There has been much talk about Bellator’s debut on its new home at Spike TV tonight, but there actually hasn’t been very much talk about the fights that will take place at Bellator 85. It’s the beginning of the organization’s eighth season.
Two of the organization’s champions in its “money divisions” will be in action, as both featherweight champion Pat Curran and lightweight champion Michael Chandler will defend against tournament winners Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and Rick Hawn, respectively.
Below is a breakdown of the two title fights, as well as the three light heavyweight tournament quarterfinal bouts that will be part of the card.
Seth Petruzelli (14-6, 1-0 Bellator) vs. Jacob Noe (8-1, 1-0 Bellator)
After a stint on The Ultimate Fighter and a cup of coffee in the UFC, Seth Petruzelli made his name by knocking out Kimbo Slice on network TV in 2008. He then got another shot in the UFC, where he lost a pair of bouts before getting the pink slip for a second time. Since then, however, he has earned two TKOs – over Dave Mewborn and Ricco Rodriguez in his Bellator debut. One of the bigger names in the light heavyweight tournament, Petruzelli hopes to have finally found a home in his MMA career. A bit of an unknown, Noe is a Tennessean who earned a TKO in his Bellator debut in August. With seven stoppage wins in eight bouts he figures to be dangerous, and could be a sneaky pick to go far in the tournament.
Pick: Seth Petruzelli via unanimous decision
Emanuel Newton (18-7, 1-1 Bellator) vs. Atanas Djambazov (17-2)
The American Newton gets his second crack at a Bellator tournament after losing to eventual champ Attila Vegh in the Summer Series 2012 Tournament, as he’ll welcome another European to the organization in Bulgarian Atanas Djambazov. Aside from having a name that is tough to pronounced, Djambazov has a nasty finishing streak, which has featured stoppages in all 17 of his victories. He makes his Bellator debut on the strength of three straight TKO victories, and has competed mostly for the MAXFIGHT organization. Newton is a decent enough fighter, but I’m betting that the Bulgarian will put his name on the map in the U.S. with yet another stoppage victory to make the semifinals.
Pick: Atanas Djambazov via TKO in round 1
Champ Pat Curran (17-4, 7-1 Bellator) vs. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (17-1, 5-1 Bellator) – FW title
Neither one of these guys has lost in Bellator outside of a title fight, and that isn’t going to change here. This fight was supposed to happen last year, but it’s better late than never as the organization’s top two 145-pounders will square off in the first Bellator fight on Spike TV. Curran, who also won a Bellator tournament at lightweight, will likely have the size advantage here, but size probably won’t matter against the well-rounded Brazilian.
Neither guy is likely to get finished, and the style matchup is great because both guys will bring it and can keep up a high pace for the entire five rounds. Bellator is certainly hoping that this is their Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar moment, and I’m betting that this will at least be a very entertaining back-and-forth attraction.
Pick: Pat Curran via unanimous decision
Renato “Babalu” Sobral (37-9) vs. Mikhail Zayats (19-6)
It wasn’t too long ago that Bellator said that the former UFC title challenger Sobral wasn’t even on its radar, but things change when you have a light heavyweight division with a serious lack of depth and need names to put in prime slots on Spike TV. Zayats certainly fits the bill of the type of fighters that have filled Bellator cards in recent seasons. The Russian is a former M-1 title challenger and boasts a solid record fighting mostly outside of the United States. He’ll receive a big test in his Bellator debut, however, as he takes on one of the early favorites to win the whole tournament.
With both fighters well-versed in submissions, this fight could take place on the feet. In that case, it could be a toss up that may even swing a bit in the Russian’s favor. Sobral’s experience on the big stage will likely be the deciding factor, however, and I don’t see any way that he isn’t at least in the quarterfinals of Bellator’s 205-pound tournament.
Pick: Renato Sobral via submission in round 2
Champ Michael Chandler (10-0, 7-0 Bellator) vs. Rick Hawn (14-1, 6-1 Bellator) – LW title
Not to be outdone by the featherweights, the lightweight title bout will headline Bellator 85, as Michael Chandler puts his unbeaten record on the line against the Season 6 Lightweight Tournament champion Rick Hawn. Chandler is a former top-level NCAA wrestler, as he starred at Missouri before moving on to MMA. His fight against Eddie Alvarez is easily one of the best in Bellator history, and it vaulted him into stardom as one of the organization’s elite fighters. Hawn is now pushover, however. After finishing as the runner-up in the Season 4 Welterweight Tournament, he dropped to lightweight and earned his title shot. An Olympic judoka, Hawn possesses an unorthodox grappling style that has stymied many opponents in the past.
Despite both fighters’ extended background in grappling, where each is perhaps the most dangerous is on the feet. Chandler shocked Alvarez by rocking him early and taking control of the fight, and Hawn’s power has been on display in multiple fights, most notably his highlight reel knockout over Lloyd Woodard at Bellator 66. Chandler is great, but I think we will see a new champion at the end of the night.
Pick: Rick Hawn via TKO in round 3
By David McKinney (@MMAMcKinney)