BELLATOR: DYNAMITE 1 PREVIEW, CARD BREAKDOWN, AND PREDICTIONS
Photo Credit: Bellator
It is one hell of an idea. Bellator, affectionately the UFC’s little brother, tends to focus on spectacle as much as substance. And while this card, marrying Bellator MMA and Glory Kickboxing into one event, has plenty of spectacle, there is plenty of substance for fight fans to sink into. With the UFC on hiatus, and IF this event goes off smoothly Bellator may step out of the UFC’s shadow in a big way.
CARD BREAKDOWN AND WHERE TO WATCH
Main Card (Spike, 9 pm EST)
MAIN CARD PREDICTIONS
MO LAWAL VS. LINTON VASSELL
For Linton Vassell, this tournament is the chance to prove to himself and Bellator that his loss to Emanuel Newton was but a speed bump to greatness. For Mo Lawal, this fight is a chance to prove that he’s back to fighting up to his ability. The fight is tough for both men, more so with the winner going on to fight the winner of Davis/Newton.
Mo Lawal was set to be the biggest name in the Light Heavyweight division outside of the UFC. His wrestling is second to none (he and UFC champ Daniel Cormier both attended and thrived at powerhouse Oklahoma State University). “King Mo” has truly incredible power in both hands to accompany his world-class wrestling, and remains unsubmitted in MMA competition. But as much as his skills on paper look impressive, his performance and living up to his abilities have, thus far, failed to transpire. Three consecutive wins see him in good form, but a flailing loss to Rampage Jackson in May of last year shows exactly the problems that have plagued him throughout his career.
Linton Vassell beat Emanuel Newton senseless for two rounds in his title shot. Constantly working, especially on the ground for the submission, Vassell was looking like a world championship was a forgone conclusion for him. But Newton found his second wind and handed Vassell his first loss in four years. That was last October, and a great deal has changed in the Bellator landscape since (including Vassell TKO’ing Sokoudjou in February), but the question still lingers: Does Vassell have the ability to be the champ? The great news is he has the opportunity to demonstrate his vicious ground game and solid cardio; the bad news is, at their best, every other man in this tournament is more skilled than he is.
King Mo, when he fights as he is capable of fighting, would take this fight handily. The issue is, since exploding onto the MMA scene in 2008 and running quickly to a 7-0 record and a Light Heavyweight Championship (in Strikeforce), Lawal has floundered at the highest levels. His current win streak is his longest since 2010, but he’s shown a dangerous habit of getting to the big fights and winging right hands and splaying out for takedowns, only to wind and lose by decision. Vassell will hope for King Mo to take him down and press, looking to take his back and be the first to submit the King. But with two short rounds looming, desperation may drive the action in this fight as much technique.
King Mo by Decision. Second Round.
EMANUEL NEWTON VS. PHIL DAVIS
If the main draw of this card is the spectacle and unique style of the event, this fight will provide the substance that should appease the more hard core MMA fan. Phil Davis was one of the UFC’s elite Light Heavyweights. After a quick departure that was one half rebellion against a highly controversial Reebok deal, and the other half a halted title shot after losing to Ryan Bader, Davis will be highly motivated to convert on his promise of high-end talent coming to Bellator. Emanuel Newton, the former Light Heavy Bellator champ, will look to strike back quickly and prove that Tito getting a title shot before he got his rematch was a promotional mistake.
Phil Davis is an incredibly talented fighter. Having beaten the likes of Glover Teixeira, Lyoto Machida, and Alexander Gustafson, Davis could provide the spark of top talent fleeing the Reebok deal for Bellator. Davis will look to his excellent wrestling to be the difference in the first round of this Light Heavyweight tournament. In the past, Davis has showed flurries of good kicks and standup as well as solid BJJ (landing a kimura on Tim Boetsch and the rare anaconda choke on no less than Gustafson). This is an important moment in Davis’ career and a victory in this tournament would push him immediately into title contention.
