Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Sooner State" this Wednesday night (June 19, 2013) at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma.
The special three hour main card will air live on Spike TV on fight night, beginning at 7 p.m. ET.
Headlining the main event will be the return of former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammed Lawal as he takes on UFC veteran Seth Petruzelli in the opening round of the Bellator Summer Series light heavyweight tournament. Both men are trying to put their most recent fights behind them, having been finished via knockout/TKO in the last Bellator light heavyweight tournament.
The other half of the tourney will be a 205 battle between veteran Renato Sobral and the upstart Jacob Noe. Sobral was upset in the opening round of the last tournament while Noe, who actually beat Petruzelli in the quarterifnals, was unable to keep the momentum. The winner will be one fight away from a potential title shot.
But that's not all, the Summer Series heavyweight tournament will also be kicking off as former Bellator light heavyweight and heavyweight tournament finalist Richard Hale takes on Brazilian bomber Vinicius Queiroz while "Monster" Ron Sparks battles newly signed unbeaten prospect Vitaly Minakov.
Our complete Bellator 96 preview and predictions are posted below.
205 lbs.: Muhammed Lawal (9-2 1 NC) vs. Seth Petruzelli (14-7)
Lawal was a heavy favorite to win the last Bellator tournament, finishing his quarterfinal opponent with ease and showcasing all the work he'd done on his boxing. That backfired against Emanuel Newton, who slugged him with a perfectly timed spinning back fist that put his lights out. After splitting time advancing his MMA career with training for pro wrestling in TNA, Lawal is back for another shot at a tournament victory.
Petruzelli was hoping to make a strong case for himself in the last tournament, but he entered his fight with Jacob Noe having suffered a knee injury just a week before the bout and he aggravated it shooting for his first takedown. His opponent sensed the weakness and pounced, putting him away in the first round. Now recovered, "The Silverback" is hoping to make a better impression in his second tournament.
Lawal loves to rely on his boxing and while he's technically more sound than Petruzelli, why even risk it? His wrestling is so much better, he's more explosive and he can manhandle Petruzelli on the ground. I expect him to shoot in for a takedown and ground and pound his opponent, but stranger things have happened. Petruzelli's gameplan will be to try to force King Mo into a brawl because both men are powerful and he'll at least have a decent shot to catch him with a big punch.
Final Prediction: King Mo via TKO in round two
205 lbs.: Renato Sobral (37-10) vs. Jacob Noe (11-2 1 NC)
As hyped up as Sobral's Bellator debut and signing were, he didn't look like he had much gas left in the tank in his first fight with the promotion, getting clipped with a spinning back fist by Mikhail Zayats and then finished with a flurry of punches on the ground. He'll be hoping to go back to his roots this time around against Noe.
Noe wanted to build off his victory over Petruzelli, but he got caught in the opening seconds against Zayats in the semifinals and then was completely dominated on the ground as he tried to recover from the blow. By the time he had his wits about him, his opponent was in full mount and had locked in an armbar. He'll be trying to land with power against Babalu and put this fight away as quickly as possible.
Sobral has his faults, but he's still a terrific grappler. He should quit screwing around on the feet and work to get this fight to the ground. Noe was manhandled by Zayats on the canvas and he doesn't hold a candle to "Babalu's" jiu-jitsu credentials. That being said, if Noe can keep it standing and turn this fight into a slugfest, he can definitely find a way to catch the veteran and hurt him.
Final Prediction: Sobral via submission in round two
265 lbs.: Vinicius Queiroz (6-3) vs. Richard Hale (21-5-1)
Both Queiroz and Hale found themselves on the losing end of fights against current champion Alexander Volkov in the last heavyweight tournament. Queiroz was knocked out in the end of the second round of the semifinals while Hale lost a lackluster decision. Obviously, both men want another crack at the lanky Russian, but they'll have to get through each other first.
Queiroz has a decent ground game and if he can take Hale down, he's got a shot at either submitting him or at least winning the positioning battle. On the feet, while he's long and powerful, Hale is the better man with superior boxing technique and a ridiculous amount of power. If Hale lands on Queiroz at any point, it's probably going to be good night for the Brazilian.
Final Prediction: Hale via knockout in round one
265 lbs.: Ron Sparks (8-1) vs. Vitaly Minakov (10-0)
Sparks is very powerful and is capable of knocking anyone out, but his ground game is very limited and at 38 years old, I just don't see him having enough time to round out his game before he's done with his career. Minakov, on the other hand, is a legitimate heavyweight champion Sambo practitioner and he looked terrific in his Bellator debut last November.
Look for Sparks to try to land with power on the feet while Minakov responds with power of his own. The big difference between these men, other than the age disparity (Minakov is 28), is the fact that Minakov has a safety net of taking the fight to the ground if he gets in trouble. I can definitely see Minakov putting Sparks on the canvas and putting him away with an armbar at some point.
Final Prediction: Minakov via submission in round one
170 lbs.: War Machine (12-4) vs. Blas Avena (8-6 1 NC)
Oh boy, War Machine! Once signed by Bellator and released for making threats against the President of the United States of America, he found himself in jail for repeated assaults. After cleaning up his act, Bellator resigned him, even doing a feature on the troubled 170-pounder, but he injured his knee before getting an opportunity to compete in the most recent welterweight tournament. Finally healthy, he'll be making his long awaited debut with the promotion on Wednesday.
Avena is a bit of a journeyman, but he's got experience and more importantly, he's actually been active as a fighter. War Machine has only fought once in the last three years while Avena has competed four times in that span. While War Machine still has a way to go to round out his game, he's beaten some legitimately talented fighters throughout his career and has a penchant for scoring exciting knockouts. Don't be surprised to see him finish Avena via KO or TKO, as all six of Avena's losses have come from that method.
Final Prediction: War Machine via TKO in round one