Bellator Fighting Championships will return to "The Sunshine State" this Saturday night (September 17, 2011) at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, live on MTV2.
The main card will air live on the basic cable network, beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
Bellator 50 will be the continuation of the promotion's fifth season as eight middleweights square off in the quarterfinals for the right to challenge for the title and earn a cool $100,000.
They will be joined by the a group of tournament newcomers which includes Wanderlei Silva's Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach Vitor Vianna, knockout artist Brian Rogers, submission specialist Victor O'Donnell, scrappy Team Quest fighter Sam Alvey and veteran Croatian fighter Zelg Galesic.
Our complete Bellator 50 preview and predictions after the jump:
185 lbs.: Bryan Baker (15-2) vs. Jared Hess (12-2-1)
This is a very compelling match-up that throws the runner-ups from the first two middleweight tournaments against each other in the first round. In fact, if not for a freak knee injury to Hess, this could have been a fight to decide Hector Lombard's next title challenger last year.
Baker was going through difficulties of his own, most notably battling chronic leukemia during the season two tournament and despite barely being strong enough to train, he was able to defeat his first two opponents in the quarterfinals and semifinals in the first round before falling to Alexander Shlemenko in the finals. Baker is in remission now and is back to full strength. He's got some very heavy hands and a strong submission game to fall back on.
Hess fought back from a nasty knee injury that forced him to sit on the sidelines for 11 months while he was rehabbing to earn a first round victory against Chris Bell this past April. He's got a strong wrestling background and is just as capable of winning a fight via ground and pound as he is of submitting his foe. What may impress fight fans most of all is his tremendous heart and determination. He doesn't quit until his body betrays him and don't expect anything less on Saturday.
This is a very tough fight to call. I feel their submission games will balance each other out so it will come down to Baker's striking and takedown defense versus Hess' wrestling and ground and pound. I have to go with Baker because he looked ridiculous while fighting cancer and he's going to be even stronger this time out.
Final Prediction: Bryan Baker via decision
185 lbs.: Alexander Shlemenko (40-7) vs. Zelg Galesic (10-5)
This bout is one of the more lopsided matches for a Bellator tournament in recent memory.
Alexander Shlemenko won the second season middleweight tournament which included impressive stoppage victories over Bryan Baker and Jared Hess. "Storm" is known for his impressive and flashy striking style that is likely to include as many spinning attacks as straight punches. He's also got a ton of experience competing against some of the best middleweights on the planet like Ronaldo Souza and most recently Hector Lombard. He may not have defeated Lombard but he forced the Bellator middleweight champion to go all five rounds with him.
Galesic is a bit of a question mark. Based out of Croatia, he is primarily a stand-up fighter with a black belt in taekwondo. He's capable of utilizing multiple powerful and flashy kicks in the cage but he never really put it all together. Galesic took 15 months off after consecutive losses to Ronaldo Souza and Kazushi Sakuraba in Dream and most recently scored a first round knockout this past March.
While both men are stand-up fighters, Shlemenko should have the edge in both striking and on the ground. I doubt this fight goes to the ground, though, so expect to see an entertaining stand-up war in which Shlemenko eventually prevails.
Final Prediction: Alexander Shlemenko via knockout in round two
185 lbs.: Vitor Vianna (10-1-1) vs. Sam Alvey (15-2) 1 no contest
This will be a battle of extreme talent against determination. Vitor Vianna is a highly decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a propensity for throwing bombs in the stand-up department while Sam Alvey is a fighter who grits his teeth and keeps moving forward. It's the perfect match-up for one fighter to instantly win over a new wave of fans.
Vitor Vianna caught the eye of Wanderlei Silva while competing in MMA events in Brazil so much so that "The Axe Murderer" brought him over to the United States to be his Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach at Wand Fight Team. In return, Silva and his trainers helped advance Vianna's all-around game. The Brazilian does not have a lot of fights under his belt despite fighting for nearly seven years but he's absolutely brimming with potential.
Sam Alvey is the type of fighter that relies on pure heart and determination to carry him to victory. He proved as much against Karl Ammoussou in his tournament qualifier match, gutting through a broken rib and a nasty cut to come back and win a decision against the favored fighter. He just doesn't know when to quit. Alvey recently pulled up his stakes and traveled to the west coast to train at Team Quest with Matt Lindland's group of fighters and they seem to be making an impact on him already.
Alvey will try to wear Vianna down and break him during a grueling three round affair while Vianna will likely be trying to either knock his head off or force him to submit early. Whoever can impose their will in this fight will be the winner.
Final Prediction: Vitor Vianna via TKO in round one
185 lbs.: Brian Rogers (7-2) vs. Victor O'Donnell (10-2)
This will be a compelling striker versus grappler bout as two Ohio middleweights throw down, one from each corner of the state.
Brian Rogers has a nasty mean streak inside him, helping him earn six consecutive first round knockouts in his last six fights. "The Predator" trains out of Strong Style Fight Team in the Cleveland area alongside some very talented rising stars in MMA today. Rogers most recently smashed Ian Rommel on the undercard of Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson this past March and punched his ticket to the next Bellator tournament.
Victor O'Donnell is more of a submission fighter. He's earned eight submissions out of his 10 career victories and is slowly developing a striking game as well. O'Donnel was briefly on season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter and forced a third round against Chris Camozzi before coming up short and failing to enter the house. Other than Vianna, he may be the most dangerous fighter in this tournament on the ground.
I feel as long as Rogers can keep the fight standing, this match is his to lose. He hits incredibly hard and if he catches O'Donnell with his power, he might stop the Cincinnati fighter for the first time in his career. If O'Donnell can take Rogers down though, it could be a completely different story.
Final Prediction: Brian Rogers via TKO in round one
So Maniacs, who's your pick to take it all the way in this Bellator season five middleweight tournament? Do you smell any upsets brewing? Can any of these eight fighters threaten Bellator champion Hector Lombard?