Bellator 85 preview and predictions for 'Hawn vs Chandler' in Irvine

Poster via Bellator

MMAmania has a complete preview and predictions guide to Thursday night's Bellator season eight debut which features two title fights in the featherweight and lightweight divisions. Who do we pick to come out on top and why? Find out below.

Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Golden State" this Thursday night (Jan. 17, 2013) at the Bren Event Center in Irvine, California.

The main card will air live on Spike TV on fight night, beginning at 10 p.m. ET.

The headlining fight of the evening for Bellator 85 will be a much-anticipated Bellator Lightweight Title Fight between champion Michael Chandler and challenger Rick Hawn. Neither man has fought since last May, when Chandler destroyed Akihiro Gono by knockout and Hawn won the season six lightweight tournament.

Also on tap will be a Bellator Featherweight Title Fight between champion Pat Curran and challenger Patricio Freire. Curran dethroned Joe Warren to capture the belt after winning his second tournament last year, although he was injured while preparing for his first title defense. Now healthy, he'll be stepping into the cage against a very hungry Brazilian who's been waiting for his shot at the title for well over a year and a half.

Don't forget that former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Renato Sobral will be making his Bellator debut in the 205 pound tournament.

Our complete Bellator 85 preview and predictions are posted below.

155 lb. title: Michael Chandler (10-0) vs. Rick Hawn (14-1)

Michael Chandler has been a wrecking machine since signing with Bellator, cruising through the season four lightweight tournament, defeating Lloyd Woodard, Patricky Pitbull and current finalist Marcin Held and then pulling off a huge upset in one of 2011's finest fights by dethroning champion Eddie Alvarez. Chandler has not been active since a May victory over veteran Japanese fighter Akihiro Gono, but he's more than ready for this tremendous opportunity.

Rick Hawn has been phenomenal in Bellator thus far, advancing to the finals of the season four welterweight tournament and then dropping down a weight class to destroy everyone in the season six lightweight tournament and earn a shot at the belt. He knocked Lloyd Woodard and Ricardo Tirloni senseless before a workmanlike performance against Brent Weedman gave him this opportunity.

Stylistically, this fight is incredible because both men love to move forward and try to knock their opponent's heads off. Both Hawn and Chandler have serious one punch power and both have elite grappling skills with Chandler being an All-American wrestler out of Missouri while Hawn was a United States Olympic representative on the 2004 judo team. Look for both men to use their grappling skills in reverse to keep the fight standing while they try to work their striking. Footwork, conditioning and technique will be key, and you can't go wrong with Chandler's youthful exuberance and heart when it's all on the line.

Final Prediction: Michael Chandler via decision

205 lbs.: Renato Sobral (37-9) vs. Mikhail Zayats (19-6)

Renato Sobral was a standout in Japan and the UFC although his tenure didn't end well. He found a second home in Strikeforce during the most recent portion of his career, elevating to light heavyweight champion before being dethroned by Gegard Mousasi. Sobral has not been very active as of late, only fighting once since a 2010 loss to Dan Henderson, but he was more than happy to give it one most shot in Bellator and test his skills in their still thin but growing light heavyweight division.

Mikhail Zayats is a fun fighter to watch, but he has had his issues stepping up his competition level. While the Russian has repeatedly strung together four and five fight winning streaks, his stoppage losses to Vinny Magalhaes and Lucio Linhares leave a lot to be desires.

The fact that Zayats' best strength is his jiu-jitsu is a huge problem because he's simply not going to be choking out "Babalu" unless he nearly knocks him unconscious first. If Zayats tries to take this fight to the ground, he's asking for serious trouble against one of the most experienced ground fighters in light heavyweight history.

Final Prediction: Renato Sobral via submission

145 lbs.: Pat Curran (17-4) vs. Patricio Freire (17-1)

Pat Curran has been the poster boy for Bellator success, rising out of the ashes of obscurity to win two different tournaments and win a title. After consecutive stoppage victories over Marlon Sandro and Joe Warren, he now finds himself ranked in the top five at featherweight. Curran has all the tools to be a force at 145 pounds and he plans on beginning a reign of terror with his first featherweight title defense.

Patricio Freire is young and very hungry Brazilian. He advanced to the finals of the season two tournament before fading against Joe Warren. He came back with a vengeance and won the next featherweight tournament, defeating Daniel Straus in the finals to put a stamp on his victory. Since then, however, he's been battling injuries and horrific luck which have kept him from competing for 20 months.

Curran should have an advantage in the conditioning department as well as range. He's long, lanky and incredibly diverse, capable of finishing a fight in all aspects. "Pitbull" is going to be looking to land his heavy punches or to take this fight into the clinch or on the ground. Freire not fighting for such a long time is a huge cause for concern, however, especially considering the level of opposition he'll be facing and the fact that this is the first five round fight of his career.

Final Prediction: Pat Curran via TKO in round four

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