Bellator Fighting Championships will return to "The Buckeye State" this Saturday night (September 24, 2011) at the Canton Memorial Civic Center in Canton, Ohio, live on MTV2.
The main card will air live on the basic cable network, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Bellator 51 will be the continuation of the promotion's fifth season as eight bantamweights 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 Olympic wrestling medalist Alexis Vila, hotshot prospect Eduardo Dantas, WEC veteran Marcos Galvao, tough Brazilian wrestler Luis Nogueira and former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe.
Our complete Bellator 51 preview and predictions after the jump:
135 lbs.: Joe Warren (7-1) vs. Alexis Vila (9-0)
This is a battle of tremendous wrestling credentials. Both men have been successful on the world stage, Warren with Greco Roman for the United States and Vila with freestyle for Cuba.
Warren has slowly improved his striking since making his Bellator debut, culminating in his second round knockout of Joe Soto to win the Bellator featherweight title last year. He's definitely ambitious, dropping down to bantamweight for this tournament, but he may be spreading himself out a bit too thin.
Alexis Vila is an extremely talented wrestler who has kept himself in peak physical shape after making the transition to MMA. He trains out of American Top Team, one of the best fight camps in the business and a team that is well represented in the Bellator ranks. His age (40) could be a factor though.
Both Warren and Vila have elite capabilities of taking this fight to the ground and they could also cancel each other out. This could potentially become a striking battle which would favor Warren. I've got a nagging feeling though, that Warren has bitten off more than he can chew. He hasn't faced an elite level wrestler yet in his fighting career and Vila has a very real chance of pushing him to his limits.
Final Prediction: Alexis Vila via split decision
135 lbs.: Wilson Reis (12-3) vs. Eduardo Dantas (10-2)
This is a battle of two incredibly gifted Brazilian MMA talents. One, Reis, has had moderate success in the United States already, winning the EliteXC bantamweight championship and making it to the semifinals three times as a featherweight. The other, Dantas, is one of the highest ranked prospects in the world at bantamweight and will be making his United States debut.
Reis is an elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and mixes in solid wrestling and striking abilities. He's very well-rounded and should be incredibly dangerous now that he's finally fighting at 135 pounds after three seasons of competing out of his weight class for Bellator.
Dantas is young (22), hungry and with 12 fights under his belt, already has plenty of experience against high level competition. His only real loss thus far in his career was via unanimous decision to top-ranked Japanese bantamweight Masakatsu Ueda. He also trains out of the famed Nova Uniao camp alongside top lighter weight fighters like Jose Aldo and Marlon Sandro in Brazil.
This will be a very interesting battle. Both men are very high level competitors are are capable of dazzling fans with their skills. This could come down to endurance and at 135, Wilson Reis is capable of outlasting just about anyone. I think the Brazilian by way of Philadelphia can pull this one off.
Final Prediction: Wilson Reis via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Chase Beebe (19-7) vs. Marcos Galvao (9-4-1)
This is yet another incredibly intriguing bantamweight battle as former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe battles veteran Marcos Galvao, a man who many felt got robbed in his "super fight" against Joe Warren earlier this year.
Beebe possesses high level MMA wrestling and a strong arsenal of chokes on the ground. He's capable in the stand-up but that's not his specialty. What he really wants to do is take his opponent down and physically dominate them on the ground, eventually wearing them out and earning a submission victory.
Marcos Galvao is a decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who trains out of a satellite gym of Nova Uniao in New York. Galvao is highly skilled on the ground, showcased solid takedown defense against Warren and is a competent striker. He will likely want to keep this bout standing, but he is just as capable of going for submissions on the ground.
This will be a battle of Beebe trying to put Galvao on his back and make him uncomfortable with relentless pressure while Galvao will try to find some space to either go for submissions or stand with Beebe and knock him out there. I have a feeling this one could turn into a stalemate.
Final Prediction: Chase Beebe via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Ed West (16-5) vs. Luis Nogueira (11-1)
Ed West was the runner-up of the last bantamweight tournament, losing via unanimous decision to Zach Makovsky in the finals. Luis Nogueira is a highly decorated Brazilian wrestler with a luta livre background.
West has a strong arsenal of strikes, capable of blasting his opponent an assortment of punches, kicks and other flashy maneuvers. He's also very dangerous on the ground and loves to attack limbs with armbars and leg locks. His biggest weakness thus far has been his defensive wrestling against elite ground fighters.
Nogueira is a very scrappy young fighter. He pushed himself to the limit in his tournament qualifier match against Jared Spoon, repeatedly taking the wrestler down and working to pass guard, ground and pound and go for submissions. He's also a very patient fighter.
The outcome of this bout will hinge on whether West can stay off his back, stuff takedowns and punish Nogueira for trying. This should be an exciting bout no matter where it goes because West doesn't stop fighting once taken down, although he'll have a hard time finishing his opponent unless he can wear him down over the course of three rounds.
Final Prediction: Ed West via TKO in round three
So Maniacs, who's your pick to take it all the way in this Bellator season five bantamweight tournament? Do you agree with most experts that believe this is the most talented of the four tournament fields? Can any of these eight fighters threaten Bellator champion Zachovsky for the title?