By Ryan Young
After what was widely regarded a successful first event on Spike TV, Bellator returns this week for its second attempt at cable television as The WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla., plays host to Bellator 86 on Thursday.
A welterweight championship bout between Ben Askren and Karl Amoussou headlines the show, while the anxiously anticipated debut of former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion and current TNA wrestler Muhammed (King Mo) Lawal also takes place.
Lastly, the Season 8 welterweight tournament gets started as all four quarter-final fights are scheduled for the card.
Here is a look at the main card.
Welterweight Championship bout (170-pounds)
“Funky” Ben Askren (10-0, 7-0 Bellator) vs. Karl “Psycho” Amoussou (16-4-2, 4-1 Bellator)
If you think UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has a bad reputation for putting on less than exhilarating fights, wait until you get a load of Askren.
The undefeated 28-year-old has used his dominating wrestling to smother opponents in a fashion that makes Jon Fitch look like Anderson Silva. Regardless of how boring it may be to watch, it’s been an effective tool for the former Olympic wrestler that no one has been able to defend. He’s gone the distance in six straight fights but if he keeps winning them, who cares?
Amoussou, 27, is next in line to try to derail the wet blanket. The Season 6 welterweight tournament winner blasted through Chris Lozano in his opening-round matchup before having to gut out a split decision over the very game David Rickels in the semifinals. In the finals, the Frenchman once again looked dominant submitting former middleweight Bryan Baker in just 56 seconds.
As is the case in every Askren fight, the key to victory for his opponent is keeping the fight standing. Askren’s stand-up is used solely to set up the takedown and really isn’t threatening in any way. If Amoussou can keep the fight standing, even if only for three rounds, he has a great chance to score the upset. I just don’t see him being able to do it.
Make sure to have your pillow with you when this one starts because…
Winner: Askren via unanimous decision.
Season 8 Light Heavyweight Tournament Quarter-Final bout (205-pounds)
Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (8-1 1nc, 0-0 Bellator) vs. Przemyslaw “Misiek” Mysiala (16-7, 0-0 Bellator)
Let’s be honest, this is a mismatch on paper. But after two well-known fighters in Renato (Babalu) Sobral and Seth Petruzelli met their demise in the first round of their own light-heavyweight quarter-final bouts last week, let’s see how this one plays out.
Lawal, 32, is probably the biggest acquisition in Bellator history as evidenced by Spike TV making him pull double-duty as both an MMA fighter and professional wrestler for their Total Non-Stop Action wrestling promotion. He’s coming off a nine-month suspension after testing positive for the anabolic steroid drostanolone following his second-round knockout of Lorenz Larkin in January 2012, which was overturned into a no-contest. The one-time Oklahoma State wrestler fights in front of an Oklahoma audience for the first time since his collegiate days.
I can’t pronounce the Polish Przemyslaw Mysiala’s name, and for the short period of time he’s going to be around, I don’t feel the need to learn it. He’s lost two of his last four bouts, including a first round knockout loss in his last outing, and has been finished in all seven of his pro losses. He has some submissions, but I don’t foresee a way in which he will get to exercise those skills.
As last week proved, anything can happen in MMA. But if Lawal doesn’t ground and pound Mysiala through the mat Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney may be ripping his hair out Dana White style (from his forearms).
Winner: Lawal via first-round knockout.
Season 8 Welterweight Tournament Quarter-Final bout (170-pounds)
Douglas “The Phenom” Lima (22-5, 4-1 Bellator) vs. Michail “The Lonely Wolf” Tsarev (24-3, 1-1 Bellator)
This may be the most compelling fight on the entire card.
Lima, 25, entered the cage to challenge champion Ben Askren last April while on a nine-fight winning streak and on the heels off a dominant Season 5 welterweight tournament win. Like all of Askren’s opponents, Lima was stifled and put on his back for the majority of the fight. He responded with a measured third-round TKO of Jacob Ortiz at Bellator 79 in November and now has his sights set on another tourney victory and title opportunity.
