Brandon Halsey plans to remain atop the Bellator MMA middleweight division. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Bellator MMA’s talent-mining operation has uncovered many a gem, but few stand out as much as Brandon Halsey.
Halsey will put his perfect professional record on the line when he defends his middleweight championship against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Kendall Grove in the Bellator 137 headliner on Friday at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif. The event will air live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
Spawned by the Huntington Beach Ultimate Training Center in California, Halsey has won all six of his fights, four of them finishes, since arriving in Bellator in 2013. The 28-year-old last competed in September, when he squeezed Alexander Shlemenko unconscious with a rear-naked choke in just 35 seconds, capturing the middleweight title in spectacular fashion at Bellator 126. Halsey wrestled collegiately at Cal State Bakersfield, where he was a Pac-10 Conference champion in 2007 and an NCAA All-American two years later. Those base skills have served him well in his transition to MMA.
Grove has plenty of miles on the odometer. The 32-year-old Hawaiian has taken a liking to Bellator, having won two of his first three fights inside the promotion. Grove made a strong impression at Bellator 127 in October, when he submitted former light heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu with a second-round rear-naked choke. He has secured 16 of his 21 pro victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, with Alan Belcher, Joe Riggs and Jake Rosholt among the victims.
With the Halsey-Grove title clash as the centerpiece, here is what to watch for at Bellator 137:
It seemed Eduardo Dantas could do no wrong under Bellator’s bright lights, until his ill-fated encounter with the cocksure Joe Warren.
Seven months after the Nova Uniao wunderkind surrendered his bantamweight title in a five-round unanimous decision loss to Warren, Dantas returns anew to begin his climb on the 135-pound ladder again. In his way stands the ever-dangerous Mike Richman, who has gone the distance just six times in his 23-fight career. Dantas has rattled off nine wins across his past 11 appearances, including victories over Hiromasa Ogikubo, Wilson Reis, Alexis Vila, Zach Makovsky and reigning Bellator bantamweight champion Marcos Galvao. Should he get past Richman, a chance to reclaim his title could be in the offing.
Richman will enter the cage on the strength of consecutive first-round stoppages against Ed West and Nam Phan. The 29-year-old owns a 7-4 mark in Bellator.
Benji Radach has not fought in more than four years and has not recorded a win since 2008, but he will nevertheless make his Bellator debut opposite the unbeaten Ben Reiter.
A ferocious power puncher with a wrestling base who once trained at Team Quest alongside Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland, Radach has not competed since December 2010, when he dropped a one-sided unanimous decision to current UFC light heavyweight contender Ovince St. Preux at Strikeforce “Henderson vs. Babalu 2.” Beyond his two-fight stint in Strikeforce, “The Razor” has also fought in the International Fight League, EliteXC, Ultimate Fighting Championship and King of the Cage promotions. Now 36, Radach has seen his career derailed numerous times by injury, including a broken jaw suffered in a 2004 encounter with Chris Leben.
Reiter, 27, has amassed a stellar 15-0-1 record, a June 2013 draw with Marcos Rogerio de Lima the lone blemish. He made his first Bellator appearance in September, when he took a unanimous decision from Shamir Garcia at the Compuware Arena in Plymouth Township, Mich.
SINK OR SWIM
Darrion Caldwell’s resume as a collegiate wrestler at North Carolina State University stands on its own: two-time NCAA All-American, three-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion and 2009 NCAA national champion. He still ranks second on the school’s all-time list in career wins (109) and pins (58) and third in winning percentage (.893).
The move to MMA has thus far gone swimmingly for Caldwell, who will enter his matchup against Rafael Silva with a 6-0 record. The 27-year-old Power MMA Team representative last appeared at Bellator 130 in October, when he earned a unanimous verdict over Anthony Dizy at the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kan. Caldwell appears fit and ready to make waves in Bellator’s bantamweight division.
Silva represents a substantial increase in degree of difficulty for “The Wolf.” The 30-year-old Brazilian wields far more experience -- he has 26 fights and more than 50 rounds under his belt -- and has won 14 of his past 15 bouts.
PERFECT UNDER PRESSURE
If Julio Cesar Neves Jr. feels the pressure of carrying a 30-0 record, he has not shown it.
The 21-year-old Brazilian will risk that gaudy mark -- it includes 27 finishes, 19 of them inside one round -- when he confronts the once-beaten Jordan Parsons on the undercard. Neves Jr. has hit the ground running in Bellator, having scored back-to-back technical knockouts since touching down in the organization a little more than a year ago. He last fought at Bellator 125 in September, when he disposed of Poppies Martinez with a spinning back kick and follow-up punches 2:16 into their clash.
A former Championship Fighting Alliance titleholder, Parsons, 24, will ride a three-fight winning streak into their preliminary matchup at 145 pounds. The Alliance MMA export made his Bellator debut in April, when he knocked out Tim Bazer with second-round punches.