Bellator 61 preview and predictions for 'Santos vs Prindle' on March 16 in Bossier City

Bellator 61 poster via Bellator

Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Bayou State" this Friday night (March 16, 2012) at the Horseshoe Riverdome in Bossier City, Louisiana.

The main card will air live on MTV2 on fight night, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

Headlining the main event will be a heavyweight tournament final that features two men with some serious unfinished business. Thiago Santos and Eric Prindle's original bout at Bellator 59 ended in a dreaded "No Contest" after a low blow from Santos forced a stop to the fight just 74 seconds into the first round.

Now they're back and there's a heavyweight title shot on the line.

The rest of the main card will comprise the Bellator season six middleweight tournament, which features top competitors like Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran Maiquel Falcao, as well as season five mainstays like Brian Rogers and Vitor Vianna. Also competing is the top Russian prospect Vyachaselav Vasilevsky and "The Arm Collector" Giva Santana.

Check out our complete Bellator 61 preview and predictions after the jump:

265 lbs.: Eric Prindle (7-1 1 NC) vs. Thiago Santos (10-1 1 NC)

Thiago Santos entered the Bellator season five heavyweight tournament as an alternate but proved his worth by dropping season three finalist Neil Grove with an overhand right and finishing him with a rear naked choke in just 38 seconds. Santos is large, powerful and while he's not the most technical guy on the ground, he's definitely dangerous with submissions if he can gain an advantage.

Eric Prindle is probably one of the biggest heavyweights in the world. Originally cutting down from about 300 pounds to make the 265 pound limit. Prindle showcased his boxing skills in the semifinals by destroying the heavy hitter Ron Sparks in just 40 seconds,

The key for this fight will be for Prindle to try and keep the fight standing or in the clinch while Santos also looks stand or score takedowns. Prindle has some terrific boxing skills and tremendous power, but this fight will hinge on whether he can remain upright.

He was dumped on his back in the last fight before the ill-fated low blow, so he's going to have to put forth a better effort to stay standing if he wants to win this time around. Santos has proven he's capable both standing and on the ground and in my opinion, that will likely be the key difference.

Final Prediction: Thiago Santos via submission in round one

185 lbs.: Maiquel Falcao (28-4 1 NC) vs. Norman Paraisy (10-1-1 1 NC)

You might remember Maiquel Falcao, he's the man who was the reason for Gerald Harris' release from the UFC due to his funky fighting style and lack of action in the final two rounds. He also got screwed out of a potential fight-ending submission after the round was ended four seconds early and he had Harris on the verge of tapping out. He was released by the UFC after some legal trouble back home and has gone 2-1 since.

Norman Paraisy might be known best for being the French fighter who failed to answer the bell for the second round against James Hammertree in a fight to enter the house for The Ultimate Fighter season 11, which drew plenty of jokes. Since then, however, Paraisy has gone 5-0-1 competing around the globe including a victory over former WEC champion Paulo Filho.

One must questions Paraisy's heart a bit heading into this fight and how he will react if Falcao is able to take control. Also, Paraisy's lone career loss came under the Bellator banner in 2009 against Dave Menne so that will likely be wearing on him as well. Falcao is very powerful and he's skilled in both striking and submissions. I feel if he can begin to gain an advantage, he's going to break Paraisy at some point.

Final Prediction: Maiquel Falcao via TKO in round two

185 lbs.: Vitor Vianna (12-2-1) vs. Brian Rogers (8-3)

Vitor Vianna was widely regarded as one of the best middleweight prospects on the planet. He proved it in the last Bellator middleweight tournament, knocking Bryan Baker senseless before coming up short against Alexander Shlemenko in the finals via decision. Vianna has some extremely good jiu-jitsu skills and he mixes that well with some improving stand-up and power.

Brian Rogers is one of the best middleweights in Ohio. "The Predator" entered the Bellator season five tournament on a six fight streak which included six first round knockouts. He kept the streak alive, stopping Victor O'Donnell inside two minutes at Bellator 50 but he also was halted by Alexander Shlemenko, although he gave the Russian quite a beating before fading in the second round.

Rogers is at his best when he's swarming and overwhelming opponents early with his heavy power shots including kicks and knees. He's going to have to hurt Vianna with some punches and kicks in the opening minute if he wants to present himself with an opportunity to finish the fight. Vianna, on the other hand, should fire back by playing it cautious early or potentially taking the fight to the ground and working his world class submission game. If he can drag this fight into the second or third round, his odds of winning go up drastically.

Final Prediction: Vitor Vianna via submission in round three

185 lbs.: Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (15-1) vs. Victor O'Donnell (11-3)

Vyacheslav Vasilevsky is a very explosive and capable middleweight. A former M-1 light heavyweight champion, he's used to fighting men much larger than him and winning. Vasilevsky would prefer to keep this fight standing where he's most dangerous but if the fight goes to the canvas, that's not the end of the world either as he's highly capable on the ground.

Victor O'Donnell was another Ultimate Fighter season 11 fighter who failed to make it onto the show. He fell short to Brian Rogers via first round TKO in the last tournament but he protested the stoppage and was given another shot for this tournament. O'Donnell trains out of Vision MMA in Cincinnati alongside top prospects like Roger Bowling and Daniel Straus and he's pretty dangerous everywhere.

Vasilevsky will be trying to stand and trade with O'Donnell where he should have a power and technique advantage. He's got some terrific footwork and he can take a shot so he would be willing to eat one to give one. O'Donnell has some respectable striking, but he does most of his damage on the ground whether it's ground and pound or submissions. Both men are very tough and pretty evenly matched so I don't see this fight getting stopped.

Final Prediction: Vyacheslav Vasilevsky via decision

185 lbs.: Giva Santana (17-1) vs. Bruno Santos (12-0)

Giva Santana is an extremely dangerous submission expert. "The Arm Collector" has finished 13 of his 17 career victories via armbar including a ridiculous 10 in a row during a two year stint from 2005-2007. Santana also splits his time by being the head jiu-jitsu coach at Team Oyama where he trains current UFC fighters like Shane Del Rosario and Ian McCall. His age is getting up there, but he's still extremely nimble and is one of the most dangerous middleweights in the world on the ground.

Bruno Santos is a very interesting Brazilian prospect. He's been able to develop a tenacious grinding style which has helped him win all 12 of his career fights. Santos does not have much finishing ability, however, and he's gone to decision in all nine of his most recent fights, winning them all unanimously. His submission and striking skills are still progressing and he's still young enough at 24 years old to add them to his arsenal.

Santos has zero chance of submitting Santana but perhaps if he's got enough confidence in his defense, he could work for takedowns and try to ground and pound his opponent. I expect Santana to immediately be attacking from every angle, and if Santos leaves an arm even close to exposed, he's going to snatch it up and mount that sucker on his wall.

Final Prediction: Giva Santana via armbar in round one

So what do you think, Maniacs?

Who do you see winning the Bellator heavyweight finals and do you think either man can challenge Cole Konrad? What are your picks for the Bellator season six middleweight tournament?

Sound off!

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