Bellator Finalizes Welterweight Tournament Pairings

By Brian Knapp Feb 26, 2010
Bellator Fighting Championships on Friday made official the opening-round matchups for its Season 2 welterweight tournament on April 15 at the Chicago Theatre in Chicago and April 22 at an undisclosed venue.

UFC veteran Ryan Thomas will meet 2008 Olympian and unbeaten prospect Ben Askren in the first quarter-final on April 15.

Askren, a 25-year-old Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native, was a two-time national champion at the University of Missouri who went on to compete in freestyle wrestling in the Olympics. Undefeated in three professional mixed martial arts appearances, he last fought in August, when he submitted Matt Delanoit with a North-South choke at a Max Fights DM show. Askren has finished all three of his opponents in less than 90 seconds.

Bellator inked a multi-tiered television deal with Fox Sports Net, NBC and Telemundo in October. That level of exposure appealed to Askren.

“I like that my fights are going to broadcast nationally,” Askren said. “I like the tournament-style format, and I love the opportunity to be a part of something exciting and new. I plan on winning Bellator. My goal, as it always has been, is to be the best in the world.”

The 25-year-old Thomas has never gone the distance in 13 professional bouts. He has not competed since he submitted King of the Cage veteran Ryan Stout with a first-round armbar at War in the Yard show in August. Thomas was pruned from the UFC roster following back-to-back submission losses to American Top Team’s Ben Saunders and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 quarter-finalist Matt Brown in 2008.

The three remaining quarter-finals will be contested on April 22, as Dan Hornbuckle tackles Sean Pierson, Jacob McClintock meets “Judo” Jim Wallhead and Steve Carl takes on Brett Cooper.

Hornbuckle -- a Sengoku veteran who burst on the international scene last year with knockout victories over UFC castaways Nick Thompson and Akihiro Gono -- has rattled off 18 wins in 19 fights, losing only to current UFC welterweight Mike Pyle in that span. The 28-year-old has delivered 16 of his 19 career victories by KO, technical knockout or submission and has not had a fight go to the judges in nearly three years.

Pierson, who has gone the distance only once in 13 career bouts, will carry a four-fight winning streak into the tournament. He last competed in December, when he knocked out Fabio Holanda in 1:41 at Wreck MMA “Fight for the Troops.” Pierson has stopped his last four opponents inside one round and has wins at the Canadian Senior National Greco-Roman Championships and the Canadian University Freestyle Wrestling Championships on his resume.

A well-rounded finisher and one of the top welterweights in Europe, Wallhead has won six in a row. A Judo national champion and longtime black belt, the 25-year-old Englishman has not fought since November, when he outpointed Che Mills under the Knuckle Up MMA banner. A teammate of UFC standouts Dan Hardy and Paul Daley, the judoka has delivered 13 of his 18 career victories by KO, TKO or submission.

McClintock -- based out of Arizona Combat Sports, where he trains alongside former World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight champion Jamie Varner and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Ryan Bader -- has finished all six of his foes in the first round. However, the 22-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt has not set foot in the cage since he stopped Beau Baker on strikes at an Ultimate Warrior Challenge event four months ago.

An Iraq War veteran, Carl will carry plenty of momentum into the 170-pound draw, having strung together seven consecutive wins. The Iowa native struck Mo Spears into submission at a Warriors 4 Warriors show in November. Carl suffered his lone career defeat to current UFC welterweight Brian Foster in December 2006.

“I was getting offers from the UFC and others, but Bellator was just a better opportunity for me,” Carl said. “I’m really excited about the exposure that Bellator’s TV deal will bring me and the chance to fight against some awesome competition.”

Cooper, meanwhile, has won seven of his last eight fights. A protégé of Maximum Fighting Championships lightweight titleholder Antonio McKee, he last competed in October, when he knocked out the previously unbeaten Sergio Moraes at Jungle Fight 15 in Brazil. Victories against current UFC welterweight Rory Markham, Strikeforce veteran Conor Heun and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 2 semi-finalist Jason Von Flue buoy Cooper’s resume.

“I can’t wait for our welterweight tournament to start,” Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney said. “It’s turned out exactly as I had hoped it would: world-class talent and well-known names, coupled with some tremendous prospects, in a tournament that anyone could win. This is what a tournament should be about.”
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