career. A strong showing would likely provide some sweet validation for the five-year pro. Conversely, a tournament washout would be an especially bitter pill to swallow.
Rich Clementi is another veteran looking to make a statement in this competition.
A veteran of 66 professional encounters, “No Love” has pretty much seen it all in his 13 years as a mixed martial artist. Like Jansen, the Ultimate Fighting Championship alum rebounded from a recent skid and now reenters the Bellator cage on the strength of back-to-back victories.
The Season 7 tournament represents a golden opportunity for someone like Clementi. If the promotion puts on a subsequent draw at 155 pounds, the competition will only get stronger, meaning Clementi needs to seize this moment and send a message, not only to the Season 7 field but to guys waiting in the wings, like Brent Weedman, Lloyd Woodard, Patricky “Pitbull” Freire and Thiago Michel.
They must put something in the water up there -- or the vodka, I guess.
Bellator’s commitment to employing Russian fighters is undeniable, and it has thus far proved to be a winning strategy. Men like Alexander Shlemenko, Vyacheslav Vasilevsky, Andrey Koreshkov and Michail Tsarev have all put forth entertaining performances, and I would be shocked if the same does not hold true for lightweight tournament participants Alexander Sarnavskiy, Murad Machaev and Magomed Saadulaev.
These are probably not fighters who will cross over to the UFC and challenge for a title anytime soon, but they are more often than not a heck of a lot of fun to watch.
If you love leg locks, then Marcin Held is your man. If you cringe at the idea of someone’s knee ligaments being forcibly ripped apart, then you might want to keep one hand on your clicker.
The young Pole may not wrench limbs with the viciousness of, say, Frank Mir, Rousimar Palhares or Masakazu Imanari, but I think one day he might. Another cool if not slightly masochistic quality Held has in spades is his willingness to accept punishment while attempting a submission.
Do not forget, Michael Chandler nearly had his run to the top halted before it began when Held snatched a kneebar in the Season 4 tournament quarterfinals. Though Chandler survived and eventually put the prospect to sleep with an arm-triangle choke, it is nevertheless impressive that Held was able to catch the future lightweight champion in that type of predicament. I would mention Held’s most recent victory in May, but I am still having nightmares on account of Derrick Kennington’s exploded knee. Watch this kid.
Tirloni Tries Again
Heading into his first Bellator tournament appearance, Ricardo Tirloni had lost just once in 15 career outings.
After submitting to future UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson back in 2008, Tirloni went on to win his next 11 fights before getting starched by Rick Hawn in the Season 6 quarterfinals in past March.
Of course, Hawn went on to win the tournament and earn a crack at Bellator’s 155-pound title, and I think it is a shame that Tirloni was paired with the former Olympic judoka right off the bat. If not matched against the best fighter in that eight-man field, I think the well-rounded Brazilian would have made a solid run at the final. No disrespect intended to Michel, Weedman, Woodard or any of the other Season 6 lightweight competitors, but I really think Tirloni has the skills to beat those guys when he is on his game.
Can Tirloni rebound from his knockout defeat to Hawn and show viewers he is a legitimate contender in Bellator’s lightweight division?