This coming Friday night, Bellator lands in Salt Lake City , Utah as Bellator 114 will feature hometown hero Rad Martinez.  But the truth behind this weekend’s event is the Cinderella Story of Connecticut Middleweight Brennan Ward.  Just last summer, Ward was little known outside of southern New England MMA circles.  Sporting just a 6-1 record, the former All-American wrestler filled an open spot in Bellators’ Middleweight Tournament.  In the nine weeks between September 7th and November 8thof last year, Brennan won all three of his tournament fights en route to winning the toughest tournament in sports 185 lb division.  The three wins put 100K in Brennan’s pocket and earned him a shot at the Bellator Middleweight Title currently held by Russian Alexander Shlemenko.  More importantly, the Bellator Tournament established the former local fighter as a world class talent and a regular in the Bellator system.  

For those sports fans that have been splitting their time between MMA and College Basketball these past few days, you all saw (at least) the remnants of the Mercer University win over Duke University in opening round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, The Road to the Final Four.  The little known Mercer University Bears, who had not earned a post season berth in 29 years, stomped out Duke University , one of the most decorated programs in NCAA Basketball history, this past weekend to score the biggest upset of the post season.  Mercer would go on to lose two nights later to Tennessee , but the point is that in a single elimination tournament, everyone is beatable and anyone can win on a given night.  This is why we watch the Road to the Final Four.  This is also why we watch The Toughest Tournament in Sports. 

Brennan Ward burst on the New England MMA scene with four wins in 2012, as The Irish Bad Boy quickly established himself as a top regional Middleweight.  A freak loss on a Bellator undercard in early 2013 would become the only blemish on his record.  When Bellator’s fall tournament season came around, Ward answered the call with three consecutive wins, all second round finishes.  (In each of those wins, Ward lost the first rounds; but like a well disciplined football team, he straightens things out during the intermission.) 

This Friday night, the 25 year old from Connecticut with just nine wins will look across the cage at the Russian Alexander Shlemenko, who has 56 fights on his professional resume.  Last fall, Ward had the opportunity to fight in the Bellator Tournament and he took full advantage.  Winning the tournament’s three fights gave Ward wins over Justin Torrey, Joe Pacheco, and Mikkel Parlo, but it has also moved Ward in line for a World Title shot ahead of Bellator regulars like Dan Cramer, Doug Marshall, and Brett Cooper.  You see, win, lose, or draw, Brennan Ward went from regional New England stand-out to world class fighter in just eight weeks of Bellator Tournament MMA!  That is the magic of single elimination tournaments! 

This Friday night in Salt Lake City , Utah , Brennan Ward will enter the cage against a vastly more experienced MMA fighter in Alexander Shlemenko.  Sports writers from around the world will paint Ward as a huge underdog.  The betting lines in Vegas will confirm the consensus, as MMA fans will all lay their money down on the big Russian.  I suspect that Ward will likely lose the first round in this five round fight.  But round two is where The Irish Bad Boy operates best.  Yeah, this Friday night on the banks of the big salt lake, Brennan Ward will be giving away size and experience.  But he will bring the better wrestling, quicker hands, and 185 pounds of confidence, and that is what he will use to bring the Bellator Middleweight Title back to Connecticut !