Bellator MMA returns to the site of "Kimbo vs. Shamrock," Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo., this Friday (Nov. 6, 2015) for another Spike TV-televised card that promises fireworks: Bellator 145: "Vengeance."
This card earned its moniker because three of the marquee fights are rematches, two of which previously occurred in the promotion, as well as a trilogy match. Even though Patricio Freire thinks it doesn't make sense, the reigning Featherweight champion will complete his trilogy against former champion Daniel Straus.
Freire is one of two title defenses scheduled for the night -- Lightweight champion Will Brooks will face Polish leg lock specialist Marcin Held in the other title fight.
Underneath them David Rickels will try to fulfill his "evil plan" to beat Michael Chandler in his second try, Emmanuel Sanchez faces Justin Lawrence, and Bobby Lashley will try to settle his grudge with James Thompson.
Let's break 'em down:
145 lbs.: Patricio Freire (c) (24-2) vs. Daniel Straus (24-6)
In a division with multiple former champions boasting outstanding pedigrees, Patricio "Pitbull" Freire has brought the Featherweight class a degree of stability. Since defeating Pat Curran for the title little more than one year ago, Freire has scored finishes in two successive title defenses, each time overcoming adversity that could have derailed his run. Had the first round of his Daniel Weichel fight lasted just a second longer, the story would be completely different.
Freire can't count on a late start out of the gate from the highly motivated Daniel Straus, who is driven in particular by his losses to Freire at Bellator 45 and again early this year at Bellator 132.
Will the third time be the charm?
Straus certainly has the skills -- finishes in just under half of his wins (seven knockouts and three submissions) plus a relentless gas tank that's supplemented by his high school wrestling experience. When Straus can stay out of trouble, there's little doubt he's a world class Fetherweight fighter.
The flashy and brash Straus will be a fan favorite in the lead up to "Vengeance," but Freire has quietly become one of the division's best strikers, picking up four (technical) knockout wins in his current seven-fight win streak. Iron sharpens iron; therefore, training with his brother, Freire has no doubt increased his power and accuracy (and vice-versa). This is bad news for Straus given he's already lost to Freire twice, as is the fact Freire has been to the late rounds in two out of his last three fights.
Freire can weather the storm and finish the fight early or late ... it's all up to him.
Final result: Patricio Freire retains the Featherweight title via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Will Brooks (c) (16-1) vs. Marcin Held (21-3)
What more does Will Brooks have to do to get respect? Brooks still feels like a second class citizen in Bellator, but it may just be that having a chip on his shoulder is the motivation he needs. It's hard to argue that it hasn't worked for him. After a surprising first round knockout by Saad Awad in 2013, he has gone on a seven-fight win streak where his wrestling acumen and knockout power have served him well, earning him a world title and defending in twice.
Marcin Held is not a man to look past though. He beat the aforementioned Patricky Freire to win the season 10 Lightweight tournament, and riding a six-fight win streak of his own. The Polish phenom is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and as feared for his leg locks as Rousimar Palhares, although Held never holds on for too long. A kneebar submission of perennial contender Tiger Sarnavskiy secured Held's title shot and moved Sarnavskiy to the back of the line.
If ever there was a time for Held to prove himself it would be now, as the only man he's lost to in four years is also the last man Brooks beat in a title defense. He's the only clear heir to the throne, but Brooks has faced more than his fair share of submission experts and has yet to be tapped out. Held's stand up has improved greatly during his Bellator run, but it's simply not on par with Brooks, a precision and power game developed by the vaunted American Top Team.
Held looks to acquit himself well as a challenger, but a big mistake by Brooks may be his only chance.
Final result: Will Brooks retains the Lightweight title via third round knockout
145 lbs.: Emmanuel Sanchez (11-2) vs. Justin Lawrence (8-2)
This fight comes about because of a late card change, with Emmanuel Sanchez stepping in for the injured Pat Curran, taking on the surging "American Kidd" of MMA after a successful "Kimbo vs. Shamrock" debut in June. After brief stints in both Strikeforce and UFC, the young (25 years old) Lawrence has hit his stride with four straight wins. Lawrence credits both Dominick Cruz and Alliance MMA for his improving game, including two wins in a row via technical knockout.
Sanchez isn't doing too bad in his own right, having dropped only one fight in two years, one which by his own admission he treated like a sparring match with a close friend. He won't be confused about who he's facing in St. Louis this weekend, particularly since Lawrence will be the local favorite. He's a grinder (five decisions) and a jiu-jitsu specialist (five submissions) who rarely shows off power in his hands.
Lawrence starts fast and likes to bang, and if Sanchez sticks to the grinding style of his last three fights, it will be his undoing.
Final result: Justin Lawrence via first round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Michael Chandler (13-3) vs. David Rickels (16-3, 1 NC)
The mental edge appears to be Michael Chandler's on paper, given that the first time they met Chandler finished Rickels by knockout in 44 seconds. On the other hand there could be no better motivation for 'The Caveman' Rickels - beat the man who beat you when he was Lightweight champion and potentially earn a title shot of your own. Rickels is both a banger and a strangler - four knockouts and six submissions, while Chandler is equally versatile with five knockouts and six submissions.
If there's an edge in the fight, however, it belongs to Chandler by virtue of having been champion, having fought the best of the best in multiple long fights, and his self-described willingness to "embrace the suck" to find success. Rickels has by his own admission lacked discipline and focus, and while that chapter of his life appears to be written and done, it's hard to believe he's been a new and improved "Caveman" for long enough to overcome Chandler's ability.
Rickels will hope to catch Chandler early the way Chandler did him, but the only person to knock him out thus far is Brooks and it took almost four full rounds. Chandler's cardio is virtually unquestioned; therefore, when Rickels is huffing and puffing from throwing power strikes, Chandler will still be crisp sharp and ready to pounce.
Final result: Michael Chandler wins via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Bobby Lashley (13-2) vs. James Thompson (20-14, 1 NC)
It may feel like a match booked out of professional wrestling's playbook as "The Dominator" Bobby Lashley takes on "The Colossus" James Thompson, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong to think so given Lashley's stints in both WWE and TNA. He takes his mixed martial arts (MMA) career seriously, though, and given his collegiate and armed forces wrestling pedigree, his success in the sport is not surprising. The biggest knock on Lashley may be how big he is -- the muscular wrestler/fighter has appeared to fade in the longer fights of his career.
As Lashley seeks his "Vengeance" in a rematch with Thompson, he can rest assured knowing Thompson has only had three fights go three rounds in the last 10 years (his loss to Thompson was one). The famous "gong and bang" Pride FC veteran wants to kill or be killed quick -- and with a middling record with only six more wins than losses -- you can see that's not always worked out well. He's had a career resurgence of late with four wins in a row, and at 6'5 and 260 pounds, he's a hulking presence in any fight he takes.
This prediction will not make the Maniacs happy, but Lashley's key to victory is to have a very boring fight. He needs to avoid exchanges standing or clinches in the middle of the cage. At every opportunity Lashley should look for a single- or double-leg takedown, put the massive Thompson on his back, and grind-grind-grind. While Lashley is the elder fighter on paper (39 vs. 36), he's younger in terms of physical damage.
And I expect that to show through in the rematch.
Final result: Bobby Lashley wins via unanimous decision
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of Bellator 145: "Vengeance" this Friday night, with real-time results throughout the evening followed by Spike TV fights at 9 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.