Bellator MMA continues its ninth season this Friday night (Oct. 4, 2013) live from Visalia Convention Center in Visalia, CA.
In the main event, former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) slugger Cheick Kongo makes his Bellator debut against Mark Godbeer in the opening round of the promotion's four man heavyweight tournament. The bout marks Kongo's first outing since turning down a four-fight contract extension prior to his UFC 159 loss to Roy "Big Country" Nelson.
Godbeer also fights in Bellator for the first time and is doubtlessly looking to make a big splash by defeating the more well-known Kongo and advancing to the finals of the tournament.
On the other side of the heavyweight tournament brackets, two men with prior UFC experience of their own will battle it out when Lavar Johnson takes on Vinicius Queiroz. Johnson is out to make a fresh start in Bellator after being let go by the UFC back in March following a post-fight drug test that revealed his testosterone level to be "consistent with the administration of a steroid." He'll face an opponent in Queiroz who is currently an even 1-1 in Bellator and gunning to establish a winning record in the promotion.
Check out our Bellator 102 preview and predictions bellow:
265 lbs. tournament semifinal match: Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Godbeer
There's one stat you need to pay attention to when prognosticating the outcome of this fight, and it's got nothing to do with reach, takedown defense, win/loss ratios, or anything else that takes place once the cage door shuts.
The nearly seven-year UFC vet Kongo was making $70,000 to show and $140,000 to win on his prior contract judging from paydays he received for his last two fights under the Zuffa umbrella. Granted, the massive Frenchman signed his deal with Bellator coming off a loss, but it's probably safe to assume a man who had grown accustomed to making bank each time he stepped in the Octagon isn't willing to fight for peanuts.
His opponent, on the other hand, has likely never seen $70,000 all in one place in his life. While Kongo was knocking out Pat Barry in UFC main events, the Englishman Godbeer was quietly plying his trade on local shows with such unintentionally comical names as "Head to Head: The Big Guns" and "Pain Pit Fight Night 1." You know, the type of bush league events where fighters are lucky to earn a free sandwich to show and a free sandwich accompanied by a side of chips with a win.
Which leads me to believe Bellator has brought in the awesomely named Godbeer to serve as 245 pounds of cannon fodder for their newly-signed heavyweight star. It simply makes good business sense for Bellator to attempt to get the maximum return for its investment in Kongo, which is why it's matching him up in the opening rounds of the heavyweight tournament with an unseasoned fighter who has no experience against top level competition.
What's more, judging by the footage of Godbeer that's available online, he's no world beater. He possesses some devastating knees and has legitimate knockout power, but his stand-up attack looks sloppy and unrefined at times. That's a bad combo against a striker of Kongo's caliber, even if the towering Parisian has slowed down over the past couple years.
Final Prediction: Cheick Kongo via second round TKO
135 lbs. tournament final match: Rafael Silva vs. Anthony Leone
You may be asking yourself just who these two men are and why they are facing off for a giant prop check and a chance at the bantamweight title.
If so, you can stop trying to commit seppuku with that DVD of the Pride 2000 Grand Prix now. Trust me, it's just not going to work no mater how many times you jab the plastic case into your belly (for the record I gave up at 34 tries). Besides, it doesn't make you any less of a "real" MMA fan if you aren't familiar with Silva and Leone.
After all, that's what happens when a promotion schedules the semifinal round of a tournament for an internet prelim show nobody outside the hardest of the hardcores watches.
In the very likely scenario you weren't glued to your computer screen while the Bellator 97 prelims streamed on Spike.com, allow me to quickly get you up to speed on what Silva and Leone did to advance to the finals of the bantamweight tournament.
Silva defeated Rodrigo Lima via third round rear naked choke following a tepid fight heavy on methodical ground work. In a funny coincidence, Leone got a third round rear naked choke victory of his own after recovering from an early knockdown at the hands of opponent Frank Baca.
Silva is proficient in capoeira and displayed a couple flashy kicks against Leone. However, within the first 30 seconds of each round, he invariably went for the takedown despite his apparent comfort standing up. Although he was able to establish top control once he got to the mat, his offense wasn't very impressive other than the flurry that led to him sinking in the rear naked choke at the end of the third.
We've seen a little more of Leone in Bellator, and judging by the excellent takedown defense he showed in his victory over former bantamweight champ and D-1 wrestler Zach Markovsky, I have my doubts Silva will be able to take him down as easily as he did Lima.
Which could mean we're in for a fast paced stand-up affair from these two. While I'm definitely curious to see more of Silva's capoeira attack, expect Leone to get the better of the striking exchanges thanks to his relentless pressure and high volume of punches.
Final Prediction: Anthony Leone via split decision
265 lbs. tournament semifinal match: Lavar Johnson vs. Vinicius Queiroz
Bellator likely made this match with an eye toward Johnson meeting Kongo in the finals of the heavyweight tournament. Think of it as a mid-card version of Rampage vs. Tito -- the distant number two promotion Bellator trying desperately to gain credibility in the eyes of fans with the big dog's leftovers.
My guess is Bellator gets its wish here and we see a UFC reunion in the tourney finals (no, not that kind of reunion). Quieroz has looked slow on his feet lately, and against a striker with the power of Johnson that's going to cost him. The cleverly nicknamed "Big" -- heh, heh, get it? -- may only be 2-4 over the past few years, but whatever he's got left in the tank will be enough to send Queiroz to Dream Street.
The one x-factor here is Johnson's recent admission the test failure that got him canned from the UFC came as a result of under the table testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) use. If Johnson has indeed stopped taking his "medicine" as he claims, there's a good chance he comes out as sluggish as the former steroid user Queiroz has looked recently.
Kids, don't stick needles filled with synthetic hormones in your backsides.
Final Prediction: Lavar Johnson via second round TKO
185 lbs. tournament semi-final match: Mikkel Parlo vs. Jason Butcher
Jason Butcher is undefeated over seven professional fights, has finished every opponent he's faced, and has never been out of the second round. Parlo has amassed nine finishes of his own over his 11 fight career, but he's 1-1 in his past two fights. Although Parlo looked impressive in victory over Brian Rogers at Bellator 98, if I was a gambling man, I'd put my money on Butcher to live up to his namesake and rack up another early stoppage over his Dutch opponent.
Final Prediction: Jason Butcher via second round submission
Pacheco is another undefeated (6-0) contestant in the middleweight tourney. As much as I'd love the drama of him facing off with Butcher in a "somebody's 0 has got to go" match, I'm picking Ward here. "The Irish Bad Boy" looked really good in his TKO victory over Justin Torrey at Bellator 98, and I think he's going to have the answer for any tricky situations Pacheco tries to put him in on the ground. If Ward can get his hands going, Pacheco will likely end up finding out for the first time in his career what it feels like to watch the ref raise the other man's hand.
Final Prediction: Brennan Ward via third round TKO
That's a wrap.
Remember to check back with us on fight night for full Bellator 102 results and live play-by-play. In the meantime, let's get your event predictions in the comments section below.