Bellator MMA returns to California tomorrow night (Fri., May 8, 2015) less than one month after Lightweight champion Will Brooks successfully defended his title and ended the seven-fight win streak of Dave Jansen in the process.
Brandon Halsey would like to showcase that kind of dominance in the main event of Bellator 137, which will take place inside Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula. Blowing through middleweight champ Alexander Shlemenko in 35 seconds set a standard he'll be hard-pressed to match, but the belt is now his to defend against Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran Kendall Grove.
The Spike TV-televised main card has a slew of potentially explosive fights.
Former Bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas will face popular fighter Mike Richman, the winner of which will move one step closer to facing champion Marcos Galvao. Streaking Welterweight Fernando Gonzalez could clinch No. 1 Welterweight contender status with a fourth straight Bellator victory over Curtis Millender, while undefeated Darrion Caldwell faces 135-pound veteran Rafael Silva.
Let's break it down:
185 lbs.: Brandon Halsey (8-0) vs. Kendall Grove (21-14, 1 NC)
Nearly a decade ago now, Grove stepped onto the national scene by winning The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 3, defeating Ed "Short Fuse" Herman at the Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada. Despite that promising start, "Da Spyder" never put a run together in UFC -- he'd win two and lose one, he'd win one and lose two. After a middling run in Zuffa, the promotion cut ties in 2011 and the Hawaiian has gone 9-5 since.
Grove wins more than he loses, but the brass ring stays out of reach.
Grove, 32, is still young enough to go on the kind of run he's always been expected to as a TUF champion, but it's also possible that his title shot against Halsey is his last best chance to win a meaningful MMA belt. If there's a hole in Halsey's game, though, we've yet to see it. "The Bull" has won three times by decision, four times by submission and he's even got a technical knockout win over Hector Ramirez for good measure.
After defeating Christian M'Pumbu at Bellator 127, Grove vowed that he was "no stepping stone" for the rest of the division. And beating a former champion earned him a championship bout of his own. Nearly 50 percent of his wins (10 out of 21) come via submission, but "Da Spyder" has been caught in that web himself (three out of 14 losses) 21 perent of the time. He's also got a vulnerable chin, losing via (technical) knockout 42 percent of the time.
If Halsey doesn't want to risk the ground game he may use his Cal-State Bakersfield wrestling credentials to stuff takedowns and keep it standing. On the other hand, he was willing to play that game with Shlemenko and made a statement.
He may make another here.
Final prediction: Brandon Halsey defeats Kendall Grove via first round submission
135 lbs.: Eduardo Dantas (16-4) vs. Mike Richman (18-5)
Speaking of TUF, Richman had a cup of coffee there in the elimination fights for Team GSP vs. Team Koscheck, but lost his bout to get into the house via two round decision. He rebounded nicely from that disappointment, though, and has been a mainstay of Bellator since 2012, where he debuted with a first round knockout of former IFL/WEC fighter Chris Horodecki.
Since dropping from Featherweight to Bantamweight, "The Marine" has found the consistency he needs, reeling off back-to-back wins over Ed West and Nam Phan. He called out Joe Warren after his last win, but it's Marcos Galvao he'll want now if he beats Dantas.
The former Bantamweight champion will be no easy out for Richman, having lost only two fights dating back to 2010, one of those being the aforementioned Warren. With the belt now in Galvao's hands, Dantas may not even want a rematch of Bellator 128 any more if he picks up the win over Richman, preferring to bypass Warren altogether and go straight to Galvao.
That's a fight he would surely relish as he already holds a knockout win over Galvao at Bellator 89. It's not his favorite form of victory, but if the hard hitting Richman wants a slugfest, he'll oblige.
What seems unlikely is Dantas submitting Richman -- not because he's bad at it (six out of 16 wins says otherwise), but because Richman has not been tapped out once in a loss. On top of that his submission game is up to par with any Brazilian, finishing seven out 18 wins via tap, a nearly 40 percent rate.
Richman is better known for his punching power (50 percent of wins come by strikes), but Dantas has only been dropped once in 20 fights. If Richman can't be tapped, and Dantas can't be stopped, we're looking at a three round war with a narrow margin of victory.
Final prediction: Eduardo Dantas via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Fernando Gonzalez (23-13) vs. Curtis Millender (7-1)
Curtis Millender arrived on the Bellator scene undefeated, ready to take on Michael "Venom" Page, only to get a late change of opponent in Brennan Ward. It may not have gone his way in either case, but it certainly can't help when you plan strategy for two-to-three months and then have to figure out a new foe on a week's notice.
He almost did.
Ward got rocked early in the fight, but quickly recovered, then he in turn rocked Millender, taking the back and the rear-naked choke at 1:37.
Millender has vowed to show Bellator fans who he really is against Fernando Gonzalez -- he might even try a little psychological warfare in the fight. With three straight wins coming into Bellator 137, Gonzalez is not planning to step aside for the newcomer, especially fighting in his backyard in Pechanga.
He's vowed to put his nuts on the line against Millender, and with wins over Karl Amoussou, Karo Parisyan and Marius Zaromskis, that's not an idle boast.
Looking at the math I have to favor the veteran fighter Gonzalez. Millender had a longer win streak than the one Gonzalez is currently on before his debut, but Gonzalez has had four times as many fights and his recent record of success over top name opponents shows that at age 31 he's peaking at the right time.
Millender also gets to fight on home turf in California, but he's not as versatile as Gonzalez in victory, grinding out decisions in five out of seven fights. He proved he's got power by knocking down Ward, but the more experienced Gonzalez won't let him get that shot.
Final prediction: Fernando Gonzalez by third round technical knockout
135 lbs.: Darrion Caldwell (6-0) vs. Rafael Silva (22-4)
Joe Warren has a way of ruining people's dreams again and again in this preview, and Rafael Silva is no exception. He had a thirteen fight winning streak coming into Bellator 118, but Eduardo Dantas withdrew because of injury, and Warren took his place in an interim title fight.
The fact Silva missed weight was a bad sign, and it made Warren the only man eligible to earn a title with a victory, and the normally game Silva lost both his streak and title shot all in one night.
Silva rebounded with a win over TUF alum Rob Emerson at Bellator 127, and now seems poised to work his way back into title contention, but the undefeated Caldwell vows Silva "will get dealt with accordingly" in their fight.
Bold words perhaps, but at 6-0 with three decisions, two submissions and a knockout he looks as hungry as "The Wolf" his nickname proclaims. As with Gonzalez though I'm going to favor experience over youth. They're not far enough apart in age (Caldwell is 27, Silva is 30) for Caldwell to cruise simply on youthful exuberance. Silva has been tested many times, but he's only been knocked out once, while picking up knockout and submission wins 36 and 41 percent of the time.
Final prediction: Rafael Silva by second round submission
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of Bellator 137: "Halsey vs. Grove" tomorrow night (May 15, 2015), with the first fight streaming live online at 7 p.m. ET followed by the televised portion of Bellator 137, which airs live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
See you then!