Bellator 201: “Macfarlane vs. Lara” takes place at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., this Friday night (June 29, 2018), featuring undefeated women’s Flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane (7-0) defending her recently-won title against challenger Alejandra Lara (7-1) in the main event of the evening.
The Paramount Network-televised card features a heavy contingent of the Flyweight division in general, but two men from the Lightweight division will also step into the spotlight in Temecula. Indeed, Ryan Couture (11-5) will lock horns with long-time divisional veteran Saad Awad (22-9) in a featured main card bout. Awad is awash in momentum having won three straight bouts against Ryan Quinn, Zach Freeman and J.J. Ambrose, respectively. He might need a few more wins before earning a title shot against division champion Brent Primus, but his stopping power gives him a chance against virtually any opponent he’ll face.
Coming off a strong performance against Haim Gozali at Bellator 180, Couture is ready to prove he belongs on the list of contenders. And he recently sat down with MMAmania.com about that and coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him in 2017.
“Yeah, I had to get my torn meniscus repaired back in September. It wasn’t anything super major, but it pushed me to the back of the line, and it took me a while to get rebooked after that.”
“Took a while” is a drastic understatement — It has been more than one year since his last fight, and Couture is anxious to get back in the Bellator cage and show off his rebuilt knee.
“It’s obviously never going to be quite exactly the same, but I’ve been training hard and feeling good. I haven’t had any issues with it since the surgery.”
There are some fighters who might be looking for a hand-picked opponent after surgery and a long layoff, but Couture isn’t one of them.
“I didn’t go out looking for (Awad), I got the call and got the offer and we jumped on it. I’m excited to get back in there and to have a chance to put myself right back in the rankings at lightweight is pretty exciting, too. He’s someone I’ve got a lot of respect for, I’ve seen him fight for years, and he’s always right there in the top of the division. I’m looking forward to going in there and knocking him off and putting myself right there in the mix as well.”
At one point Awad might have been an afterthought in those internal Bellator rankings, but with his last three performances he has improved to 10-6 in his Bellator career and 22-9 overall.
“He’s been looking good. He always looks dangerous and obviously can win the fight a lot of ways, so you’ve gotta be sharp and fight him smart. He’s definitely been on form lately so I’m gonna have to be the same if I’m gonna get in there and pull it out.”
That won’t be an easy task if it stays standing. Awad is one of only two men to knockout Will Brooks (the other missed weight), and Awad also holds nine knockout wins in total (Couture only has one).
“It’s something everybody (who fights him) has got to be worried about, so we’ll be looking to take that away as best we can, and try to wear him out — make him work. I think (by) dragging him into the later rounds some of that power is going to dissipate, and that’s gonna work to my advantage.”
That strategy certainly paid dividends in the third round against Haim Gozali, but Couture is the first to admit that Bellator 201 will be a completely different fight
“Oh, absolutely! I think this is a much tougher match up than the last one. Haim was dangerous on the ground and that’s why we were maybe a little cautious ... maybe more than I necessarily needed to be in that fight. It was really important (at Bellator NYC) to get in there and get back on track, so I think I fought a little conservatively and just did what I had to to get that W. For sure I’m expecting a tougher night on the 29th.”
Since Couture expressed that he was anxious to get back “in the mix” for a world title shot, I asked him to evaluate how far a win over Awad would move him up the ladder.
“I think it at least gets my name back in the hat and gets me back in that conversation of the title picture. I think obviously those two setbacks I had are still something that I’m going to have to overcome, but this would be a good start.”
Speaking of those two setbacks, I asked Couture if he’d be interested in taking a rematch with either Patricky Freire or Goiti Yamauchi to avenge a loss.
“(Patricky) is perennially a contender and Goiti’s been looking great. I was really impressed with his showing against Chandler even though he got beat. You know I’m not necessarily desperate to rematch either of those guys, but if that’s the path I have to take to get that title shot that I want then so be it.”
We can’t leave it there with “Iron” Mike Chandler being mentioned. While Chandler looked great against Brandon Girtz at Bellator 197, champion Brent Primus pulling out put the whole division on freeze.
“It’s unfortunate, it’s a bummer to see, especially having that last title fight not be the most decisive thing and it ended in such a weird way. I think it kind of kills some of the buzz about a division knowing that that title’s kind of on hold, but it is what it is. Eventually they’ll make fight happen. I think it’s going to be a great one. That’s a fantastic match-up, I was excited about it the first and bummed to see Mike hurt his ankle, and I’ll be looking forward to (the rematch) when they finally get it back on schedule.”
And who knows? By the time it does Couture may indeed be “in the mix” to challenge the winner of that fight, especially with a strong performance against Awad this weekend.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of Bellator 201: “Macfarlane vs. Lara” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
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