Things don’t always go as planned. George and Lenny’s plans for the future were dashed when George was forced to bust a cap in his buddy’s dome in the John Steinbeck classic, and the Emperor’s “fully-operational Deathstar” failed to spell doom for the Rebel fleet when Han Solo and his furry friends somehow managed to blow the satellite’s moon-based shield generator to smithereens. Another example of things not going as planned: those badass world-class fighters who made their bones fighting in the UFC, in Japan or elsewhere, entering a Bellator tournament a complete and total lock to win it all. Then getting smoked. Really, it seems like that whole eight-man tournament motif is about as great at wrecking fighters’ auras as it is at building them. There are, of course, chances taken whenever a fighter enters the cage – a magical submission, a misstep leading to a knockout, or a stale performance leaving the judges inclined to award the decision to the stalwart underdog. However, it seems like Bjorn Rebney’s baby is where MMA’s best and brightest and universally hailed as top dogs go to lose. Know what I mean? No? Well, here’s a list for you. Love it, leave it or ignore it. Just don’t say I never did anything for you.
-Jorge Masvidal – If clear and convincing wins in BodogFight, Strikeforce and Sengoku taught us anything, it was that solid grappler and deadly kickboxer Masvidal was the real deal, and when he showed up for Bellator’s inaugural lightweight tournament, it was for all intents and purposes going to be him and Eddie Alvarez squaring off in that final bracket. Masvidal, you see, wields kicks like a surgeon weilds a scalpel, and he is mean enough to gratuitously carve you up along the way. But someone forget to tell ultra-unorthodox submission specialist Toby Imada about Masvidal’s impending date with Alvarez, because when he met “Gamebred” in the cage, he took the expected beating and then put his foe to sleep with a very unexpected upside-down inverted triangle. Thus endeth Masvidal’s run in Bellator’s 155-pound tourney.
-Wilson Reis – Bellator’s first featherweight cauldron of combat was supposed to be about Reis – an EliteXC champ and killer jiu-jitsu black belt – ascending to his rightful throne to begin ruling over his subjects with an iron fist. And his decision win in his quarterfinal bout left no one with an inclination that it would be otherwise. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, semifinal opponent Joe Soto had other ideas, and with superior wrestling he made sure the man who would be king remained a disappointed peasant. To add insult to injury, Reis’s next two attempts at tournament glory would end in defeat, both times at the not-so-gentle hands of Patricio Freire. Oh well. He’ll always have that EliteXC belt.
-Roger Huerta – UFC star Huerta was, to the world, a big definite as the next person to challenge Bellator champ Alvarez. Earning that shot by winning a lightweight tournament was merely a technicality. Enter: Pat Curran, cousin to UFC veteran Jeff and possessor of the right kind of wrestling, counter-punching and power that made him the wrong kind of opponent for Mr. Huerta’s future contender status. One decision loss later and Huerta was out of the picture. (Coincidentally, after Curran won the tournament he was sidelined with an injury, and Huerta stepped in to face Alvarez in a non-title bout; he was slaughtered.)
-Megumi Fujii – Bellator’s only foray into a tournament for the fairer sex led to Fujii leaving her home in Japan for what was sure to be a crown that already had her name etched into it. After all, she was undefeated in all of her twenty fights, and sixteen of those had ended with her masterfully submitting whoever dared opposed her. Things seemed to go swimmingly in her Bellator 115-pound tournament quarter- and semifinal matches, both of which culminated in the kind of casual armbar that could very had been her demonstrating the technique as much as her actually applying it in a fight. But the finals saw Fujii run into a brick wall, a brick wall named Zoila Frausto (now Zoila Gurgel), and all it took was the bigger American (Frausto cut from about 210 pounds to 115) avoiding every takedown attempt and keep throwing punches for the judo and jiu-jitsu black belt to taste defeat – via narrow split decision – for the first time. So much for invincible Japanese submission femmes, eh?
-Marlon Sandro – If MMA didn’t allow sudden, perfectly-executed kicks to the head, Sandro would so be the winner of Bellator’s latest 145-pound tournament right now. But alas, the sport does, and Curran – who by now is so great at spoiling things he can’t go anywhere near the dairy aisle at the grocery store – put the former Sengoku champ to sleep with the kind of finality that made the Grim Reaper say “Damn, take it easy, bro.” At the beginning of the summer we all thought Sandro was going to add “Bellator featherweight tournament champ” to his resume. Ha. The joke’s on us.