It might be the fifth week of Bellator Season 4, but it’s the first week where there is a title on the line and with no other major MMA events this week (sorry Strikeforce Challengers), and given the fact I can’t allow myself to take a week off I bring to you the first ever Bellator-related “Walk Out”. Unfortunately for Bellator, they’re running in Connecticut they same Saturday as Kemba Walker takes the court for the most important game of his college career. So while fans in Connecticut may not appreciate this weekends event, we all know that your NCAA March Madness bracket got screwed up weeks ago so support MMA. And while cheerleaders might be your thing, I prefer Playboy Playmates turned Bellator ring girls named Jessica Hall.
Bellator Lightweight Title Fight: Pat Curran vs. Eddie Alvarez ©
Eddie Alvarez won the Bellator Lightweight Title during season one of the show in June 2009. Almost two years later, he finally makes his first title defense against season two lightweight tournament winner Pat Curran.
Curran had a tough road to win the season two lightweight tournament. He defeated heavy favorite Roger Huerta in the semifinals and then defeated season one runner-up Toby Imada in the finals. Curran is a relatively well-rounded fighter who prefers to strike. He’s mainly a counter striker though. He throws a solid one-two and has a nasty counter right. Beyond that though, he has a quick left hook, he throws a lot of inside leg kicks but they’re more distance finders than damaging blows, and uses the push kick a lot but doesn’t seem to fully commit to it. Curran is very comfortable being the stalkee in his fighters and he’s not one to press the action. He makes guys come to him, waits for his opening, and picks his shots. One place where Curran struggles is in the clinch. He is easily controlled and doesn’t do anything beside the occasional knee to the body. He does however throw a strike on the break, usually a left hook. His takedown defense is very good. Even if he gets put on his back, he almost immediately pops right back up. While I haven’t seen much of Curran off his back, the fact that he trains with his cousin, Jeff Curran, an excellent jiu-jitsu practitioner, makes me believe that he can hold his own in a grappling contest. He will attack Alvarez’ foot/leg on the ground so should the fight hit the mat for an extended period of time, look for Curran to try and grab a hold of Alvarez’ leg. Curran would be wise to try and put Alvarez on his back. While Curran’s offensive wrestling isn’t outstanding, Alvarez doesn’t have world-class takedown defense so it’s very possible that Curran could get Alvarez down. Of course if he does get Alvarez down, he’ll likely have a hard time keeping him there and really doing anything with Alvarez, who is also very good at getting to his feet. Curran hasn’t fought in 10 months and is coming off a shoulder injury so cage rust could definitely be a factor. It might not be a big deal because he is very young but it could also be a disadvantage because he’s not used to fighting after a major injury and may not know how much he can push himself, so he’ll hold back a bit. I expect Curran to want to keep this fight standing and if he does that, I hope he has an uppercut in his arsenal to go along with his right hand. Alvarez has a tendency to duck his head when he throws and if Curran can catch him with an uppercut, he could definitely do some damage. If he just has his overhand right though, while he could catch Alvarez in the exchange because Alvarez does like to stay in the pocket longer than he needs to, I don’t like his chances against Alvarez’ variety and speed. Curran could finish Alvarez with strikes if he catches him clean, possibly submit him with a heel hook since Alvarez’ has been caught in one before and it is Curran’s favorite submission, or win a decision if he’s able to keep things even on the feet and score timely takedowns.
Alvarez is widely considered one of the five best lightweights in the world and with good reason. He absolutely destroyed Huerta in his last fight, picking him apart on the feet and essentially forcing Huerta to quit after the second round. Alvarez is an outstanding striker. He’s very light on his feet and uses a lot of feints to set up his punches. He likes to throw a right straight as his lead strike. On top of that he throws a good left hook-right uppercut combo and also has a sneaky good lead left uppercut. He’s not just a boxer though, which a lot of people make the mistake of believing. He has nasty leg kicks and he always throws them with power. Even though he’s fast on his feet, he does hang around in the pocket too long and is maybe a little too willing to just slug it out rather than keeping things technical. Alvarez is a good wrestler although his shots are rather predictable. He throws a head/hands fake and then shoots for the takedown. Because his striking is so good and feared, people commit to the fake but it’s not like he sets up his shots with his strikes who transitions from striking to takedowns like others do. Alvarez has a very controlling top game and he’s constantly working. One thing about his ground and pound is that it’s almost exclusively done with his right arm. He goes to the body and head with his right hand or elbow while using his left arm to control his opponent. Alvarez has very good guard passes as well, using head/arm control to set them up. He likes to finish with the arm triangle, unless his opponent gives him their back, in which case he’ll finish with the rear naked choke. Alvarez has good takedown defense but because he’s so aggressive with his striking, he does leave himself open for takedowns. If Curran can use that aggressiveness against Alvarez, Alvarez could find himself on his back in this fight. Alvarez will likely want to keep this fight standing but if he does find himself getting tagged on the feet, he’ll no doubt look for the takedown. Alvarez will be the aggressor in this fight and he’ll probably look to light up Curran with leg kicks while also avoiding the counter right hand. Also look for Alvarez to go to the body of Curran to really test his cardio, unless Curran can make him pay with an uppercut. Alvarez can finish Curran with strikes, choke him out on the ground, or win a decision by out-striking Curran for 25 minutes.
