Bellator Fighting Championships will return to "The Sooner State" tonight (October 8, 2011) at the Buffalo Run Hotel & Casino in Miami, Oklahoma, live on MTV2.
The main card will air live on the basic cable network, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Bellator 53 will be the continuation of the promotion's season five welterweight tournament as the promotion holds its semifinals. Former UFC prospect Ben Saunders will battle seasoned Brazilian veteran Luis Santos in the headlining bout while a pair of highly touted prospects in Chris Lozano and Douglas Lima duke it out in the other tournament semifinal.
Also on the card will be a future featherweight tournament qualifier between former 145 pound tournament semifinalists Ronnie Mann and Kenny Foster, who advanced in the season four and the 'Summer Series' tournaments respectively.
The opening bout of the main card will be a heavyweight alternate fight between two giants in Josh Burns and Thiago Santos. Santos will finally make his Bellator debut after injuries and visa issues prevented him from competing in last week's heavyweight tournament quarterfinal. With an injury to the advancing Mike Hayes, the winner of this bout could easily step into "300's" shoes.
Our complete Bellator 53 preview and predictions after the jump:
170 lbs.: Luis Santos (50-6-1) vs. Ben Saunders (11-3-1)
This one was picked as the main event for a reason. Both of these fighters are capable of some serious fireworks in the stand-up department. Luis Santos is a veteran of a ridiculous amount of fights but it took until his 57th bout to get that big significant victory he'd been searching for. He absolutely dominated Dan Hornbuckle in the first round of the tournament, keeping him at bay with superior use of range, leg kicks and mixing in takedowns.
Ben Saunders might have the most aggressive use of Muay Thai kickboxing in MMA right now. When he goes into "killer mode" he can charge forward, put his opponent in the Thai plum and obliterate them with knees. He was the only fighter to finish his opponent in the welterweight quarterfinals and it looked like he was trying to make a statement against Chris Cisneros with the use of his takedowns and ground work as well.
Both men want to impose their will in the striking department. Saunders wants to get in close and really work his knees and short strikes while Santos wants to keep his distance and blast "Killa B" with leg kicks and jabs. Whoever can utilize their range the best is going to win. I'm sticking with Saunders, but Santos is a very live dog here. Don't underestimate him.
Prediction: Ben Saunders via decision
170 lbs.: Douglas Lima (19-4) vs. Chris Lozano (9-1)
This should be a thrilling welterweight attraction between two of the best welterweight prospects on the planet. Douglas Lima is a very accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter who has really worked to add some wrestling and striking to his skill-set. Despite being hurt in the first minute against Steve Carl in his last fight, he rebounded to win all three rounds with his offensive grappling skills. He'll likely be looking to do something similar against Chris Lozano.
Lozano put on a show in his first Bellator tournament, losing a spirited decision to former champion Lyman Good but he went right back to work in training to come back stronger than ever. He returned at Bellator 49 against one of the tournament favorites, Brent Weedman, and after losing the first round, he came back strong and blasted Weedman with an offensive assault of wrestling and striking in the final two frames to win a decision and advance.
Lozano will want to keep this fight standing and work his stellar striking where he'll have a technical edge as well as a power advantage. Lima might stand for a bit, but he will most certainly want to get this fight to the ground. Lima does not have a big wrestling edge so that may be an issue for him in putting Lozano on his back. I smell an upset.
Prediction: Chris Lozano via TKO in round two
145 lbs.: Kenny Foster (9-3) vs. Ronnie Mann (20-4-1)
This should be a scintillating battle between two featherweights with absolutely no fear of each other. Kenny Foster entered the season four Bellator featherweight tournament as an underdog and absolutely smashed former top collegiate wrestler Erik Larkin with a first round submission victory. His timing is excellent, he caught Larkin with a big knee on his first shot in and he really took the fight to him before dropping down for a guillotine choke.
Ronnie Mann dominated his first two fights in Bellator. He outgrappled Josh Arocho in his debut and then knocked Adam Schindler out cold in the opening round of this summer's special featherweight tournament. He's very well-rounded and will clearly have an experience edge, having stepped in against some world-class featherweights.
Both men were outworked in their semifinal bouts by Daniel Straus and Pat Curran respectively, but they are still top talents and will definitely be bringing it tonight. Foster will likely have an issue dealing with Mann's technical edge in striking and likely in grappling as well and I have a tough time seeing how he'll be able to win this fight.
Prediction: Ronnie Mann via decision
265 lbs.: Josh Burns (6-4) vs. Thiago Santos (8-1)
Now this is a matchup of some really, really big dudes. Both Josh Burns and Thiago Santos weighed in at over 260 pounds at the weigh-ins yesterday. Burns is a heavy brawler who came up short in a heavyweight tournament qualification bout against Eric Prindle this past April. He's a scrappy dude, but he likely doesn't have the talent to match Santos.
Thiago Santos is a hulking beast of a man. He comes in at 6'3 and barely makes the heavyweight limit. He has tremendous power in both hands and is very good at muscling opponents around. He's had multiple issues which prevented him from making his Bellator debut, but he is finally in the US and he's looking to put a hurting on Burns.
Prediction: Thiago Santos via knockout in round one
How do you see the fights playing out tonight, Maniacs? Who's your pick to win this tournament and earn a shot at the Jay Hieron-Ben Askren winner?