Bellator 131 "Tito vs. Bonnar" takes place this Sat. night (Nov. 15, 2014) at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, California. It's the final event of Bellator's eleventh season, and the promotion is looking to go out with a bang for the finale, going head-to-head with UFC 180 in Mexico City.
If you're going to have any chance of winning a war like that, let alone putting up a respectable fight, you've got to have some fighters on the card that will draw casual fans. The "People's Champion" Tito Ortiz and the "American Psycho" Stephan Bonnar have both been in free TV fights that drew huge audience numbers for Spike TV.
Bellator is taking advantage of the audience they expect to lure in for this grudge match with important bouts underneath. "Ill" Will Brooks and Michael Chandler will have a rematch to determine who is Bellator's true lightweight champion. "King Mo" Lawal will face former UFC fighter Joe Vedepo. Explosive striker Melvin Manhoef is back in action, and former UFC fighter Nam Phan makes his Bellator debut.
Check out our full preview for the Bellator 131 main card below:
205 lbs.: Tito Ortiz (17-11-1) vs. Stephan Bonnar (15-8)
No matter how many times Tito Ortiz is written off by the pundits, he finds a way to get his name back into the spotlight. A first-round victory over Alexander Shlemenko at Bellator 120 was Ortiz' first win since 2011 and only his second win since 2006. How does Ortiz keep coming back? Having a big mouth helps. A non-stop barrage of verbal abuse toward Stephan Bonnar building up this fight is something Ortiz has to hope gives him a psychological edge.
Ortiz will need any edge he can get. A significant size advantage against Shlemenko made the fight work out in his favor, but Bonnar will be just as big as Ortiz and has a better track record in recent fights, winner of three out of four with the only loss of those four coming against Anderson Silva. Ring rust is a significant concern though, since Bonnar hasn't had a fight in two years, after failing the UFC 153 post-fight drug test and going into (temporary) retirement.
Both fighters are in their late thirties, and both have been knocked out big in several of their losses, but the one significant advantage Bonnar has is that he has NEVER been submitted -- not once. He started his jiu-jitsu training under Carlson Gracie and racked up five submission wins before he debuted in UFC. His wars with Forest Griffin made him famous as a brawler, but would it really be shocking if Bonnar went back to his roots? Ortiz is a hard man to tap though as he's only been submitted twice and the first time was in his second ever fight as a pro.
Final prediction: Bonnar defeats Ortiz by unanimous decision.
155 lbs.: Will Brooks (14-1) vs. Michael Chandler (12-2)
"Ill" Will Brooks has taken advantage of every opportunity that came his way, with the lone blemish in his 15-fight career being a first-round knockout by Saad Awad. He avenged that loss in Bellator's ninth season, beat "Tiger" Alexander Sarnavskiy in the tournament final that year, and stepped in to replace Eddie Alvarez at Bellator 120, winning the interim world title in the process.
That victory wasn't without controversy though, as Brooks became the champion in a split decision, taking 48-47 from two out of three judges. For Chandler that had to be an especially bitter pill to swallow as it was his second split decision in a world title fight, and the previous split decision against Alvarez cost him the title. Chandler can arguably claim to be the best lightweight on the planet to have lost two title fights in a row.
Neither man has shown much vulnerability in the cage; never submitted and only one knockout between them. Brooks is a high school wrestler turned football player turned MMA fighter, so he knows enough about grappling to handle himself, but Chandler was a walk-on at the University of Missouri who walked off with 100 collegiate wins. He rarely relies on it to win, having five knockouts and five submissions, but this rematch is another close fight one or two more takedowns on Chandler's part may by the difference he needs.
Final prediction: Chandler beats Brooks by split decision.
205 lbs.: Muhammed Lawal (13-4, 1 NC) vs. Joe Vedepo (17-8)
Speaking of decorated wrestlers, "King Mo" Lawal racked up wins and a Big 12 conference title before going on to pick up gold medals at the U.S. and Pan American championships. He streaked his way to 7-0 and a Strikeforce world title after going into MMA, but after that suffered multiple setbacks including a knee injury and a gruesome staph infection. Even his ardent supporters admit that Lawal isn't the same fighter he was before that happened.
Lawal was originally scheduled to face Tom DeBlass, but after DeBlass got split open in training, Bellator was forced to find a replacement fighter on short notice. Joe Vedepo earned a third-round TKO against Davin Clark at Bellator 129 and was relatively injury free following the bout, so the former UFC fighter will move up from middleweight to light heavyweight and take on the challenge.
On paper it may seem that Lawal can simply wrestle Vedepo to the ground and keep him there, and he's done that to many of his opponents, but it's not a viable option to assume he's safe there. Seven of Vedepo's 17 wins have come by submission, and Vedepo has won an equal number of fights by TKO.
Win or lose he's only been to decision four times.
Both fighters are six-feet tall, but Lawal is a more muscular 205, and Vedepo is a fairly lean 185. If what happened to Alexander Shlemenko is any indication, lean middleweights moving up on short notice to face light heavyweights doesn't work out well in Bellator.
Final prediction: Lawal beats Vedepo by knockout.
185 lbs.: Melvin Manhoef (29-11-1, 1 NC) vs. Joe Schilling (1-3)
I think the career records speak for themselves here... but let's give this one paragraph anyway. Manhoef just knocked out Doug "The Rhino" Marshall at Bellator 125 and Schilling last fought in MMA in 2008, taking his third rear-naked choke loss at ShoXC 8. The reason this fight is even being allowed to take place is because of Schilling's kickboxing background, where he's 17-7 overall, but Manhoef will be the hardest hitting kickboxer he's ever faced.
Final prediction: Manhoef knocks out Schilling in the first round.
145 lbs.: Mike Richman (17-5) vs. Nam Phan (20-13)
Richman returns on short notice to face the debuting Phan, having knocked out Ed West in the first round at Bellator 126 in his bantamweight debut. He returns to featherweight to take on the 33-fight veteran who had two memorable fights with Leonard "Bad Boy" Garcia in UFC. Phan is only two years older but has 10 more fights, and 10 decision losses in that span, which as remarkable as it seems, is actually an asset. It proves Phan can be beaten, but it also means that more likely than not, you're going to have to go the distance to get the "W."
Final prediction: Mike Richman beats Nam Phan via decision.
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of Bellator 131: "Ortiz vs. Bonnar" tomorrow night RIGHT HERE, with the first fight taking place at 7 p.m. ET and streaming LIVE on Spike.com. The televised portion of Bellator 131 will air LIVE on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
See you then!