Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Sunshine State" this Thursday night (March 28, 2013) at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida.
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 season eight lightweight tournament final bout between David Rickels and Saad Awad. Both men have performed admirably, yet completely differently to get to this point in the tournament, with Rickels winning two hard-fought decisions and Awad scoring a pair of first minute knockouts.
Also on tap will be a light heavyweight tournament final between Emanuel Newton and Mikhail Zayats. Both talented strikers knocked off the two biggest names in the field respectively with Zayats knocking out Ranato Sobral in the quarterfinals and Newton blasting Muhammed Lawal in the semifinals. Both men will be fighting for that $100,000 and a shot at newly crowned champion Attila Vegh.
Last but not least, a pair of bouts will go down featuring potential upcoming tournament fighters as bantamweights Rodrigo Lima and Ronnie Mann square off for a shot at the summer series tournament and middleweight prospects Trey Houston and Brazilian Luis Melo battle it out for a potential season nine middleweight tournament position.
Our complete Bellator 94 preview and predictions are posted below.
155 lbs.: Saad Awad (14-4) vs. David Rickels (13-1)
Awad came out of nowhere with this tournament, literally, joining the field just days before the quarterfinals took place after an injury to Patricky Pitbull and he made an immediate impact, smashing Guillaume DeLorenzi in just 31 seconds. His Cinderella story continued in the semifinals when he brought Will Brooks' hype train to a screeching halt with a 43 second knockout. He'll be hoping the clock has not struck midnight just yet when he takes on Rickels.
Rickels has been very consistent in this tournament, dropping down to lightweight for the first time and going the distance in both bouts, a hard-fought war against Lloyd Woodard in the quarterfinals where he came on strong and a rematch against injury replacement Jason Fischer where he got better each round and looked considerably better than his first bout against "The Finisher" to secure his spot in the finals.
Rickels has a fantastic chin, but that's not something he should rely on here. Awad is extremely dangerous on the feet, possessing tremendous power in both hands and some solid knees to mix in. Rickels promised a war when the finals match-up was announced, but it would be unwise to stand and trade with Awad at least in the opening round. "The Caveman" has a very good ground game and if he is losing the stand-up exchanges, he should try to take Awad to the canvas where he's been submitted twice before, including his original Bellator appearance. If worst comes to worst, Rickels needs only to survive early as he is a fighter who comes on really strong in the later rounds.
Final Prediction: David Rickels via submission in round three
205 lbs.: Emanuel Newton (20-7) vs. Mikhail Zayats (21-6)
Newton had a solid run in the last Summer Series light heavyweight tournament, but found himself on the losing end of a very controversial decision to Attila Vegh, who's now the Bellator champion. He came back with a fury in this season eight tourney, weathering the early storm from Atanas Djambazov to score a submission and then "shocking the world" by knocking out tournament favorite "King Mo" Lawal with a first round spinning back fist to qualify for the finals.
Zayats made a very impressive Bellator debut, finishing former Strikeforce champion Ronato "Babalu" Sobral with a first round TKO and then crushing fellow prospect Jacob Noe in the semifinals by knocking him down and finishing him with an armbar on the canvas. Before this, he was a standout M-1 fighter, even challenging for the promotion's title against Vinny Magalhaes before heading over to America.
This fight will come down to who is more well-rounded, as both Newton and Zayats are talented and unpredictable strikers. The striking will likely cancel out and the biggest factor remaining is Newton's solid greco roman wrestling ability. "The Hardcore Kid" possesses some solid throws and is more than competent enough to avoid being submitted. Look out for Newton to stand as long as he's having success, but to fall back on that wrestling ability if the fight's not going the way he wants it to go.
Final Prediction: Emanuel Newton via decision
185 lbs.: Trey Houston (11-1) vs. Luis Melo (28-11-3)
Both of these prospects are looking to make their make inside the Bellator cage and potentially earn a spot in an upcoming middleweight tournament. Houston was a guy Bellator was really pushing as one of its best up and coming middleweights, but then he got destroyed by Billy Horne in his last bout, losing in the first round.
There isn't much known about Melo other than the fact that he's fought his entire career in Brazil and had an incredible 2012, scoring five victories in just five months, the last three in a one-night tournament. He hasn't fought since last June but will be hoping to make a very good first impression against Houston.
Houston has a solid ground game, but his wrestling is lacking. If Melo can utilize good hips, he is likely stronger than him and will be able to control him on the ground. He'll have to watch out for the solid sweep game of Houston as well. On the feet, Houston still has some work to do. Melo, no the other hand, is pretty well rounded with 11 knockouts and 13 submissions to his game so he'll likely look for whatever route can help him get the finish easiest.
Final Prediction: Luis Melo via submission in round one
135 lbs.: Rodrigo Lima (10-1) vs. Ronnie Mann (21-5)
Lima had a tough Bellator debut, taking on Japanese veteran "Iron" Nakamura and losing a competitive decision where he spent the majority of the fight off his back throwing submissions at his opponent. He's still very young and trains out of Team Nogueira so he has a tremendous amount of potential and room for growth. He'll likely be vying for a spot in the next tournament if he can get past Mann.
Mann competed in two Bellator featherweight tournaments, losing in the semifinals to Pat Curran in 2011 and dropping a decision in the quarterfinals to Mike Corey last year. The last defeat prompted "Kid Ninja" to drop down to bantamweight and try his luck there.
Lima is extremely comfortable off his back, too comfortable in my opinion. Mann will likely try to keep it standing early and try to knock the Brazilian out on the feet. If Lima has his way, he'll likely try to get the fight to the canvas by any means possible and that includes pulling guard and throwing up submission after submission as well as sweep attempts. Mann should be adept enough on the canvas to avoid danger and at least bring home a decision victory.
Final Prediction: Ronnie Mann via decision