A submission specialist, Tsarev made his North American debut in last season’s welterweight tourney. After showing off his skills with a second-round rear-naked choke of Tim Welch in the quarter-finals, the 26-year-old was awkwardly eliminated in the semis. Facing former champ Lyman Good, Tsarev suffered an inadvertent poke to the eye which the referee appeared to see and motioned to intervene but decided against it when Good swarmed and finished the fight with punches. Nobody wants to go out that way and one would imagine the bitter taste remains in the Russian fighter’s mouth.
Tsarev has adequate stand-up for a grappler, but he won’t want to test those waters against Lima. The Russian will have to find a way to get on the inside of Lima’s kicks and work the fight to the mat where he has the advantage. I see him being able to do this a couple times throughout the fight, but Lima is durable and will manage to return to his feet where he’ll score enough points for the decision.
Winner: Lima via unanimous decision.
Season 8 Welterweight Tournament Quarter-Finals (170-pounds)
Koffi “The Lion King” Adzitso (18-9, 0-0 Bellator) vs. Ben “Killa B” Saunders (14-5-2, 5-2 Bellator)
Ben Saunders is hoping third time’s a charm.
The UFC veteran is entering his third welterweight tournament dating back to September 2011. The 29-year-old was knocked unconscious in the finals of the Season 5 tourney by Douglas Lima and dropped a decision to Bryan Baker in the Season 6 semifinals. It took (Killa B) 22 seconds to dispose of Brian Warren back in July, and he’ll need to carry that level of confidence and ferocity with him if he wishes for a different outcome in this tournament.
First up for him is a youngster in Koffi Adzitso, who despite being under the age of 25 already has 27 pro fights on his resume. He’s won five of his last six with the lone loss coming to UFC alum Josh Burkman. There’s no question a win over Saunders would be the early highlight of his career.
Both guys like to stand and strike which means this one could provide fireworks. Adzitso has a bright future in the sport and it wouldn’t shock me if he performs well in this fight, but I see a hungry Saunders entering the cage on Thursday. It should be exciting while it lasts but the Killa B and his devastating knees will prove too much for Mufasa… sorry, I mean The Lion King.
Winner: Saunders via second round TKO.
Brent Weedman (20-8-1, 6-3 Bellator) vs. Marius “The Whitemare” Zaromskis (19-7 1nc, 3-1 Bellator)
It was so close yet so far away for Brent Weedman.
The 28-year-old participated in his third Bellator tournament last year, Season 6 lightweight, and came up on the short-end of a decision against Rick Hawn in the finals. It was the furthest he’d ever made it in a tourney, but with two failed tournament attempts at 155 pounds he’s returning to the welterweight bracket.
He’ll be tested by a true veteran of the sport in Zaromskis. The former Cage Rage, Dream and Strikeforce fighter began his Bellator run 3-0 with wins over Waachiim Spiritwolf (twice) and then Nordine Taleb in the opening round of the Season 7 welterweight tourney. He ran into a buzz saw, or more literally that buzz saw’s spinning back-fist, when he was knocked out by eventual tourney winner Andrey Koreshkov in the semifinals. The Lithuanian is still a game fighter, but that vicious loss to Koreshkov highlighted the damage he has endured throughout his lengthy career.
I’m interested to see how the return to welterweight affects Weedman, but I assume it could only mean he’s stronger and more comfortable inside the cage. Zaromskis will give him a run for his money, but I see a couple Weedman takedowns being the difference in a close fight.
Winner: Weedman via unanimous decision.
Extra prediction: Raul Amaya def. Jose Gomez via unanimous decision.
Bellator 85 results: We went 4-for-5 last week because we underestimated how badly Babalu’s chin has been destroyed over the years. Still, we nailed the other four fights and called methods of victory correctly in the Pat Curran (decision) and Emanuel Newton (second-round sub) fights.
Ryan Young is a regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s MMA section. Follow him on Twitter @YoungRyan4.