By Ryan Young
Bellator 87 takes place at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., Thursday. It’s the first Bellator event since it move to Spike TV to fail to feature a title fight, but as Bellator colour commentator Jimmy Smith put it earlier this week, “this card is for hardcore fight fans.”
I’d have to agree with my man Jimmy as the Season 8 lightweight tournament opening round, which makes up the night’s main card, has an assortment of exciting talent, matchups and storylines.
On to the picks…
Season 8 Lightweight Tournament Quarter-Final bout (155-pounds)
David “The Caveman” Rickels (11-1, 5-1 Bellator) vs. Lloyd “Cupcake” Woodard (12-2, 2-2 Bellator)
They may not be the biggest names in the mixed martial arts world but I expect a main event-worthy war from these two.
Woodard’s only two professional losses have come against lightweight champion Michael Chandler and recent No. 1 contender Rick Hawn in the semifinals of the Season 4 and 6 lightweight tournaments, respectively. In between the losses he earned the biggest win of his career with a submission of Patricky (Pitbull) Freire. Now the 27-year-old looks to start a run to his first tournament final appearance in three attempts.
He’ll have a stern opening test in David (The Caveman) Rickels. The 24-year-old dropped a controversial split decision to eventual tourney winner Karl Amoussou in the Season 6 welterweight tournament (I scored it for Rickels), then responded with a unanimous decision victory over the previously undefeated Jason Fischer at Bellator 82 in November. If he can retain the power he had as a welterweight despite a drop to 155 pounds he may be a tournament dark horse.
The betting lines have Woodard pegged as the slight favourite but I can’t help think Rickels finds a way to win this meeting. Both guys can stand and strike and likely will for a portion of the fight, but a couple of Rickels takedowns could prove to be the difference in the judge’s eyes. Is he savvy enough to pull it off? Let’s hope for my sake he is.
Winner: Rickels via unanimous decision.
Saad Awad (12-4, 0-1 Bellator) vs. Guillaume “Il Toro” DeLorenzi (10-1, 1-0 Bellator)
Montreal’s Guillaume DeLorenzi has rattled off five straight victories since losing to War Machine back in February 2009. The streak includes a stoppage of UFC veteran Dale Hartt and a submission over Jonny Carson in his Bellator debut in November. All but one of the 28-year-old’s wins have been finishes.
He was originally scheduled to open the tournament against Patricky (Pitbull) Freire but a knee injury suffered by the Brazilian forced him to withdraw from the bout less than 48 hours out.
Stepping in as Freire’s replacement is Saad Awad who was set to face Jason Fischer on the preliminary portion of the card. Awad fought and lost in Bellator back in June 2009 but since then he’s gone 5-1 with four straight Ws. Fischer is no joke so one should assume Awad is prepared and entering the bout in great shape. Plus, he has to be thrilled at the last-second tournament opportunity and potential $100,000/title shot that comes along with it.
If he did manage to win a couple of fights in the tourney it would be quite the Cinderella story. Don’t expect any motion picture-worthy triumphs, however, as I see DeLorenzi taking this matchup quite handily. Awad is a game fighter but DeLorenzi is just too well-rounded and powerful. It may be close in the opening stages, just not for 15 minutes.
Winner: DeLorenzi via second round submission.
Will “Ill Will” Brooks (8-0, 0-0 Bellator) vs. Ricardo Tirloni (15-3, 2-2 Bellator)
If you were to ask the majority of people who watched Tirloni battle Dave Jansen in the semifinals of the Season 7 lightweight tourney it wouldn’t be surprising to find that most thought the Brazilian deserved the nod in what turned out to be a narrow split-decision loss. Instead, the 29-year-old is prepared to enter his third Bellator lightweight tournament and has to know his opportunities must be winding down.
In his opening contest he’ll welcome the unbeaten Will Brooks into the Bellator cage. The 26-year-old Brooks has a ton of hype surrounding him with seven stoppage wins in his eight fights. He’s coming off the biggest victory of his career, a second-round TKO over Satoru Kitaoka at Dream’s New Year’s Eve show in which he showed great submission defence before ground and pounding his way to the finish.
This will undoubtedly be the greatest challenge of Brooks’ young career. Tirloni is a capable finisher with 13 of 15 of his wins coming inside the distance, eight submissions and five TKOs. That means Brooks must be must aware and ready to defend wherever the fight goes, and I think he’ll be prepared to do it. He’ll gain top position on the mat and grind out a decision if he can avoid any mental mistakes.
Winner: Brooks via unanimous decision.
Thiago Michel (10-3, 1-1 Bellator) vs. Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy (21-1, 1-1 Bellator)
After dominating overseas and in M-1, Russia’s Alexander Sarnavskiy entered Bellator’s Season 7 lightweight tournament as the favourite. That all came to a sudden halt when he had his back taken in the first two rounds of his quarter-final matchup with Rich Clementi and his third-round flurry proved to be not enough. He returned at Bellator 82 two months ago to dominate Tony Hervey for three rounds, and at just 24 years old he’s once again the fighter with a target on his back in the eight-man bracket.
The Brazilian Michel, 28, fought in two close split decisions in the Season 6 lightweight tournament, exchanging a win over Rene Nazare with a loss to Brent Weedman. The two bouts were the only times in the kick-boxer’s career that he’s been the distance, and we shouldn’t get a third when he meets Sarnavskiy.
Both fighters like to strike, and hopefully this turns into a stand-up affair. I feel the power edge leans towards Sarnavskiy along with more of an aggressive nature. Michel will have to pick his shots carefully and make sure he does a lot of damage when he capitalizes.
I see the opposite happening.
Winner: Sarnavskiy via third round TKO.
Bellator 86 results: What a week we had going a perfect 6-for-6 with two finishes called correctly. The perfect card makes us 10-1 overall so far in Season 8.
Ryan Young is a regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s MMA section. Follow him on Twitter @YoungRyan4.
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: David Rickels (155.4) vs. Lloyd Woodard (154.2)
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Thiago Michel (154.6) vs. Tiger Sarnavskiy (155.2)
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Ricardo Tirloni (155.8) vs. Will Brooks (156)
Lightweight Tournament Quarterfinal Fight: Saad Awad (156.0) vs. Guillaum DeLorenzi (155.2)
Lightweight Feature Fight: Jason Fischer (155.8) vs. Sevak Magakian (155.2)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Sam Quito (169.4) vs. Ben Lagman (170.8)
Lightweight Feature Fight: J.P. Reese (155.6) vs. David Shepherd (155.6)
Heavyweight Feature Fight: Jason Fish (250.6) vs. Karl Etherington (238.6)
Catchweight Lightweight Feature Fight (165): John Schulz (163) vs. Amir Killah (165.4)
Catchweight Bantamweight Feature Fight (140): Nick Kirk (139.6) vs. Tony Zelinski (135.4)