Man, Bellator is seriously churning out the tournaments, eh? Thus far the organization’s fifth season has brought us new fields of welterweights, middleweights and bantamweights, and this Saturday night it will be the heavyweights. Next week, it’ll simply be guys named “Joe”, and the week after that it’ll be a tournament of fancy coffee drinkers. But anyway, the heavyweight quarterfinals. They’re on deck. Last time around we got to witness the pugilistic stylings of Neil Grove smothered by the affectionate grasp of wrestler and human blanket Cole Konrad, so now that Konrad is the champ the competitors are vying for a shot at usurping him. Who are these dudes? And do any of them stand a chance of avoiding the reigning Bellator heavyweight champ’s tender cuddles? The answer to the second question is likely “no”, but read on for a more detailed breakdown to question number one.
-Neil Grove – He hits hard, which is a plus, and he’s fought in the UFC and Cage Rage – the latter proving to be where he’s done some of his best work. I like Grove’s odds in making it to the end of this tournament, as he’s got just enough explosiveness to be exciting and just enough experience to know when to use it. Unfortunately, if he wins, Konrad is going to exploit his comparative wrestling weakness by making “sweet lurv” to him once more.
-Mike Hayes – Hailing from the Northwest circuit, Hayes is durable as hell and can hit hard like Grove (he once KO’d UFC vet Fabiano Scherner). Facing Grove in the quarterfinals means we’re going to see either a sudden smashing or a long, protracted battle that leaves a dozen spectators dead from collateral damage. But don’t worry, you and I are watching this thing go down from the safety of our homes, so we’ll be safe.
-Thiago Santos – Santos is a big Brazilian monster. In fact, his nickname is “Big Monster”, mostly because he used to hide under beds and eat children in the middle of the night, but he has fought in MMA too. His one loss came to Alexey Oleinik via submission at an event in Russia, yet he’s beaten dudes by sub himself – as well as knockout – so watch for him to lumber around a lot and be somewhat dangerous everywhere.
-Blagoi Ivanov – This is all you need to know about this Bulgarian: he beat Fedor Emelianenko at a sambo tournament back in 2008. Enough said.
-Abe Wagner – Hey, remember TUF 10 when Kimbo Slice was on the SpikeTV show? Yeah, Wagner was there, too. He lost early on, and has since been toiling in the minor leagues. However, he did land the money shot by KOing Tim Sylvia in 32 seconds (maybe it was a questionable stoppage, but so what?), so the dude has got that going for him.
-Eric Prindle – Prindle kicked ass while boxing in the Army (FYI: the Army has internal boxing tournaments), so it’s safe to say he has a firm grasp of the mechanics of a jab, cross and hook. He is pretty green, though, and his lone loss in eight fights has been via submission to Jimmy Ambriz – and Ambriz is not a sub guy. That sort of speaks volumes as to where Prindle is at on the food chain.
-Ron Sparks – Sparks needed less than a minute to score a knockout in his Bellator debut, and the heavy hitter knows at least enough about grappling to avoid Jonathan Ivey’s infamous rolling kneebar assault. But his perfect 7-0 record means he’s a bit lacking in the experience department, and that could be an issue if he makes it past quarterfinal opponent Mark Holata – which isn’t exactly a given.
-Mark Holata – In two Bellator outings Holata has punched his way to convincing victories. He’s taking a step up in competition by competing in this tournament, and he’ll likely have trouble when faced with some of the more salty veterans. But it should be fun watching him slug it out until then, right?\
Update: It looks like Thiago Santos crapped the bed (figuratively, not literally) and is being replaced by TUF 10 alum Zak Jensen. In his last venture into the Bellator cage Jensen lost to Grove after some furious exchanges on the feet that left him woozy, but he’s a game competitor. He combines a wrestling background with a willingness to punch people in the face.