Emanuel Newton is a very talented fighter, but as will prove a common theme for the Bellator veterans, he doesn’t quite have the pedigree of Davis. And while there are arguments to be made about his impressive seven fight win streak prior to losing his belt to the current champ (McGeary), and his solid technical skills, Davis may prove overwhelming with pure wrestling ability. Newton has the misfortune of an eclectic style that has been successful in the past but that was thwarted by Liam McGeary going to ground with him and exploiting his tendency to rest in the middle of fights. Look for Newton to throw a spinning backfist or two, and his odd crossover stance (not recommended by most coaches, but has set him up for several spinning strikes, historically).
There are several disadvantages that Newton will have to overcome should he hope to progress in the tournament and get his rematch against Liam McGeary: Davis’ vastly superior wrestling, his tendency to rest on his laurels and get pushed against the cage, and the tournaments rules that maximizes the efficacy of both. Due to the rules in place for tournament fighting, each fight will consist of two five-minute rounds, a relative sprint compared to the traditional three five minute rounds (or five for a title fight). If Newton cannot find a new gear in his fight game, he is susceptible to Davis grabbing ahold of him and grinding out a decision against the cage. With another fight looming for the winner, it’s hard to imagine this not being Davis’ tactic, and heretofore in his career, Newton has shown no ability or desire to get himself out of the cage or off the mat when he can wait, rest, and look to land a singular big blow. And should he be so bold as to throw his lazy wheel kick that is neither serious nor well-executed, he may find out how explosive Davis truly is.
Davis by decision. Second Round.
HADLEY GRIFFITH VS. KERI ANNE TAYLOR-MELENDEZ
Kerri Anne Taylor-Melendez should not be overlooked simply because her husband (Gilbert Melendez) is a monster in the cage. Originally rumored to be joining Bellator exclusively to start her MMA career, it looks as though the promotion has decided to introduce her to fans via the drip method that extends into her wheelhouse. Her opponent, a sliding Hadley Griffith, needs this win to keep her career alive.
Hadley Griffith had an enormously disappointing MMA career. After losing her first two amateur fights, Griffith pulled out a unanimous decision win against Elisha Helsper for her professional debut. Following her one and only MMA win, Griffith quickly lost four straight and found herself lacking in promotional opportunities. A switch to kickboxing, where her skillset is supposed to lie, could prove resurgent for her career. It will, at the very least, eliminate her proclivity for getting choked out (of her five professional fights, she three of her four losses came via rear-naked choke).
Keri Anne Taylor-Melendez may famous for being the wife of Gilbert Melendez, but ten years of martial art training and a 6-2 kickboxing record (2-1 professionally) demonstrate an exciting prospect for women’s MMA. Co-owner of El Nino Training Center, Taylor-Melendez undoubtedly trains with top talent and will look to make short work of her opponent. Although her eventual goal is to transition into MMA, this kickboxing match will be her introduction to a much wider fan base, and the Bellator audience. A definitive win could be just the ticket to making her a fan favorite.
It has been hard to find tape of both women, at least to the extent that Phil Davis and King Mo have provided, but there are some outlying questions that will be answered Saturday night. From the video that I’ve seen Griffith has appeared to be winning the striking battle in her kickboxing bouts. The additional disciplines in MMA could point to why she went a dismal 1-6 (and she wouldn’t be the first, nor will she be the last, pure striker to find themselves floundering when someone takes them down). Keri Anne Taylor-Melendez has a certain notoriety in muay thai, especially in the Bay Area, but with a knee injury in her past and a 2-1 kickboxing record, she remains a promising wild card. Keys to this fight will be Griffith using her superior length (at 5’11” she is a tall 120 pounder) and Taylor-Melendez focusing on the fight at hand, and not her eventual transition to MMA.
Taylor-Melendez by KO. First Round.
PAUL DALEY VS. FERNANDO GONZALEZ
A great kickboxing matchup and a direct crossover from Bellator MMA into Glory Kickboxing (one of the smarter moves in a very innovative card), Paul Daley and Fernando Gonzalez will square off at welterweight on Saturday night. Both men are on four fight MMA win streaks, but Paul Daley has substantially more experience in kickboxing (twenty-three fights to none).
