Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Sunflower State" this Saturday night (October 29, 2011) at the Argosy Casino in Kansas City, Kansas, live on MTV2.
The main card will air live on the basic cable network, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
The main event of the evening will be a Bellator welterweight title fight as champion and former Olympic wrestler Ben Askren looks to defend his title against season four tournament winner and former IFL champion Jay Hieron.
Bellator 56 will be the continuation of the promotion's season five heavyweight tournament with the semifinals and it will be a very big battle of 260+ pound men. Quarterfinal winners Ron Sparks and Eric Prindle will square off on one side of the bracket while injury alternate Thiago Santos will match up against Neil Grove, who advanced on late notice when Blagoi Ivanov was also forced out with an injury.
Our complete Bellator 56 preview and predictions after the jump:
170 lb. title: Ben Askren (8-0) vs. Jay Hieron (22-4)
Ben Askren is one of the most accomplished American wrestlers to ever transition to mixed martial arts. He was a four-time collegiate All-American and two-time national champion while wrestling at the University of Missouri and also represented the United States at the 2008 Olympics. Askren has utilized his elite wrestling very well, taking down every opponent he's faced and smothering them from Dan Hornbuckle to former champion Lyman Good.
Jay Hieron, a decorated junior college wrestler himself, is a much more well-rounded fighter, having experience in a plethora of top MMA promotions throughout his career. He earned his title shot by winning the season four welterweight tournament, although it wasn't exactly in convincing fashion.
Askren will clearly be looking to take Hieron down, beat him up a bit, and dominate him positionally as he looks to either pass guard or advance to a location where he can attack with a submission hold. Hieron will be looking to try to knock Askren out on the feet and offer as much resistance as possible to Askren's takedowns. If he can wear Askren down, make him work extra hard for every takedown, he could overwhelm the Olympian in the later rounds.
Prediction: Ben Askren via decision
265 lbs.: Eric Prindle (8-1) vs. Ron Sparks (8-0)
At 6'5 and at least 280 pounds, Eric Prindle is one of the largest competitors in Bellator history. He's had a successful career thus far utilizing his size as well as blasting the opposition with his power. He wore down Abe Wagner in his quarterfinal match, utilizing some takedowns to really make the the Utimate Fighter season 10 veteran carry his weight and tire out.
Ron Sparks got into the MMA game late, but he's been a force against everyone he's faced thus far. He doesn't have a lethal ground game, but he's got dynamite in his hands. He destroyed Mark Holata in his quarterfinal match, knocking the big man out in less than 90 seconds. He's had three fights thus far in the Bellator cage and none have gone past the midway point of the first round.
Prindle will likely try to push Sparks into the cage and wear him out or take him down and beat on him there. If he gives Sparks any space at all, don't be surprised to see another highlight reel knockout.
Prediction: Ron Sparks via knockout in round one
265 lbs.: Thiago Santos (9-1) vs. Neil Grove (11-4-1)
Thiago Santos was originally supposed to be in the season five heavyweight tournament but visa issues forced him to delay his Bellator debut by a week. Thankfully for him, Mike Hayes was not medically cleared to advance in the tournament so Santos was given his spot after defeating Josh Burns via first round submission in a heavyweight alternate bout. Santos is big, powerful and he's got a half decent ground game.
Neil Grove put up a tough fight against Mike Hayes in his quarterfinal bout but he was repeatedly taken down and could not get back to his feet long enough to sway the judges. While standing, he was definitely aggressive and he put a hurting on Hayes, enough to force him out of the tournament. Grove is incredibly powerful and has knockout power in both hands. He'll need to keep this fight standing against Santos.
Expect Santos to again try to take his opponent down and either work ground and pound or look for a submission. Grove still has a lot of work to do if he wants to be a fully well-rounded fighter, but he's been given a second chance. Hopefully he can make the most of it.
Prediction: Thiago Santos via submission in round two
So what do you think Maniacs?
Will Askren retain his title tomorrow night? Who do you see advancing to the Bellator season five heavyweight finals?