It has been little more than one month since Bellator MMA crowned Andrey Koreshkov its new Welterweight champion, which makes it just about time for the mixed martial arts (MMA) league to return with a new card stacked with important fights.
Lightweight Melvin Guillard's promotional debut against Brandon Girtz, which will headline Bellator 141 this Friday night (Aug. 28, 2015) at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., is certainly an attention-grabbing bout. Guillard is as talented as he is mercurial, burning his way out of both Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and World Series of Fighting (WSOF) in recent years, and this is undoubtedly his last best chance to remain a star in MMA.
In addition, an intriguing trio of fights supports the co-main event for the main broadcast on Spike TV, including a second Lightweight bout that puts the streaking Saad Awad against the explosive and exciting Patricky "Pitbull" Freire. Two Heavyweight bouts that could line up future contenders for Vitaly Minakov round out the Spike TV-televised card.
Let's break it down:
155 lbs.: Melvin Guillard (32-14-2, 2 NC) vs. Brandon Girtz (11-4)
It's still fair to call Guillard a "Young Assassin" at 32 years old, but as his career record shows he's taken a lot of fights in the recent past. Things have not been going well for him lately, either, with only three wins in his last 10 fights. And even though he made a valiant effort against WSOF 155-pound champion Justin Gaethje, his split decision loss wasn't even for the title as Guillard failed to make weight.
Indeed, both his discipline and his attitude toward fighting have been called into question. And he's running out of chances for redemption and promotions who will deal with him.
It's not as though Brandon Girtz gets off scot-free in this discussion, either. He's a clear talent in Bellator's Lightweight division who has seven out of 11 career wins by submission, but he has twice missed weight for fights with Derek Campos (he lost) and Mike Estus (he won). Girtz never seems to get a streak together that could move him toward title contention, either, though a quick first round finish of Benny Madrid elevates him to the main card here.
This is a potential career-defining moment for Girtz -- a chance to beat a long-time star well established in MMA
Assuming both men make weight and the main event goes off without a hitch, the one thing Girtz probably doesn't want to try is knocking out Guillard. His technical knockout of Madrid is his only knockout as a professional, which shows off his improved hand speed and precision, but Madrid isn't anywhere close to Guillard's level.
Guillard gets a (technical) knockout in 65 percent of his wins and has only been knocked out once in 50 fights. His weakness is his ground game -- Guillard has been submitted nine times. That's what makes this fight so intriguing: Can a submission-reliant Girtz expose a war-weary Guillard?
Final prediction: Melvin Guillard wins the fight via technical knockout
155 lbs.: Patricky Freire (13-6) vs. Saad Awad (18-6)
Bellator is showcasing its Lightweight division on this main card with two fights that potentially line up contenders for "Ill" Will Brooks (although Awad has already had his chances at him before). In fact Awad knocked out Brooks before he became the champion, but couldn't repeat the feat in a rematch. With three straight wins under his belt, though, he's inching closer to getting a rubber match with Brooks.
However, there are many people waiting in line for a title shot, too.
Patricky Freire would like to put his name on that list. "Pitbull" is a perennial contender for the promotion who just had his three-fight win streak snapped by Marcin Held; in fact, Held has since moved on to get his title shot against Brooks this November in St. Louis, Missouri. Freire has felt the sting of coming up short several times now, including multiple Bellator tournaments, while his younger brother Patricio continues to impress as Featherweight champion.
While both men have shown finishing power in fights -- Freire winning nine out of 13 with his hands, Awad picking up seven out of 18 with his own -- it's still rather remarkable that Freire has yet to notch a submission in Bellator. Freire says that Awad has had more success with submissions because he's fought lower-level competition, and when you make a statement like that you'd best prepare to bring it. The "Pitbull" brothers always do, and although a fire fight could go either way, I've got a feeling that Patricky is motivated to get over the hump and achieve what his brother has.
Final prediction: Patricky Freire wins a unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Raphael Butler (9-1-1) vs. Lorenzo Hood (9-2)
Bellator needs more Heavyweight contenders ... badly. Right now Cheick Kongo is on the path to a rematch with Vitaly Minakov after his last win, but the division needs more stars that can step up and grab the spotlight. The big brawler Butler is just such a man, with an aggressive take no prisoners offense and a rapidly improving submission game, but he needs a few consecutive wins to be in the mix.
"Dream Killer," Lorenzo Hood, has the advantage of coming into Bellator MMA with a clean slate and an impressive record, including an outstanding 100 percent of his wins coming via (technical) knockout, including a Rampage Jackson-style slam in his last fight. His only loss since 2009 has come via doctor stoppage.
Should Butler be concerned? Yes.
But, as a former boxer Butler will have the confidence in an exchange Hood's previous opponents haven't. Butler's accuracy and power have scored him first round finishes in MMA, and while it probably won't here, it will be a fun Pier Six brawl.
Final prediction: Raphael Butler wins via split decision
265 lbs.: Justin Wren (10-2) vs. Josh Burns (8-8)
"The Viking" Justin Wren has been busy the last five years, but he wasn't making noise inside the cage -- he was making noise in the Congo in his "Fight For The Forgotten" Pygmy tribes of the Congo. Returning from his charity work to the fighting scene may seem like a tall mountain to climb, but Wren has natural wrestling ability and above average finishing power -- only two of his 12 fights have gone the distance. Burns, on the other hand, is with all due respect the punching bag of Bellator's Heavyweight division, the man who gets the call when a star needs a fight he can win.
Final prediction: Justin Wren wins via knockout
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of Bellator 141: "Guillard vs. Girtz" on Friday night (Fri., Aug. 28, 2015), with the first fight streaming live online at 6 p.m. ET followed by the televised portion of Bellator 141, which airs live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
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