Seeing as Bellator 185-pound champ Hector Lombard rules the organization’s division like Ming the Merciless rules Mongo (i.e., with zero mercy), another middleweight tournament to find him a suitable challenger seems like an exercise in futility for all involved. Still, Bellator keeps putting them together, and dudes like Alexander Shlemenko and Jared Hess keep coming back to vie for chance at getting killed. Saturday night’s Bellator 50 will feature the Season Five quarterfinals for this locked-down weight class. Who’s on deck? Besides the aforementioned Shlemenko and Hess, there’s some fresh faces – each ready, willing and able to perish before the Ruler of Mongo’s might. So let’s break down the field of competitors, shall we?
-Bryan Baker – There’s no shortness of toughness when it comes to Baker. He suffers from a chronic (but apparently treatable) kind of leukemia yet still competes, plus he’s made it to the tournament finals before, losing handily to Shlemenko but smoking the likes of Eric Schambari, Jeremy Horn and Joe Riggs on either side of that defeat. Does he have what it takes to win it all? He can take punishment, that’s for sure. He’s just not really fantastic at anything.
-Jared Hess – A stint as a collegiate wrestler forged Hess into steel, and no doubt enabled him to make it to the end of the first middleweight party (where he was smashed by Lombard). Unfortunately, his second go at it ended with a horrific knee injury and loss to Shlemenko. Eleven months later he was back in action, and supposedly that injury is behind him, but… I don’t know. When I see a knee go backwards, I think, “Yeesh, that guy ain’t facing Lombard ever again.” We’ll see, though.
-Alexander Shlemenko – This durable Russian possesses awkward but usually effective striking (he throws spinning backfists like they’re going out of style), and he’s employed that skill to great effect to seize Season Two tournament top honors. What did that get him? Five rounds of pure beating by Lombard at Bellator 34. Hey, God bless Shlemenko for getting back in the mix. You know, the whole “if at first you don’t succeed, die, die again” thing.
-Zelg Galesic – This is what you need to know about Galesic: fierce striker from Croatia; veteran of DREAM, Pride and Cage Rage; not so good at defending submissions. To be fair, he’s been tapped out by the likes of Kazushi Sakuraba and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, but it might be too much to assume he could withstand a sustained assault from a submission specialist.
-Vitor Vianna – Oh, hey, a submission specialist. What do you know. Luckily for Galesic, Vianna isn’t facing him in the quarterfinals, but the black belt jiu-jitsu instructor at Wanderlei Silva’s Las Vegas academy could very well meet him later on. How do I know this? Vianna has only lost once in a career that spans quite a few fights on the Brazilian circuit, and that loss was via an inadvertent broken arm. So, yeah, Vianna should be going places in this tournament.
-Sam Alvey – Well-rounded and resilient, Wisconsinite Alvey has notched wins against guys like Nick Thompson, Jason Guida and Karl Amoussou (albeit when they were no longer in their prime). He’s a lot like Baker in that he’s tough, but not super-great at any one thing. Does he know how to cinch on submissions and score knockouts? Sure. Can he do it against ace stand-up specialists and jiu-jitsu masters? Probably not.
-Victor O’Donnell – If you saw the beginning of the TUF 11 season, you saw O’Donnell wage violent war with Chris Camozzi to get into the TUF House, then you saw O’Donnell wheeled out on a stretcher while Camozzi got booted from the competition with a broken jaw. Bottom line: even if you beat O’Donnell, you will be hurting afterwards. Skill-wise, he’s got heavy hands, solid wrestling and decent submission defense – which makes O’Donnell one of the competitors to watch in this tournament.
-Brian Rogers – Compared to his Season Five tourney brethren, Rogers is a bit lacking in the experience department. He did, however, rack up a recent win on a Strikeforce undercard, and the word on the street is that this kid from Ohio can hit hard. Is that enough to surmount his quarterfinal obstacle of O’Donnell? Magic 8-Ball says, “Dude will get wrecked.” And there you have it.