Smack dab in the center of what some believe is the strongest card the Viacom-owned mixed martial arts (MMA) company has ever staged, is former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Joe Riggs, who battles Mike Bronzoulis for the delayed title of "Fight Master."
The bout was originally set to go down Sept. 7, 2013, at Bellator 98; however, three days prior to the show's Finale, news broke that "Diesel" sustained an eye injury because of a head kick that made it through his protective gear and into his orbital socket.
The fight was postponed indefinitely, a setback that Riggs described to MMAmania.com in an exclusive interview as a struggle:
"I always cringe over having surgeries because I can't take painkillers. I used to be addicted, so I don't touch them. It didn't hurt, they just told me to take as much time away as I needed. But, five days out I was already running and then within two weeks I was in full head gear and was going like 50 percent. I thought I was in great shape during the show, but now it's next level."
Flash forward to present, Bellator 106 marks Riggs' debut for Bjorn Rebney and company. It will also signal the first-last step for Riggs in his long (39-14) MMA tenure.
"I'm at the end of my career. Not because I can't compete, but there are other things I want to do in life. I want to make one more run at the title and then hang them up. It could take one year, it could take five."
With the recent fights involving Junior dos Santos and female fighter Rosi Sexton, taking too much unnecessary abuse has become a hot topic. With all those fights already under his belt -- and having taken a fair amount of punishment throughout the process -- Riggs has his internal clock fine tuned for when it's time to put fighting behind him.
"I think it's obvious when a fighter has had too much, he doesn't have the chin he used to, there are a lot of signs, for instance Phil Baroni should have retired several years ago, but that goes for a lot of fighters, they attach their whole identity to fighting, it's hard for them to let go. I think fighters need to have someone in their camp to step up and tell them 'it's time to let go.' Even the commission has a responsibility. Look at Chuck Liddell, at one time he was invincible and then at the end it was gone. There is a shelf life on MMA careers."
All the more reason Riggs wants to put the elongated season of "Fight Master" behind him and stamp an exclamation point on the competition, ending the show the same way he started ... No. 1.
"When I got on the show, before any fights had came on, I don't think people thought I was going to win, they thought Bellator brought me on because I was a familiar name and was going to bring in viewers. Before the show I had lost three in a row. They ranked me number one based on my performance in the prelims."
I asked him if throughout the show, the weight cuts he was enduring were as painful as they seemed and he didn't mince words.
"The highest I ever was after a fight on Fight Master -- and you have to remember we fought every week -- I was going from 211 to 170, the weight cuts were hell. I didn't have another one of those in me. Now, two days before I get on a scale, I weigh 177, am eating well, and feel fucking great."
Will this lack of needing to focus his energy to make 170-pound division limit help him Saturday, when the man who also hopes to earn the title of "Fight Master," Mike Bronzoulis, gets the cage door locked behind him?
"He doesn't have anything that makes me say, 'Oh I have to look out for that,' he only does a few things well on his feet. He is a guy that isn't great, but he is average everywhere. But, he does have willpower."
So who does Riggs fear? Who on his long list of opponents sticks out most? I asked if Nick Diaz vs. Joe Riggs in 2013 would have the same ending the first encounter at UFC 57 did (minus the hospital escapade, of course) and he didn't hesitate with his response.
"I would beat him again, 100 percent. Absolutely I would beat Nick again, that would be a fun fight, we have gone 18 fights after that and I think stylistically, styles make fights. I kind of wrote the book on how to beat him. You can't get that guy to go backward, you have to counter punch him, and he is very easy to counter punch."
Wouldn't that be interesting? Too bad Michael Bisping already called dibs ... not to mention they are (currently) in different companies.
All paths lead to Bellator 106 -- for Riggs, Bronzoulis, Bellator and the inaugural season of "Fight Master." The man they call "Diesel" seems poised for a final run, but will it culminate in a tournament final against Cristiano Souza or a title shot against division kingpin Ben Askren?
"This whole thing has been a year-long process, and I am ready to put the hat on this."
To check out the latest Bellator 106: "Chandler vs. Alvarez 2" fight card and rumors click here.