As good as Curran may be, I can’t help but feel that he got some good fortune courtesy of the judges in order to get this title shot. Not only that but Alvarez looks to be on another level from any other lightweight in Bellator right now. If Curran can catch him, he can win but the longer this fight goes, the more it favors Alvarez and his superior striking and ability. I think Alvarez pushes a pace that Curran can’t handle and sooner or later overwhelms Curran and finishes him.
Prediction: Eddie Alvarez to defeat Pat Curran via TKO in Round 2
Welterweight Semifinal Fight: Rick Hawn vs. Lyman Good
Undefeated Rick Hawn and former Bellator Welterweight Champion Lyman Good battle it out for a chance to move on to the finals of the season four Bellator welterweight tournament.
Hawn is coming off a victory over Jim Wallhead where two judo black belts engaged in a kickboxing contest. Hawn is a solid striker but he usually only throws one strike at a time and after he throws, he slips under with his head. It’s sort of a predictable pattern but he’s been able to get away with it so I can’t really knock it. He does a good job of mixing up his strikes and throws some hard leg kicks. To get inside, Hawn uses a left hook and then likes to go for a trip with his right leg. Given his judo background, he’s obviously very good in the clinch. He’s strong, has good hips, likes to rough up his opponents with strikes, and of course has great throws. Hawn has a solid top game, usually posturing up to throw hammerfists. I’ve never seen Hawn off his back but my guess is that he doesn’t have much of a submission game and if he does end up on his back, he’ll likely look to immediately get up. He does have quick and strong hips and he is a relatively explosive fighter so I think he’ll be able to get up rather quickly if he does end up on his back. If he’s stuck on the ground for an extended period of time with Good on top of him though, he’s going to be in a lot of trouble. Wallhead likely won’t mind keep things standing early and feel things out. He trusts his striking and hits with a lot of power. Good will likely be the aggressor on the feet so look for Hawn to try and counter with a right hand while also using his speed to get in and out and keep Good off balance. If Good is getting the better of the striking though, Hawn will have no problem clinching and trying to get a takedown. While Good is solid in the clinch, Hawn’s judo combined with Good’s weak takedown defense gives him the advantage. If Hawn can get Good on his back, he should be able to rough up Good with strikes while not having to fear the submission game of Good. Hawn could finish Good with strikes because he does have the power to put him away but Good is a tough customer so chances are that if Hawn is going to win, it’ll be by decision by keeping things even on the feet and controlling the clinch game.
Good defeated Chris Lozano in the first round of the tournament although it wasn’t a performance to remember. Good in mainly a striker with a good clinch game. He has a quick jab and a good counter right. He likes to use his right hand to get inside and clinch with his opponents. He’s very strong in the clinch although considering that Hawn is a top-notch judo player, I don’t know how much of a factor Good’s clinch game will be in this fight. Good is active in the clinch and uses a lot of dirty boxing. He really likes to get inside and throw a flurry of right hands. He has strong takedowns and is pretty relentless with them but the majority of his takedowns come from the clinch and again, I don’t know how much his clinch game will be a factor against Hawn. On the ground, Good has outstanding ground and pound. He does a good job posturing up, usually to one knee, and throwing down with a flurry of strikes. He’s very tough to control on top and if he can put Hawn on his back, Hawn is going to be in a lot of trouble. Good’s weakness is his takedown defense but Hawn isn’t a strong wrestler like Ben Askren is and if Hawn is going to land a takedown, it’ll likely be from the clinch. For that reason, even though Good is strong in the clinch, he needs to avoid the clinch for the most part in this fight. Good is a better technical striker than Hawn and he needs to use that in this fight. Good should really use an uppercut in this fight, which has become my pick for the most underutilized strike in MMA. Hawn ducks his head a lot when he throws and if Good can catch him with an uppercut, he’ll be able to do some damage. Also look for Good to use a lot of leg and body kicks in this fight in order to slow down and wear out Hawn, which could allow him to get the fight into the clinch in the later portions of the bout. Hawn has never been finished (or beaten) and Good isn’t the greatest finisher in the world but Good could finish with Hawn by overwhelming him with strikes. The more likely scenario is that Good wins a decision by out-striking Hawn though.
