Overshadowed as usual by an extremely compelling UFC on pay-per-view Saturday night is Bellator 53, which, though lacking in lightweight trilogies and dudes returning from testosterone-induced suspensions, is actually chock full of its own brand of scrappy goodness. The quartet of remaining Bellator Season Five welterweight tournament semifinalists are going to mix it up (and by “mix it up” I mean slaughter each other), Brit bruiser Ronnie Mann returns to take on upstart Kenny Foster, and Brazilian monstrosity Thiago Santos – freshly smuggled into the country in the back of a pickup truck Bjorn Rebney himself drove – gets to have his moment in the MTV2 spotlight. If none of this has convinced you to at least set your DVR to record it, then read on. Or don’t. Either way, I’m doing this Bellator 53 preview without you.
-Ben Saunders vs. Luis Santos – We’ve been over this material before, so here’s a quick review: Saunders is a TUF veteran, jiu-jitsu brown belt and deadly clinch-fighter; Santos is a Nogueira black belt and hits hard. The new info gleaned since last month is from how Saunders and Santos dispatched their quarterfinal opponents, Chris Cisneros and Dan Hornbuckle, respectively. For the American, it was business as usual, as he owned Cisneros on the ground in the first two rounds, then clobbered him with strikes in the third. Santos, on the other hand, beat on Hornbuckle all three rounds, but wasn’t able to put him away. Where does that leave us on Saturday night? It’s likely we won’t see much ground fighting. Instead, these guys are going to latch on to each other and engage in the kind of dirty boxing that’s so messy, the canvas is going to need to be steam-cleaned afterwards. Expect Saunders to emerge victorious – maybe via TKO, maybe by decision.
-Doug Lima vs. Chris Lozano – Despite all his hype, Lima still had to work hard to defeat Steve Carl in the tournament’s opener. Lozano, meanwhile, had to wage war against Brent Weedman (which was expected) before earning the decision (which wasn’t expected going into the bout). Therefore, this we know: these guys are tough, these guys are dangerous, and these guys might have some wear and tear going into Bellator 53. Watch for another long, protracted stand-up battle, as that seems to be where Lima and Lozano do their best, but no way can I predict who’s going to earn himself the “W”.
-Ronnie Mann vs. Kenny Foster – UK-based face-smasher Mann may have fallen to Pat Curran in the last featherweight brouhaha, but come on, it’s Pat freakin’ Curran – he’s been wrecking nearly everyone. Foster, too, lost his shot at glory in the 145-pound tournament before that, falling to eventual finalist Daniel Straus. So here we are. A dangerous striker against a wrestling-heavy grappler. Who gets to keep his job and who is forced back into the regional shows? My money is on Mann, who wields the advantage for having faced much tougher competition, pulling out the win.
-Josh Burns vs. Thiago Santos – Santos missed last week’s heavyweight tournament quarterfinals because of visa issues (I’m telling you, you have to make those monthly payments), but he gets another crack at performing before a national audience when he faces Bellator veteran Burns. Two big guys, blah, blah, blah… the most interesting thing about this pairing is the rumor that Mike Hayes (who defeated Neil Grove at Bellator 52) might be injured and unable to move on to the semifinals. Thus, Santos – and Burns, if he wins – might get the opportunity. Giddyup.