Bellator MMA returns to our lives tonight, as Bellator 87 emanates from the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. The main card – which features the quarterfinals of the Season 8 Lightweight Tournament – will air live on Spike TV at 10p.m. ET.
The main event features two tournament veterans, as David Rickels will drop to lightweight for the first time to take on two-time tournament participant Lloyd Woodard. The stakes were raised prior to weigh-ins yesterday, as both fighters agreed to a “loser shaves his facial hair” stipulation in true pro wrestling style.
The actual matchup itself seems to be a classic striker vs. grappler feud, but the grappler Rickels has also shown an ability to throw some heavy hands (see: 22-second knockout of Jordan Smith). Woodard’s ground game leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s been his Achilles heel thus far in his Bellator career (see: getting tossed on his head by Rick Hawn). While we all hope that the desire for both of these guys to be exciting will lead to a three-round slugfest, it’s more likely that Rickels will play it safe and take the fight to the ground to earn a submission win.
After former tournament finalist Patricky Freire was injured and forced to pull out of his quarterfinal bout against Canadian knockout artist Guillame DeLorenzi, Strikeforce and one-time Bellator veteran Saad Awad jumped from the preliminary card to tournament action and will now get a chance to compete for a shot at Bellator gold. After losing to Joe Duarte in Strikeforce, the Californian has since picked up four straight stoppage victories in regional action, including three quick first round knockouts. DeLorenzi is perhaps the best prospect coming out of Canada, and he boasts an 80 percent knockout rate in 10 career victories. I’m thinking he’ll build on his first Bellator win from November with a highlight knockout over Awad here to advance to the semifinals.
Another matchup of strikers features Alexander Sarnavskiy vs. Thiago Michel, a bout that also features fighters from two of Bellator’s biggest feeder countries in Russia and Brazil. Sarnavskiy had his 20-0 record broken when he suffered an upset defeat to Rich Clementi in the Season 7 quarterfinals, but he bounced back with a decision victory over Tony Hervey in November. Michel has a 27-2 kickboxing record to go along with his 13-fight MMA career, but he has yet to produce one of his highlight reel knockouts in Bellator action. He made it to the semifinals in Season 6, and is looking to take the next step as he enters the Season 8 tournament. Although Michel has knockout power himself, I’m betting that Sarnavskiy will show why he had so much hype heading into his Bellator debut and finally follow through with a big-time knockout here.
In the night’s last quarterfinal, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Ricardo Tirloni will take on unbeaten American Top Team product Will Brooks. Fresh off of an upset win over Satoru Kitaoka at DREAM.18 on New Year’s Eve in Japan, Brooks will compete in his first Bellator tournament as he looks to stay on his hot streak. Tirloni will hope that the third time is a charm, as he came up short in stints in two previous Bellator tournaments. Brooks could be a special fighter, while Tirloni appears to be just another fighter. With that in mind, expect Brooks to dominate this fight en route to a decision victory in his first Bellator action.
By David McKinney (@MMAMcKinney)