Daley may be suffering from overconfidence, calling his KO win over Gonzalez a mere formality earlier this week. But there is a lot for Daley to be confident about coming into this fight. While he insists he has always been training as an MMA fighter (and his four straight wins surely demonstrate his talent in that arena) his skills as a kickboxer are undeniable. Five straight wins since rejoining the sport in 2014; Daley has excellent technical skills and fights a traditional style. What sets him apart, and may well be the differentiator in this fight, is his hellacious left hand. Daley is known as “Semtex” in MMA, but remove the possibility of taking him down or even stalling him out against the cage and the man is a fearsome matchup.
Fernando Gonzalez has an experienced muay thai background, winning the WBC Cruiserweight Championship. He’s on a streak in Bellator MMA, beating the likes of Karo Parisyan and Curtis Millender handily. And should he win this fight, his name should be in contention for a title shot. But the concern here is with his lack of experience. Gonzalez has, count them, zero professional kickboxing bouts. Fighting out Dan Henderson’s gym in Temecula, Gonzalez is a tough striker with knockout power. But following 90-suspension for popping hot, again, for marijuana, he may have jumped in the deep end fighting Daley in a purely kickboxing matchup.
This fight will be entertaining long enough for Daley to get his range. The simple fact, in this case, is that Daley is a high level kickboxer with twenty wins under his belt, and Fernando Gonzalez will be premiering in this sport Saturday. The idea to take two streaking fighters from the Bellator promotion and fight them under the Glory banner was a good one, but the fight should have been much more competitive. And a solid striker in MMA, even with a good background in muay thai, should not debut against someone as talented as Daley. I hope Gonzalez can fend Daley off without taking too much damage, but given Daley’s violent power, I fear the worst.
Daley by Knockout. Second Round.
MIKE BRONZOULIS VS. JOSH THOMSON
In a men’s card dominated by Light Heavyweight matchups, Josh Thomson and Mike Bronzoulis bring a Lightweight bout that follows the same theme of high-level experience meeting unfulfilled promise.
Josh “The Punk” Thomson after returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for two years, split fights with KJ Koons (winning by unanimous decision) and Gilbert Melendez (losing a close split decision) before being picked up by the UFC. In two short rounds, Thomson dispatched Nate Diaz and won Knockout of the Night honors. Thomson has a well-rounded kickboxing game pushed by a solid cardio foundation and an attitude that spawned his nickname. But at thirty-six, he’s well past his prime (in fight years) and has looked almost sluggish in his recent fights. Three losses, albeit two by split decision, saw Thomson and the UFC part ways. This fight will be entirely decided by which Thomson shows up: the warrior who had one of the most entertaining trilogies in fight history (against Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce), or the man who lost to Tony Ferguson by decision in July.
Mike Bronzoulis is neither a young man (36), nor does he have the pedigree that Thomson has. His last ten fights are an even 5-5 split. But what he has, or has claimed to have in the lead up to this fight, is a new training philosophy, and a new outlook on life. The former Legacy FC Welterweight champion came out of Bellator’s Fight Master show on a three fight skid. And it’s in those moments that some fighters never recover. Or in the case of Bronzoulis, some fighters break up with girlfriends, drop a weight class, change the way they train and win the next three (with the crown of Legacy FC Lightweight Champion). And while that is a laudable turn around, the question remains: is his change in philosophy enough to bridge the talent and experience gap between him and Josh Thomson?
It’s hard to see where Bronzoulis could find an edge in this fight, with must pundits favoring Thomson heavily to win. And while technically, I don’t believe Bronzoulis has much to offer against Thomson’s solid wrestling and kickboxing, the mentality of the Texan has me hoping that he can pull off the upset. But I doubt it.
Thomson by Decision. Third Round.
SAULO CAVALARI VS. ZACK MWEKASSA
After stripping champion Gokhan Saki of his Light Heavyweight title for inactivity, Glory immediately set about putting together this rematch for the belt. Cavalari and Mwekassa fought a close bout last November, before Cavalari hit the Congolese kickboxer with the one-two of kickboxing: low kick to the lead leg, switch head kick. Mwekassa went down hard in the third and you can bet he hasn’t forgotten. Revenge will be in his mind, but fighting for the belt Cavalari’s more traditional style may be insurmountable.
