Bellator’s fourth season is now one for the history books (or Wikipedia, which will likely replace actual history books at some point), and with the dust settled from Saturday night’s Bellator 45 installment and season finale, it’s time for an honest assessment of all we’ve learned. As usual, stars were either made and shined bright, or lost their luster, went supernova, exploded and showered the Earth with burning fragments. Let’s examine them, shall we?
Eddie Alvarez – As one of the best the organization has to offer, Bellator’s reigning lightweight champ really only had to go to the office once this season, and that was to smack around Pat Curran, the winner of the most-recent 155-pound tournament. To Curran’s credit, he did manage to survive five rounds of Alvarez alternately punching him in the head and the gut, and many took that lack of finishing as a sign that Alvarez isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. But as they say on the “streets” (allegedly – I’ve never been to these “streets”), hater’s gonna hate. Curran earned his shot at the title by defeating three tough guys, and he had nothing for the champ.
Patricky and Patricio Freire – The Brazilian “Pitbull” brothers cut a swath through the featherweight and lightweight tournament fields this season, scoring thrilling knockouts in the quarterfinals and semifinals and forever endearing themselves to us as “those sweet little mass murderers”. Only the bigger Patricky met defeat, falling via decision to a superior wrestler in the finals, but the 145-pound Patricio managed to secure top honors. His next visit to the cage will see him re-matching with champ Joe Warren. Regardless of the outcome of that bout (note: Freire will crush him), we will from now on watch these brothers compete half-expecting someone to get blasted unconscious.
Michael Chandler – Chandler was an undefeated Strikeforce veteran when he entered this season’s lightweight smashfest, and by the end of his run, he was an undefeated Bellator tournament winner. The best part: Chandler won it all by being exciting. In blending his wrestling and improving boxing with constant movement, he was able to keep foes off balance – including Patricky Freire (kicking the Brazilian in the nuts a few times probably helped). Now we get to see how Chandler will do against King Alvarez.
Ben Askren – He may have only had a non-title bout against a fighter on the cusp of retirement, but welterweight champ Askren once more reminded us why he’s the man to beat. For five rounds the Olympic wrestler rode UFC vet Nick Thompson like a cowboy rides a saddle. It was far from pretty and far from exciting, yet the dominance was undeniable.
Jay Hieron – He’s fought everywhere, including the UFC and Strikeforce, and this season longtime Xtreme Couture exponent decided to give Bellator a try. You could say Hieron barely squeaked through the welterweight tournament, and that he churns out more decisions than the U.S. Supreme Court. The bottom line, however, is that he’s an ultra-experienced veteran with a wide range of tools, and he’s next in line for a crack at Askren’s title.
Zach Makovsky – Like Alvarez, the organization’s bantamweight champ only had to go to work once this season, and that was to dominate Chad Robichaux in a non-title bout. However, a fresh bantamweight tournament looms with the featherweight champ cutting down to take part, so things will soon get real interesting in terms of Makovsky’s competition.
Christian M’Pumbu – Congolese-born striker M’Pumbu may not cut weight to get to light-heavyweight (which makes him smaller than most of his peers come fight time), but his striking skills made him the boss in Bellator’s inaugural 205-pound tournament. And no one could defeat the boss. Hooray for an exciting fighter at the top!
Richard Hale – M’Pumbu clobbered him the finals, but that was a pretty cool upside-down inverted triangle choke in the quarterfinals, no?
Hector Lombard – The untouchable middleweight champ pulled a dramatic third-round knockout from his hat in his Season Four superfight against veteran Falaniko Vitale. The two rounds prior, unfortunately, were about as exciting as watching paint dry. What does that all mean? That Lombard can be fun to watch, but he needs to be pushed. Hopefully, the next middleweight tournament gives him (and us) someone worthy.
Joe Warren – Brash, talented, skilled, entertaining. Featherweight champ Warren is all of these things – and after an insane gift decision against Marcos Galvao in a non-title bout at Bellator 41, you can add “lucky” to those list of traits. The clock is ticking on the promotion’s 145-pound boss (the smaller Freire will soon call dibs on the belt), yet things will get compelling with Warren’s excursion into the world of 135-pounders.
Zoila Frausto-Gurgel – Last season, Frausto shocked the world by defeating top-ranked Megumi Fujii to become Bellator’s first 115-pound female champ. She kicked ass against an overmatched Karina Hallinan in a non-title 125-pound affair this season, but sadly, her return to 115 pounds is in question. That leaves us with a lot of cool memories about a women’s tournament and not a lot to look forward to in terms of someone fighting for the right to challenge her.