Bellator Fighting Championships will head to New Jersey on Saturday night (May 14, 2011) at the Harra's Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, NJ, live on MTV2 for its forty-fourth event.
The main card will air live on the basic cable network beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Headlining the main event will be the final "super-fight" of season four as veteran Falaniko Vitale gets thrown to the rabid wolf that is Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard. Lombard has a penchant for ending these non-title affairs very quickly.
Also on the card will be the finals of the season four lightweight tournament as Missouri standout wrestler Michael Chandler squares off against Brazilian knockout artist Patricky "Pitbull" Freire.
Two season five eliminator bouts will also be on the table as Bellator season two middleweight tournament winner Alexander "Storm" Shlemenko matches up with veteran Brett Cooper and bantamweights Bryan Goldsby and Anthony Morrison compete for a spot in the bantamweight tournament..
Complete Bellator 44 preview and predictions after the jump
185 lbs.: Hector Lombard (28-2-1) 1 NC vs. Falaniko Vitale (29-9)
Hector Lombard is an absolute wrecking machine. What more can you say? The last time the Cuban tasted defeat, his record was 7-1. That was over three years and 20 fights ago. "Shango" possesses some of the most powerful punches in the middleweight division. Nothing proved that more than his six second destruction of Jay Silva in his first super-fight with Bellator. Jay Silva was a guy who went the distance in both of his UFC fights but Lombard ran through him like tissue paper.
On top of the dynamite in his fists, the Bellator champion is one of the most accomplished judo practitioners in MMA today. Lombard can take the fight to the ground if he needs to. It was a strategy he implemented when he gassed against Alexander Shlemenko last October.
If Lombard has a weakness, it's his endurance. He tends to try very hard to end the fight in the first few minutes and if that doesn't work, he gets frustrated and fatigues. If Vitale has a chance to win this fight, it's by taking the American Top Team fighter into the third round.
Vitale has respectable striking and submission skills, but both times he was matched up with a powerful striker, he was knocked out. Robbie Lawler had his way with Vitale in each of their matches.
The veteran absolutely must withstand the early blitz from Hector Lombard if he has any dreams of performing the upset but the odds are highly unlikely that he does.
Final Prediction: Hector Lombard via KO
155 lbs.: Michael Chandler (7-0) vs. Patricky Freire (9-1)
This bout has all kinds of potential.
Michael Chandler is yet another undefeated former Missouri wrestler. He's looking to join his former teammate Ben Askren as a tournament winner and eventual Bellator champion. The Xtreme Couture product's wrestling is world class.
As stated in his interview earlier this week, Michael will want to survive in the first round and take Freire into deep waters. If he can put the Brazilian on his back repeatedly, he's going to do it. Chandler displayed gritty determination in his first round fight against Marcin Held, surviving a deep kneebar attempt and turning the tables on the jiu-jitsu ace with an arm triangle finish.
Patricky Freire is a one man highlight reel. His knockouts of Rob McCullough and Toby Imada have a combined 360,000 views on YouTube already. "Pitbull" has massive power in both his fists and his explosive knees and he's got the speed to sneak a big strike in past his opponent's defenses.
On top of solid striking, Freire also possesses excellent jiu-jitsu skills. Don't believe Chael Sonnen, a black belt under the Nogueira brothers is a big deal. His ground game hasn't been showcased much, but he was able to manhandle Razor Rob when his quarterfinal fight went to the canvas.
If Freire wins this fight, it'll likely be in the first round when he's still fresh. He was actually on his way to losing to McCullough after fatiguing when he landed the big right hand for the flash knockout.
It's tough to pick against a Pitbull brother but wrestlers have simply done too well in Bellator.
Final Prediction: Michael Chandler via decision
185 lbs.: Alexander Shlemenko (38-7) vs. Brett Cooper (13-6)
You've got to feel for Brett Cooper. He lost a controversial decision to Steve Carl in the opening round of the Bellator season two middleweight tournament and all he's done since then is win. How does Bellator reward him? By pitting him against the season two champion in a qualifier just to make it to the season five middleweight tournament.
Cooper is a very powerful striker and an unconventional grappler if the fight were to go to the ground. He might even have the wrestling skills to give Shlemenko fits.
"The Storm" is quite literally a whirlwind of entertainment. Shlemenko has been known to repeatedly use spinning strikes as his primary method of attack. He twisted and turned his way to decision victory over Matt Major and followed it up with back to back technical knockouts of both Jared Hess and Bryan Baker in last year's tournament.
He is tough as nails, even going the distance with Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard in his season three title fight this past October.
This bout has all the makings of a classic slugfest. The winner will be who tags who first and who can follow it up quicker. Shlemenko showed excellent killer instinct against two of Bellator's top middleweights and that's enough to justify picking him here.
Final Prediction: Alexander Shlemenko via TKO
135 lbs.: Bryan Goldsby (13-13) vs. Anthony Morrison (15-9) 1 NC
Don't let his record deceive you, Bryan Goldsby is a very talented fighter. He punched his ticket to the Bellator season three bantamweight tournament after defeating major veteran Jeff Curran at Bellator 14. Unfortunately, he didn't perform at the level he expected of himself, losing back to back decisions during the tournament.
Goldsby is a very entertaining fighter to watch. He has a diverse attack of kicks and punches and he can land from any direction. His biggest issue is on the ground. If he's put on his back, he's like a turtle and can't get back up.
Anthony Morrison is a former WEC featherweight who washed out after dropping back to back fights to Mike Brown and Chad Mendes. The Philadelphia native will have a ton of hometown support in the crowd to hopefully inspire him to win his way into the next Bellator bantamweight tournament.
Morrison has a solid grappling acumen and if he can get this fight to the ground, it's his for the taking.
Neither of these men will likely advance very deep in the next tournament, but Bellator is always full of surprises.
Final Prediction: Anthony Morrison via decision
That's a wrap.
What are your picks for Saturday night's Bellator event?