Bellator Fighting Championships will return to "The Garden State" this Saturday night (October 15, 2011) at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, live on MTV2.
The main card will air live on the basic cable network, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Bellator 54 will be the continuation of the promotion's season five middleweight tournament as Bellator holds its semifinals. One of the most exciting potential match-ups of the night will be between free-swinging Alexander Shlemenko and first round knockout specialist Brian Rogers. The other semifinal bout will be between Wanderlei Silva's Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach Vitor Vianna and well-rounded season three tournament finalist Bryan Baker.
The main event of the evening will be a special feature fight for the Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky as he takes on UFC veteran Ryan Roberts, who's dropping down to 135 pounds for the first time.
Our complete Bellator 54 preview and predictions after the jump:
135 lbs.: Zach Makovsky (13-2) vs. Ryan Roberts (16-9-1)
Zach Makovsky has quickly risen to one of the better bantamweights out there and he should not be underestimating UFC veteran Ryan Roberts, who is 6-1-1 in his last eight fights.
"Fun Size" has some of the best offensive grappling in the bantamweight division right now. He's very aggressive with his wrestling and takedowns, will pass guard and attempt multiple submissions if he finds an opening. His striking has also improved. He added some nice ground and pound to his skill-set, something he utilized very well in his last "superfight" against Chad Robichaux earlier this year.
Ryan Roberts has been in there with some elite fighters and while he's come up short each time, that experience could be all he needs. He's stepped into the cage with UFC fighters like Donald Cerrone, Duane Ludwig and Marcus Aurelio at lightweight. He'll be dropping down to bantamweight for this fight and he could have a big size and strength advantage over Makovsky in this fight.
If Roberts has any weaknesses, it's that he doesn't coordinate his attacks as efficiently as Makovsky, and he has been submitted multiple times in the past, although not in over two and a half years. Makovsky will try to really work his offensive grappling and push Roberts until he breaks.
Prediction: Zach Makovsky via submission in round three
185 lbs.: Alexander Shlemenko (41-7) vs. Brian Rogers (8-2)
This will be a battle of two very entertaining strikers. Alexander Shlemenko has more flash but Brian Rogers is all about the power. Shlemenko is known for his unpredictability. He's just as likely to throw a spinning back fist as he is a jab, perhaps even more likely. His nickname is "Storm" but you'd think it was "Tornado" with how often he throws crazy spinning attacks. The Russian won the Bellator season three tournament, losing a title shot to Hector Lombard and is back for more. He defeated Croatian kickboxer Zelg Galesic with a standing guillotine in his quarterfinal bout.
Brian Rogers is as nasty of a powerhouse striker as they come. He's got heavy hands and some ferocious knees. He showcased a head kick in his last fight, which helped set up a first round knockout of Victor O'Donnell, the first time O'Donnell had been stopped in his career. Rogers has now won seven consecutive fights via knockout in the opening frame.
Rogers will definitely want to keep this fight standing. He has excellent reflexes and defended O'Donnell's takedowns easily, but there are still questions about his ground game. Shlemenko's submission in his last fight could be a sign of things to come, or it could just be that he took advantage of an opening that Galesic gave him. If this fight stays standing, it's anybody's game. Hector Lombard couldn't knock out Shlemenko in five rounds, so if Rogers pulls it off, he'll instantly be a superstar.
Prediction: Brian Rogers via knockout in round two
185 lbs.: Bryan Baker (16-2) vs. Vitor Vianna (11-1-1)
This bout features two premier middleweight talents. Bryan Baker is a WEC veteran and was a finalist in the last middleweight tournament (while battling chronic leukemia) and Vitor Vianna is one of the most hyped prospects to come out of Brazil.
Baker has a very well-rounded game. He's got heavy hands, strong defensive (and offensive) wrestling and a great submission game. He's actually very dangerous off his back with not only sweeps but triangle chokes and the like. He defeated Jeremy Horn and Joe Riggs between middleweight seasons and then put away former tournament champion Jared Hess in the third round of the season five middleweight quarterfinals. He simply wore down the stubborn wrestler, something no one had ever done before.
Vitor Vianna has some seriously high level Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) credentials and was brought to American by Wanderlei Silva to teach BJJ at his gym Wand Fight Team in Las Vegas. In return, he was given the opportunity to work on the rest of his game and become more well-rounded. Vianna barely squeaked by a very game Sam Alvey in his opening fight of the tournament via close split decision.
The key for this fight will be for Baker to really get in Vianna's face. Vianna had difficulty dealing with the pressure when Alvey was being aggressive and Baker should have the ability to take that to the next level. As long as he doesn't make the mistake of allowing Vianna to take him down and work his submission game, Baker should be able to outwork him.
Prediction: Bryan Baker via decision
155 lbs.: Jacob Kirwan (8-3) vs. Renê Nazare (10-0)
This bout should be more of a showcase fight for Rene Nazare, a fighter that Bellator is incredibly high on right now. Nazare is 10-0 with a list of grappling credentials that showcases his domination from blue belt all the way to black. He's put a focus on his striking in recent fights and obliterated Juan Barrantes in his last bout with a constant barrage of punches until he opened a fight-ending cut. Nazare is extremely aggressive, and while it has helped him in past fights against overwhelmed opponents, he could be getting himself into trouble as he works his way up the food chain.
Jacob Kirwan primarily fights at featherweight, so he's definitely not being expected to win. He's got an 8-3 record but the more telling statistic should be that he's 1-2 in his last three fights, losing both times he's stepped in against top competition like current UFC featherweight Jim Hettes and current Bellator bantamweight semifinalist Marcos Galvao.
Expect to see Nazare attempt to completely run over Kirwan with his aggressive striking and grappling. Don't be surprised if he ignores submission opportunities to let loose with his hands. It really appears that striking has become a priority for him lately, it's just something new and fun for him.
Prediction: Rene Nazare via TKO in round one
So what do you think Maniacs?
Do you smell any upsets brewing at this event? Who's your pick to advance to the finals of the Bellator season five middleweight tournament?