It is a sad state of affairs when the most common thing said about an organization’s champ is that he’s a “work in progress”. But such is the case with Bellator welterweight grandmaster Ben Askren, who is shockingly weak in the striking and submissions department, yet un-freakin’-stoppable when it comes to wrestling. Somehow, he’s used that single dimension of fighting that he’s mastered to own one and all in the promotion’s cage. And good for him. I mean, it’s most certainly a credit to his ability that he’s gotten this far and remained undefeated with just one facet of combat. Unfortunately, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world to watch a man imitate a blanket for a full three- to five rounds, and do it with such effectiveness that challengers often doze off and snore mid-fight. As Viacom now owns a majority stake in Bjorn Rebney’s baby, one has to wonder if the media giant will dispatch ninjas to take Askren out in the dead of night, thereby opening the division up to those he can actually stand and trade or nail chokes and armbars and such. Until then, though, we’ve got Saturday night’s Bellator 56, which will see the champ take on recent welterweight tournament winner Jay Hieron. So! Preview!
-Ben Askren vs. Jay Hieron – Askren is undefeated, and the closest he came to defeat was in the fifth round of his bout against then-champ Lyman Good. Good, who was exhausted from having his foe cuddle him for almost twenty-five minutes, landed a solid up-kick to Askren’s chops and then slipped on a triangle choke. But Askren powered out of it, and took the decision and the belt. Since then, we’ve seen the new Bellator 170-pound king retire Nick Thompson (literally, Thompson retired after that bout) via Askren’s usual means. On the challenger side of the equation is Hieron, who’s fought everywhere (Strikeforce, Affliction, the UFC, the IFL, et al.). “The Thoroughbred” is very well-rounded, having honed his once wrestling-heavy game to include competent and dangerous submissions and kickboxing, and the last time he was defeated was back in 2007, when Brad Blackburn caught him when they met up in the IFL. That said, Hieron just barely squeaked by Brent Weedman and Rick Hawn in Bellator’s Season Four tournament, and when he takes on Askren, it’s going to be five rounds of ugly. I’m talking takedowns and awkward horizontal hugging, and frustration – both from Hieron (because he’ll be stuck on the bottom) and from us (because dammit, it’s Saturday night and we could’ve been out smoking cigarettes on the corner with the neighborhood kids). Does Hieron stand a chance? I wish! But so far nobody has been able to solve the riddle of Askren’s takedowns and top game, and Hieron… oof, I need a cigarette.
-Ron Sparks vs. Eric Prindle – Lest Bellator 56 end up a complete wash, we still have this season’s heavyweight tournament semifinals for our consumption, and if the quarterfinals were of any indication, we should be in for some violence. In Spark’s opening match-up, the behemoth needed just under a minute and a half to punch Mark Holata into sweet oblivion. Prindle’s pairing against Abe Wagner was no less entertaining, as for three rounds he beat on his opponent as if Wagner had stolen his ticket to the buffet. So what does that leave us? Someone with the power to end things quickly against someone who can make a thrashing last fifteen minutes. Yeah, this one’s going to be fun, and no way can I guess who’s going to win it.
-Thiago Santos vs. Neil Grove – Big Brazilian Santos almost missed the tournament boat due to visa issues, but when quarterfinal winner Mike Hayes was handed down a medical suspension, he got a reprieve in the form of a match against an overmatched Josh Burns. Grove, on the other hand, lost to Hayes, and got his second chance when quarterfinal winner Blagoi Ivanov had to bow out due to injury. Grove definitely has the edge in experience, and could likely deal with Santos’ size and aggression. The only hitch is he looked flat as hell against Hayes. Has he had enough time to bounce back? If not, expect him to wind up tapping to whatever the Brazilian vigorously applies to him, like a choke. Yeah, a choke. That’s it.