Attila Vegh has won his last eight bouts, finishing five of them. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Bellator MMA’s eighth season rolls on this Thursday from the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., as Bellator 91 airs live on Spike TV.
While the uninitiated might view the prospect of setting aside several hours to catch this card live with the same enthusiasm that they would for a midnight showing of “Side Out,” I can assure you that this card, much like the aforementioned cult classic starring American hero C. Thomas Howell, will surprise you with its campy quality.
Here is what to watch for at Bellator 91:
Heavier Than You Think
Star power? We don’t need no stinking star power.
I know, I know, Christian M'Pumbu and Attila Vegh are not exactly names likely to make a crowd salivate with anticipation, but I implore you to look past their lack of popularity and see the fighters deep down inside, much like Superman uses his X-ray vision to select only the most delicious nougats in a See’s variety box.
True, M’Pumbu’s last performance -- which took place about 16 months ago, by the way -- left something to be desired. In less delicate terms, it was a big pile of garbage. Bellator’s champion was totally powerless to stop Travis Wiuff’s takedowns en route to a non-title defeat at Bellator 55. Even so, we should not forget the unexpected trio of knockouts that the undersized 205-pounder posted earlier that year to win the light heavyweight title.
Vegh, meanwhile, has won eight straight heading into his title shot, capturing the 2012 Summer Series tournament by besting Zelg Galesic, Emanuel Newton and the aforementioned Wiuff. The Slovakian can end a fight as quickly as anyone in Bellator’s light heavyweight division, and it would behoove viewers to recall Vegh’s stoppages of Galesic and Wiuff, which took 60 and 25 seconds, respectively.
This is not a fight between two lumbering light heavies; both of these men are skilled and mobile, and I think they are worth your time.
Much like the headliner, the Season 8 lightweight tournament semifinals also appear lacking on the surface. Upon seeing this lineup, casual Spike TV observers will likely put down their Axe Body Spray, rip off their tank tops and turn to their violence-obsessed, chain-smoking grandmothers with a collective look of exasperation.
“Settle down,” Grandmother will mumble through her breathing apparatus and Affliction-brand grave robber bandana. “These boys can really scrap.”
Right you are, Gram-Gram, because Will Brooks, Saad Awad, David Rickels and Jason Fischer are nothing if not exciting 155-pounders. In Brooks, viewers can watch a potential star with a tear-jerking backstory grow up right before their eyes. Awad, meanwhile, jumped from eleventh-hour injury replacement to possible frontrunner with a beautifully violent 31-second beatdown of Guillaume DeLorenzi in the quarterfinals.
A former welterweight, Rickels looked like he could fight for about 20 rounds in his lightweight debut against the highly regarded Lloyd Woodard, and Fischer is a man who will likely fight with little to lose when he steps in for the injured Alexander Sarnavskiy to face “The Caveman” in a rematch of their November contest, which ended in a unanimous decision and resulted in the first loss of Fischer’s career.
Basically, if these four guys do not tear down the house, I will pull a Chael Sonnen and lick Rashad Evans’ shoe, provided that, you know, Evans is down with having his shoe licked twice.
Hurt ’Em, Holm-Girl
A Bellator undercard getting some run in the preview? You bet your britches. This is a special occasion, for Holly Holm is in the house.
For those not in the know, Holm is one seriously bad individual. A multi-division world champion under the WBF, IBA and WBA banners, the pugilist also won Ring Magazine’s “Female Fighter of the Year” honor in 2005 and 2006.
The southpaw has competed just twice in mixed martial arts, posting technical knockout wins over Christina Domke and Strikeforce vet Jan Finney in 2011. However, “The Preacher’s Daughter” displayed some well-rounded skills in those bouts, fending off takedowns while punishing her opponents with punches and kicks.
Now representing Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts, the Albuquerque, N.M., native returned to the boxing ring in 2012 and was brutally knocked out by Frenchwoman Anne Sophie Mathis. Ever seen the tape of Rocky Marciano blasting Joe Louis through the ropes? Yeah, it was that kind of knockout.
Holm immediately asked for a rematch and received her wish, this time stinging Mathis for 10 rounds and taking home a runaway unanimous decision to recapture three titles. Now, she once again steps into the cage, making her Bellator debut against the 1-0 Katie Merrill.
With the departure of champion Zoila Frausto Gurgel, Bellator certainly has designs on another women’s tournament down the road. Can Holm perform impressively and throw her hat into that proverbial ring?