Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Land of Enchantment" this Thursday night (Feb. 28, 2013) at the Maverick Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
The main card will air live on Spike TV on fight night, beginning at 10 p.m. ET.
Headlining the main event will be a Bellator Light Heavyweight title fight between champion Christian M'Pumbu and number one contender Attila Vegh. M'Pumbu has not fought in well over a year ever since dropping a unanimous decision to Travis Wiuff in a non-title "super-fight" at Bellator 55. Vegh was last seen winning the 2012 Bellator Summer Series light heavyweight tournament, knocking off Wiuff in the finals to earn his shot at the belt.
Also on tap will be the Bellator season eight Lightweight tournament semifinals which feature a pair of bouts including top prospect Will Brooks against upset-minded Saad Awad as well as a rematch between David Rickels and injury replacement David Fischer
Lastly, the always entertaining Ed West returns to the Bellator cage against local New Mexico fighter Josh Montoya.
Our complete Bellator 91 preview and predictions are posted below:
205 lb. title: Christian M'Pumbu (18-4-1) vs. Attila Vegh (28-4-2)
Christian M'Pumbu is a native of Congo, but also resides in France. "Tonton" built up career experience all over the world before making his debut with Bellator in 2011 as an undersized light heavyweight in its inaugural tournament. M'Pumbu made a big splash, knocking out all three opponents including Richard Hale in the finals to be crowned the first Bellator 205 pound champion. In his first non-title superfight, he was handed a loss after being outgrappled by the significantly larger Travis Wiuff and he has yet to see MMA action since. That was 16 months ago.
Attila Vegh has long been considered one of the top prospects out of Europe. The Slovakian fighter entered Bellator on a five fight winning streak, defeating Dan Spohn in a non-tournament fight last April. In his tournament debut last summer, he destroyed Zelg Galesic with a one minute submission before squeaking out an extremely close decision against current Bellator finalist Emanuel Newton. In the finals, he again scored a quick finish, knocking out Travis Wiuff in just 25 seconds. Now, he's on the hunt for a title.
Both Vegh and M'Pumbu are very talented strikers but the biggest difference between them is Vegh is a bit bigger physically. M'Pumbu is literally a middleweight who is fighting at 205 pounds because he doesn't want to cut weight while Vegh is filled out a bit more (even if they are the same height). If the fight enters the clinch or goes to the ground, Vegh will be in a better spot. Also, Vegh has a serious advantage in terms of having stayed fresh. M'Pumbu has not fought since losing in October of 2011.....to a guy Vegh beat in 25 seconds in his last fight. Defending his title will be a tall task for M'Pumbu with all the variables stacked up against him.
Final Prediction: Vegh via TKO in round one
155 lbs.: Will Brooks (9-0) vs. Saad Awad (13-4)
Will Brooks made a tremendous debut on the international stage, knocking Satoru Kitaoka senseless at Dream 18 and impressing the Bellator brass so much that he was invited to fight in the season eight lightweight tournament taking place less than a month later. In his tournament debut, Brooks took on extremely well-rounded Brazilian Ricardo Tirloni and he had his way with him, wrestling Tirloni to the canvas repeatedly to earn a dominant unanimous decision.
Saad Awad entered the Bellator season eight tournament on extremely short notice in place of the injured Patricky Pitbull. He fought at Bellator 10, losing via first round rear naked choke after having his opponent on the ropes. He entered the tournament on a four fight winning streak and redeemed himself against Guillaume DeLorenzi, crushing the Canadian in just 31 seconds to advance to the semifinals.
This will be a battle of grappler vs striker. While Brooks can hold his own on the feet, why risk it against someone as powerful and dangerous as Awad? Brooks is a very physical and powerful wrestler and he can take Awad down at will and exploit his ground deficiencies. Look for Brooks to completely take Awad out of his game and work either for a submission or a TKO on the ground.
Final Prediction: Will Brooks via TKO in round two
155 lbs.: David Rickels (12-1) vs. Jason Fischer (6-1)
David Rickels has had some major success under the Bellator banner, winning three preliminary fights to earn a berth in the welterweight tournament where he advanced to the semifinals and gave eventual tournament winner Karl Amoussou a serious run for his money before dropping a decision. Afterwards, he announced he'd be dropping down to 155 pounds and he took on Jason Fischer in a catchweight fight on the way down to the weight class. Rickels got a tougher fight than expected against "The Finisher" but still pulled out a decision. In his lightweight tournament debut, Rickels came on strong late against Lloyd Woodard to win a very entertaining decision.
Jason Fischer earned the nickname "The Finisher" because he has finished his opponents in every one of his victories, even scoring a submission with one second left on the Bellator prelims to prove that conditioning is not a factor for him. The Michigan native earned a fight against Rickels and brought the thunder to him, hurting him on the feet and making "The Caveman" work significantly harder than he was expecting. In his tournament alternate bout, Fischer choked out TUF season 12 veteran Sevak Magakian in the first round and he stepped in for the injured Alexander Sarnavskiy to face Rickels again here.
Rickels needs to really push the pace against Fischer and utilize his excellent conditioning. Both men are similarly sized since Rickels had been an undersized welterweight. Both men are talented, but Rickels needs to put pressure on Fischer and either clinch with him or try to secure top position on the ground, even though he's comfortable on his back. Rickels should try to avoid fighting from his guard here because he doesn't want to get stuck on bottom for extended periods of time eating punches. Fischer should try take what worked for him in the last fight and turn it up to eleven. He had a striking advantage and survived Rickels' submissions to take top position. He can pull this off especially because he didn't fight a grueling war in his last fight.
Final Prediction: David Rickels via decision
135 lbs.: Ed West (17-7) vs. Josh Montoya (10-7)
Ed West is one of Bellator's most veteran bantamweights, earning a title shot in the first tournament before dropping a decision to Zack Makovsky. In his next tournament, he advanced to the semifinals before losing to eventual winner and now current champion Eduardo Dantas. In his last appearance in the Bellator cage, West had one of Bellator's best fights of 2012 against eventual tournament winner Marcos Galvao, dropping an extremely entertaining decision. West has only ever lost to tournament winners in his Bellator career and he's trying to get back on the winning track this Thursday.
Josh Montaoya is a New Mexico native and while he only has a 10-7 record overall, he's still very young in his mixed martial arts career at just 23 years old. After a rough three fight stretch, he avenged one of his losses and is currently riding a two fight winning streak and he's trying to score the biggest win of his career.
West will hold an advantage in just about every area from experience to submissions to his diverse striking attack. As long as West stays aggressive against Montoya and doesn't wade in with his hands at his sides, he's almost certainly going to not only win but also finish his opponent.
Final Prediction: Ed West via submission in round two