This is a very interesting fight, and while it could be boring, it’s still intriguing. When it comes to these Bellator tournaments, I tend to favor the guy who looked more impressive in the most recent tournament fight, which would be Hawn in this case. I think Hawn will be able to keep Good off balance with his striking and control the clinch game, possibly landing some takedowns in order to secure or steal rounds.
Prediction: Rick Hawn to defeat Lyman Good via Decision
Lightweight Semifinal Fight: Patricky Freire vs. Toby Imada
Two-time lightweight runner-up Toby Imada looks to make it back to the finals but first he’ll need to get past Patricky Freire.
Freire shocked a lot of people with his first round victory over Rob McCullough. Freire is a well-rounded fighter who is mainly known for his striking. He’s an aggressive guy who likes to press forward with a one-two-left hook combo. He does a nice job of mixing things up as well, using a variety of kicks and even going to the body with a lead left hook. The most impressive thing about Freire against McCullough was his ability to counter leg kicks. Almost every time McCullough threw a leg kick, Freire fired back with a counter punch, including the right hook that essentially ended the fight. Freire is a decent wrestler although I’m not sure he wants to mess with the ground game of Imada, even though he has a solid ground game himself. Freire has a very good controlling top game with excellent guard passes. He’s great at slipping to better positions and what I like about his ground game is that he’s always looking for the submission finish. Against McCullough though, he was a bit sloppy with his back control. He had the back of “Razor Rob” twice in the fight and both times McCullough was able to turn into the guard of Freire. While Freire is comfortable off his back, he doesn’t have an extremely active guard, at least one active enough to make Imada uncomfortable on the ground. I’m sure Freire will want to keep this fight standing. He’s a better striker than Imada and has knockout power in all his limbs. Look for Freire to use a lot of leg kicks in order to take away the speed of Imada and really press the action. If things aren’t working out for him on the feet, I’m sure he’ll waste little time going for the takedown in order to rough up Imada on the mat. Freire can put Imada away with one strike, finish him on the ground with a submission, likely a rear naked choke, or win a decision by out-striking Imada.
Imada is sort of like the “Bellator Bridesmaid.” He’s been to the finals twice and he’s come up short both times. That shouldn’t detract from his skills though. He’s a very good fighter and an excellent grappler. On the feet, he keeps things relatively simple. He pumps a nice jab and likes to put a leg kick behind it. He usually just throws one or two strikes though and doesn’t mix things up to the level that Freire does. He does have professional kick boxing experience though and maybe his time in Japan during the Bellator off-season will bring out a more improved Imada on the feet since his first round fight against Josh Shockley almost immediately went to the ground. Imada’s strength standing is in the clinch. He has a black belt in judo, he’s strong in the clinch, and he has very good trips. Freire is a muay-thai striker though who is well-versed in the clinch for should Imada try to fight in close corners, he’ll have to look out for the knees of “Pitbull.” On the ground, Imada is a monster. He’s very slick with his submissions and is always looking to finish. He likes to go for the armbar both from the top position and off his back. He honestly might have the best armbar in MMA. He sets it up nicely and he locks it on quickly. If Imada gets Freire to the ground, whether on top or off his back, you can bet that he’s going to look for the armbar. I’m sure Imada will want to get this fight to the ground, which is where he has the best shot at winning this fight. Look for Imada to test things out on the feet early but mainly using his striking to get inside on Freire in order to work his clinch game. In the clinch he’ll look to wear down Freire with knees before looking for the trip takedown. If Imada can get this fight to the ground, even though he may not be able to submit Freire, he can definitely control him, stay active with strikes and submission attempts, and win a decision. Freire has never been finished but Imada might be able to overwhelm him with strikes late in the fight, he could definitely submit him, or he could win a decision if he can turn this into a grappling contest.
