Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Buckeye State" this Friday night (April 20, 2012) at the IX Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
The main card will air live on MTV2 and Epix HD on fight night, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
Headlining the main event will be a much-anticipated lightweight rematch between top 10 fighters Eddie Alvarez and Shinya Aoki. The Japanese submission wizard, Aoki, defeated Alvarez at Dynamite!! 2008 in Saitama, Japan and Alvarez has been begging for a rematch ever since.
Also on the card, the Bellator season six middleweight tournament semifinals will be taking place as Maiquel Falcao battles Vyacheslav Vasilevsky and Ohio's own Brian Rogers takes on tournament alternate Andreas Spang.
Lastly, the Bellator season six lightweight tournament will also be holding its semifinals as former welterweight finalist Rick Hawn battles underdog fan-favorite Lloyd Woodard and Kentucky's Brent Weedman takes on Brazilian kickboxer Thiago Michel.
Check out our complete Bellator 66 preview and predictions after the jump:
155 lbs.: Eddie Alvarez (22-3) vs. Shinya Aoki (39-5) 1 no contest
Eddie Alvarez rose to the top inside the Bellator cage. Immediately after his last submission loss to Aoki, he would win the inaugural Bellator lightweight tournament. He followed up with two "superfight" victories and a title defense against now-current featherweight champion Pat Curran. Late last year, Alvarez would lose his title in one of 2011's finest matches against Xtreme Couture's Michael Chandler. He decided against competing in the season six lightweight tournament and instead waited for another big rematch against Aoki.
Shinya Aoki has some of the best submissions in MMA and he's been on an incredible roll as of late. He came up short in a Strikeforce lightweight title shot against Gilbert Melendez but has gone undefeated since then with five submissions and two decision victories in that time, even coming to America and submitting Lyle Beerbohm in Strikeforce. He signed a one fight deal with Bellator for an opportunity to prove his dominance over Alvarez.
Eddie Alvarez has to have one thing on his mind, and that's to avoid going to the ground with Aoki. It won't be easy because the Japanese submission master is so crafty. Alvarez needs to utilize his wrestling defensively and then blast Aoki with his powerful punching attack. He can't get too close or stay inside for too long as Aoki is unpredictable and can drop for a leglock or takedown from anywhere. He might even show off his patented butt scoot. The one thing going against Aoki is the fact that he had to travel to America, and that has simply not boded well for most Japanese fighters. I think the jetlag may be the difference in helping Alvarez be victorious this time around.
Final Prediction: Eddie Alvarez via TKO in round two
185 lbs.: Brian Rogers 9-3) vs. Andreas Spang (7-1)
Brian Rogers is a monster. He was on a tenacious first round knockout streak before running into the freight train that is Alexander Shlemenko in the Bellator season five middleweight tournament. Undeterred, he came out in the quarterfinals of this tournament against last year's middleweight finalist Vitor Vianna and he turned the Wand Fight Team Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach into a highlight reel with one of the most insanely clean flying knee knockouts you'll ever see. He's pumped and ready to go.
Andreas Spang wasn't even in this tournament, but when Bruno Santos went down with an elbow injury nearly a week ago, he stepped up on short notice. The "Sweet Swude" is a very powerful and technical striker and has serious knockout power on the feet. He's not entirely lost on the ground either but I have a feeling he's going to want to try and finish this fight quickly. He was a standout in MFC and recently scored a first round knockout at the final Strikeforce Challengers show.
Rogers might have met his match on the feet as long as Spang is healthy and in shape. "The Predator" is a monster in terms of his knockout power in combination with those vicious knees but I wouldn't be surprised if he works his terrific throws for a takedown in this fight and works some ground and pound against Spang, who has had his issues on the canvas before. Rogers is used to quick knockouts, but with Spang stepping up on short notice, conditioning should be in his favor. I see Rogers getting a quick TKO here.
Final Prediction: Brian Rogers via TKO in round one
185 lbs.: Maiquel Falcao (29-4) 1 no contest vs. Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (16-1)
Maiquel Falcao is crazy. He fought in the UFC once in a very strange bout, winning a decision but was released when his history with the law came back to haunt him. The Brazilian went 2-1 before earning an invite to the Bellator season six tournament where he dominated Frenchman Norman Paraisy with both his ground fighting and on the feet, although his strategy and taunting were confusing at times. Now he's primed to try to advance to the tournament finals.
Vyacheslav Vasilevsky is a very dangerous Russian striker who's got some respectable submission skills as well. He was a former M-1 light heavyweight champion despite being very undersized and despite M-1's protests, he made his Bellator debut last month, destroying Victor O'Donnell with a dominant display of stand-up and ground and pound in the final two rounds of their fight. He's definitely capable of winning this whole thing.
The biggest difference in both men's skillsets are Falcao's smaller compact stature for a middleweight and his strong takedown game. Falcao took Paraisy down at will and defensive wrestling is the one part of Vasilevsky's game which he is still lacking. On the feet, both men are powerful and dangerous but Vasilevsky should be more technical and have a better reach. What will be the deciding factor in this fight will be Falvao's takedowns and ground game from top control, which I feel Vasilevsky will have some serious trouble with.
Final Prediction: Maiquel Falcao via decision
155 lbs.: Lloyd Woodard (12-1) vs. Rick Hawn (12-1)
Lloyd Woodard is a tremendous story. Training out of Montana, he continues to step up and put a hurting on bigger and more notable names in the division. He was a semifinalist in the season four lightweight tournament before losing to current champion Michael Chandler and he went out and put on a Fight of the Year candidate in his season six tournament quarterfinal bout with Patricky Freire, eventually forcing the Brazilian to give in to his Kimura attack in the second round.
Rick Hawn was a welterweight tournament finalist and arguably should have won the season four 170 pound tourney. Instead, he dropped a decision and then decided to drop a weight class. In his lightweight debut, he remained composed and then proceeded to knock very tough Brazilian Ricardo Tirloni clean out in the first round, showcasing some incredible short range power in the process.
Hawn has Olympic judo wrestling credentials but he primarily uses them defensively to remain standing and work his striking. Woodard is a jack-of-all-trades and is capable of anything and everything. I wouldn't be surprised to see him throw haymakers, leg kicks, takedown attempts and potentially a submission all in the first minute just to keep Hawn guessing. This has all the makings of an incredible fight as Hawn never moves backwards, which should force a ton of action from the super-scrappy Woodard. I feel Hawn's power might be too much for "Cupcake" but he won't go down without a fight.
Final Prediction: Rick Hawn via TKO in round two
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Alvarez be able to avenge his 2008 loss to Aoki? If so, how? Who are your picks to advance to the Bellator seaosn six lightweight and middleweight finals?