Bellator 90 preview: Tourney quests continue

February 20, 2013, 5:24 PM

By Ryan Young

Grab your wives, Bellator is coming to Utah!

But seriously, for the first time in the company’s history Utah will play host to an event as Bellator 90 takes over the Maverik Center on Thursday.

The main card airs live on Spike TV beginning at 10 p.m. ET and features the finals of the Season 7 featherweight tournament, as well four Season 8 semifinal matchups.

Let’s see how the televised portion of the evening should play out…

Main Event

Season 7 Featherweight Tournament Final bout (145-pounds)

Rad Martinez (14-2, 4-0 Bellator) vs. Shahbulat “Assassin” Shamhalaev (11-1-1, 2-0 Bellator)

The pride of Utah Rad Martinez can win $100,000 and a shot at the featherweight title in front of friends and family if he can get through a Russian with dynamite in his hands.

Martinez is best known from an ESPN Outside the Lines episode in June 2011 that told the story of how he balances his mixed martial arts career with taking care of his paraplegic father. The 34-year-old former NCAA Division 1 wrestler has been fighting professionally for barely five years now and has never had an opportunity quite like this. With five straight wins, including tournament nods over Nazareno Malegarie and Wagnney Fabiano, the time is now for the West Jordan, Utah, native to shine as a mixed martial artist.

The only problem for what will likely be the crowd favourite is that Shahbulat Shamhalaev is also at that stage of his career.

Shamhalaev, 29, came to North America and Bellator with a 9-1-1 record and an appetite to make a name for himself on the word stage. So far he’s been successful scoring first-round knockouts of both Cody Bollinger and Mike Richman on his way into the final. Those two bouts took place in Canada so this will actually be the “Assassin’s” first fight on American soil.

We saw in his semifinal matchup with Richman that Shamhalaev has lightning-fast counter-striking that can put a fighter to sleep before he hits the ground. That doesn’t bode well for Martinez who used constant pressure to wear down his opponents in the tournament’s opening rounds. If Martinez can employ the same strategy and get the fight up against the cage or on the ground he could use his grappling to have some success. I just think he’ll eat too many punches in the process.

Winner: Shamhalaev via second round TKO.

Season 8 Light Heavyweight Tournament Semifinal bout (205-pounds)

Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (9-1 1nc, 1-0 Bellator) vs. Emanuel “The Hardcore Kid” Newton (19-7-1, 2-1 Bellator)

There is no shortage of eggs in the proverbial basket when it comes to Bellator’s high hopes for “King Mo.”

One of, if not the biggest, move Bellator has made in its short history is signing the former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion Lawal. The 32-year-old isn’t just trying to ignite a Bellator light-heavyweight division that has only had one title fight before — he’s also going to be a fixture on Spike TV’s TNA Wrestling program. That’s a big investment, one that would be significantly decrease in value should Lawal not emerge from the tournament victorious. He had no troubles in the quarter-finals as he easily disposed of over-matched Przemyslaw Mysiala in the first round.

Expect a better challenge from Newton, 29, who has won seven of his last eight contests. The lone loss during that streak for the California native was a split decision to eventual winner Attila Vegh in the 2012 Summer Series tourney. For all we know Vegh, who earned a title shot against Christian M’Pumbu by winning that tournament, could be the next champion and Newton has already given him a run for his money.

While the fight with Vegh was close, this one probably won’t be. Newton is a game fighter but let’s face it, this is Lawal’s tournament to lose. “King Mo” can win this fight in any number of ways, but I foresee some vicious ground and pound leading to the stoppage.

Winner: Lawal via second round TKO.

Season 8 Welterweight Tournament Semifinal bout (170-pounds)

Bryan “The Beast” Baker (18-4, 8-3 Bellator) vs. Douglas “The Phenom” Lima (23-5, 5-1 Bellator)

An injury to Brent Weedman has opened the door for the man with the most Bellator fights in history to step in and attempt to win his first tournament.

Bryan Baker, 27, is no stranger to the tourney format having competed in three of them prior to this replacement opportunity. He made it to the finals twice including the Season 6 welterweight tourney where has submitted by Karl Amoussou in the opening minute, his last outing. He’s won 12 of his last 15 fights but has been stopped in all three of the losses, an Achilles heel so to speak.

You can count on the 25-year-old Lima attempting to make it number four. The Brazilian striker exploded into Bellator by winning the Season 5 welterweight tournament while scoring highlight-reel worthy knockouts of Chris Lozano and Ben Saunders along the way. He was outwrestled by Ben Askren in his title fight, like everyone else who has faced the champ, but responded with TKO wins over Jacob Ortiz and Michail Tsarev.

“The Beast” is a tough test for any fighter but I don’t see anyone keeping Lima from winning this tournament. Baker will have to try to put Lima on his back like Askren did, but it’s no easy task. Even if he does manage to score a couple of takedowns I can’t see him being able to hold “The Phenom” down for too long. Lima strikes his way to a decision.

Winner: Lima via unanimous decision.

Season 8 Light Heavyweight Tournament Semifinal bout (205-pounds)

Jacob “The Psycho” Noe (11-1 1nc, 2-0 Bellator) vs. Mikhail Zayats (20-6, 1-0 Bellator)

The most shocking moment of Bellator’s short run on Spike was provided on opening night as Russian Mikhail Zayats upset well-known veteran Renato “Babalu” Sobral via first-round knockout.

Zayats, 31, had entered the bout on a five-fight winning streak but he’d never beaten someone as established of Sobral. The M-1 product will look to continue his Cinderella story against a fighter who also scored a big upset in the quarter-finals.

Noe, 32, had eight straight wins including one inside the Bellator cage when he squared with UFC alum Seth Petruzelli in his opening-round fight. Things were pretty even on the feet in the early going until Petruzelli shot for a takedown and wound up in a heap on the ground. A couple powerful strikes by Noe and the referee stepped in to signal the awkward-looking finish. Whether Petruzelli blew his knee out or not, as he claimed he did, Noe has shown the ability to take out opponents with the power in his mitts.

Nobody expected to see this matchup and it’s no easier to envision how it will play out now that it’s about to come to fruition. Neither fighter is noticeably dominant in any one area, but I believe Noe has more power. For that, and that reason alone, I’ll take “The Psycho.”

Winner: Noe via second round knockout.

Extra Preliminary Card Prediction:

Season 8 Welterweight Tournament Semifinal bout (170-pounds)

Ben “Killa B” Saunders defeats Raul “Smash Mode” Amaya via unanimous decision.

Bellator 89 Results: We went a pedestrian 3-for-5 last week with two finishes called correctly. The off-week makes us 21-4 overall so far this year.



Ryan Young is a regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s MMA section. Follow him on Twitter @YoungRyan4.

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