I’m really looking forward to this fight. Imada always brings it and Freire appears to be just as good as his brother. If the fight stays standing, Freire will win but if Imada can get the fight to the ground, he’ll win. I have a hard time picking against Imada in the Bellator tournament (unless it’s the finals of course) but I think Freire will be able to keep the fight standing the majority of the time where he’ll pick apart and frustrate Imada on his way to a decision.
Prediction: Patricky Freire to defeat Toby Imada via Decision
Welterweight Fight: Matt Lee vs. Ben Saunders
Ben Saunders is back the spotlight after being released by UFC, looking to win his second straight fight over the well-traveled veteran Matt Lee.
There’s really not that much footage floating around on Lee but the guy has been fighting for over 10 years now and has faced tough guys like Jorge Masvidal and Eddie Alvarez. In those 10 years though, he’s had less than 25 professional fights, which tells me that he hasn’t been consistently fighting. From what I’ve seen/read, Lee is a decent striker but a bit slow on the draw. He likes to lead with the left hook and he has a good counter right hand. Otherwise he’s not too much of a threat on the feet to Saunders. Lee does his best work when he’s on top of his opponents but he’s not a great wrestler so getting his opponents down is a struggle. If he’s going to get Saunders down though, it’ll likely be from the clinch. Even though Saunders has a nasty muay-thai clinch, Lee could get inside, drop a level and work for the takedown. Even though Saunders has a solid jiu-jitsu game, he’s never really shown it and he actually looks tentative on the ground. If Lee can get on top on Saunders, he can definitely win this fight. Not only will it boost his confidence because it’s the best position for him but I think that if Saunders finds himself on his back, he’s really going to start to doubt himself. If Lee can make Saunders doubt himself, then Saunders is going to be in trouble. Lee just needs to pressure Saunders in this fight. Take the fight to him because he has nothing to lose. Don’t stop working for the takedown, even if it doesn’t come right away, because the clinch and the ground is his best way to his the fight. He also needs to be constantly throwing his right hand. Saunders throws a lot of kicks and the best counter to a kick is with a straight right. Lee could finish Saunders if he’s able to overwhelm him with strikes late in the fight or win a decision if he can get him down and control him.
Saunders had a tough run in the UFC, losing three of his last four fights against very good competition before getting released but I’ve always thought he has the potential to be a threat in the division. He’s a very good striker, who stands southpaw and mixes things up well. He likes to throw a straight left-right hook combo as well as a good front kick and heavy kicks to the body. Saunders’ best offense comes from the clinch. He has sick knees from the plum clinch and his length gives him a huge advantage when it comes to throwing those knees. If Lee gets inside on Saunders and stays stiff or doesn’t properly protect himself, he’s going to eat a flurry of knees. While Saunders’ takedown defense is suspect, lets not forget that he was taken down and controlled by Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman, both top-notch grapplers. So unless Saunders has ungodly terrible takedown defense, he should be able to keep the fight standing against Lee. If Saunders does find himself on the ground though, he needs to show off that active guard that I’ve heard so much about. As much of a killer as he looks on his feet, he looks like the exact opposite on the ground. He just seems afraid to commit to his submissions and content on just trying to control his opponents posture in order to get a stand up. Obviously Saunders will want to keep this fight standing and he’ll want to make a statement. I’m sure he’ll throw a lot of heavy strikes, use his reach, and when the time comes lock on the plum clinch and rough up Lee with knees. Look for Saunders to try and press Lee against the cage, control him, and then unload with the muay thai knees. Saunders can finish Lee with strikes, possibly submit him if Lee goes down and gives up his back, or win a decision if Lee is able to hang around and not get finished.
This is really Saunders’ fight to lose. Lee is being brought in to essentially get destroyed and to showcase Saunders and that’s what I expect to happen. Unless Lee can get Saunders down or press him against the cage for the majority of the fight, he’s going to get roughed up on the feet. I expect Saunders to make a statement in this fight by putting a beat down on Lee.
Prediction: Ben Saunders to defeat Matt Lee via TKO in Round 1
In a week where MMA is a bit slow, this is Bellator’s chance to shine. Season four has been very good thus far and now they’re coming strong with an excellent card. I encourage everyone to tune in and enjoy the action on Saturday night. And of course, get ready for the After Party on Monday.