Bellator MMA's last event in Thackerville, Oklahoma, delivered in spades. LC Davis vs. Hideo Tokoro was a "fight of the year" candidate, and with a submission that made Joe Warren scream, Marcos Galvao became the bantamweight champion.
That's a tough act to follow, but that won't stop the promotion from trying this Friday (April 10, 2015) at the Bren Events Center in Irvine, California. The show is headlined by lightweight champion "Ill" Will Brooks against No. 1 contender Dave Jansen, who has already vowed to teach the "scared inner child" in Brooks some humility.
The Spike TV broadcast also includes a middleweight war between 2014 "Knockout of the Year" winner Joe Schilling vs. fast-rising Brazilian standout Rafael Carvalho, a lightweight match with title contender implications between "Tiger" Sarnavsky and Marcin Held, and heavyweights "Drago" Volkov vs. "Hulk" Johnson.
Let's break it down.
155 lbs.: Will Brooks (15-1) vs. Dave Jansen (20-2)
After six straight wins inside the Bellator cage including back-to-back title fights with Michael Chandler, there can be little doubt that "Ill" Will Brooks has proven himself a worthy champion. In fact, Brooks' only loss as a pro was a first-round knockout from Saad Awad, a fight that seems to have taught Brooks everything he needed to know. All aspects of his game have improved since then, most notably his striking power and his takedown defense.
Jansen dismisses the notion that he's too "basic" to beat Will Brooks, and his seven straight wins in Bellator's lightweight division suggest his "basics" are more than enough. He dismantled two-time tournament winner Rick Hawn with three rounds of leg kicks, so if Brooks wants to stand and trade he may wind up hobbled. Jansen also gets a submission in 50 percent of his wins (10 out of 20), so Brooks needs to stuff Jansen or pop up quickly if he can't.
Brooks strength as always is the diversity of his attack: five knockouts, four submissions, and six wins by decision. It's that well balanced portfolio of methods to victory that won Brooks the lightweight title and allowed him to defend it successfully. What we're looking at here is two very dominant fighters on a collision course, and the smart money has to be on this fight going the distance as each fighter bends but does not break over 25 minutes.
Final prediction: Will Brooks retains the lightweight title via split decision.
185 lbs.: Joe Schilling (2-3) vs. Rafael Carvalho (10-1)
Rafael Carvalho was a virtual unknown in the United States before his Bellator 125 fight with Brian Rogers, and afterward left little doubt why he has finished so many of his fights by KO or TKO - 90 percent of them. He's only been to the third round three times as a pro, so there's little doubt that Carvalho hits hard as a brick and looks for the finish at every opportunity he can get.
Joe Schilling isn't worried about standing and trading with Carvalho. His MMA record continues to confuse people -- it makes him look lesser on paper than what he is -- as he's a multi-time kickboxing champion with a record of 18-7. Schilling says he's comfortable crossing back and forth between the two sports, and his second-round knockout of Melvin Manhoef backs it up. The difference here is that Manhoef is known to gas out quickly and lose, but Carvalho has gone the long haul and still come up victorious, so I give a slight edge to the Brazilian prospect.
Final prediction: Rafael Carvalho gets a TKO late in the third round.
155 lbs.: Marcin Held (20-3) vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy (30-2)
"Tiger" Sarnavskiy only has two blemishes on his record, both in Bellator MMA, and one of those losses is to current champion "Ill" Will Brooks. He gets a submission in 60-percent of his victories, including his most recent Bellator fight against Dakota Cochrane. Sarnavskiy stays incredibly active between his Bellator fights, as he's got five straight wins and only one of them has come inside the Bellator cage.
Marcin Held fights exclusively for Bellator, so his five-fight win streak culminated at Bellator 126 with a unanimous decision win over Patricky Freire. He's arguably the next man in line for a lightweight title shot after Jansen, especially with a big win over Sarnavskiy, but Sarnavskiy has been on the cusp of a title shot several times and a win over Held potentially puts him over the top. In essence, these are the top two lightweights in Bellator right now who have not been the champion.
If Held can hook the leg this could be over quick, but the same can be said if "Tiger" takes Held's back.
What happens when two highly skilled submission experts go to war? A stalemate on the ground often leads to a stand-up on the feet, but even there it's a crap shoot. Held gets a knockout 20 percent of the time, Sarnavskiy 23 percent, so this is as close to a coin flip fight as I have called. The only edge I can give here is experience and that goes to Sarnavskiy.
Final prediction: Alexander Sarnavskiy takes a unanimous decision.
265 lbs.: Anthony Johnson (8-2) vs. Alexander Volkov (24-4)
This is an underrated heavyweight bout that should have fans talking once it actually takes places. Johnson is a world-traveled heavyweight fighter with career wins over Tim Sylvia and "The Black Beast" Derrick Lewis. Volkov has bragging rights of his own though as the former Bellator heavyweight champion, with only one career loss dating back to 2011 and wins over the likes of Ricco Rodriguez, Richard Hale, and Blagoi Ivanov.
Volkov is a proven finisher with 70-percent of his victories coming by KO or TKO. Johnson has less experience compared to his Russian foe, but he's got a 50-percent track record of stopping a fight with strikes in his wins. Johnson trains with American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), so he's seen some of most accurate heavyweight strikers and toughest grapplers on the planet, but the Red Devil product Volkov has a large talent pool to draw from in training, too.
The momentum favors Volkov based on his recent winning streak, while Johnson is stepping back into a Bellator cage for the first time since 2011, but expect the key factor to be Volkov's height, as he's six inches taller than Johnson. Johnson is in the best shape of his life for this fight, but he still has to reach that chin or rock Volkov with body shots if he can't.
I favor Volkov's defense on the latter given his experience edge.
Final prediction: Alexander Volkov via second round TKO.
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of Bellator 136: "Brooks vs. Jansen" on Friday night (April 10th), with the first fight streaming live online at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the televised portion of Bellator 136 which airs live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
See you then!