Mwekassa came to the sport of kickboxing by way of the sweet science. When the Congolese kickboxer started his career, he intended to fight in K1, but given the timing of his career birth (and the decline of K1) he transitioned into boxing in 2006. With the resurgence of high-level kickboxing competition in Glory, Mwekassa quickly transition and put down a heavily favored Pat Barry at Glory 16. But his style had lingering habits from his time in professional boxing. Whereas the traditional kickboxer (think Dutch style) tends to have a squared stance with very little head movement, Mwekassa stands angled at his opponent. While this opens him up to a variety of kicks, Mwekassa capitalizes on constant movement and a lunging jab that foils the upright punching style of a traditional kickboxer. Mwekassa will look to avenge his only professional kickboxing loss working his jab to keep Cavalari at range and set up his heavy left hand.
Saulo Cavalari is a Brazilian kickboxer riding a three win streak. He is and should be the presumptive favorite in this fight, due to his overwhelming experience, traditional style, and having already knocked out Mwekassa. While Mwekassa is an intriguing fighter that has a lot of pundits salivating at his future (his differing style and match-up issues make every fight for him an exciting prospect) Cavalari has the technique to put him away, if he executes. Cavalari will look for Mwekassa’s heavily weighted lead leg (a habit amongst boxers), and head movement to land kicks. Something to keep in mind for the MMA fan watching this crossover matchup is that a lot of head movement is not necessarily best in a kickboxing match. Length is the best defense to avoid a knee or kick, thus the very upright style of kickboxers. The bobbing and weaving of a boxer (think Iron Mike) is great for avoiding a punch, but makes an easy target for a knee.
This fight is an interesting matchup of styles that could prove definitive moving forward in Glory. Mwekassa heavily emphasizes boxing, focusing on getting range with his jab and throwing his powerful left. Cavalari is a very traditional upright kickboxer, snapping off kicks that can and do put men down. The clash of styles will see him throwing leg kicks in bunches, and looking to stall out Mwekassa’s movement enough to land another powerful head kick. Another note that is important, Cavalari will most likely win on points if this goes to a decision. Mwekassa’s style sets up poorly for a lead leg kick. In their last bout, as early as the second round, Mwekassa was limping heavily and grimacing every time Cavalari snapped off a kick into his thigh.
Cavalari by KO. Third Round.
LIAM MCGEARY (C) VS. TITO ORTIZ
This is a matchup very much in line with themes Bellator tends to suffer with, but may nonetheless make itself into an entertaining fight. Bellator tends to favor specatacle over substance, in an effort to differentiate itself from the UFC. And on the surface this fight is pure spectacle: Tito Ortiz is forty years old and not long removed from a 1-7-1 record that saw him waved from the UFC. Liam McGeary is eight years his junior, an entire combat sports career, and is currently undefeated. But that ignores recent history.
Tito is on a two fight winning streak since coming to Bellator, including an impressive win over Alexander Shlemenko via arm triangle. There’s no ignoring that Tito is forty years old, and with over thirty fights it’s nigh impossible that his body won’t have slowed. But with that age he will have experience fighting at the highest levels. The “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” is a man who beat Wanderlei Silva, Ken Shamrock (repeatedly), Forrest Griffin, and Vitor Belfort. Stage fright won’t play even a small part in his fight. But wherein Tito has always found trouble, and Chuck Liddell can attest to this, is his over willingness to bang. Tito has okay standup, at times flashing some greatness, but at forty, with some hard knocks in his past, if Tito goes this route for the fight—it’s hard to see him having his arm raised.
Most analysts will tell you, however, that this fight will most likely find its way to the ground. And that’s where Liam McGeary wants it. The man is a grappling and submission fighter, with a crazy amount of energy on the ground. And he’s young. Just ten fights into his career, his record doesn’t read like Tito’s (a who’s who of MMA Hall of Famers). And what’s more, standing and throwing with Tito could leave him open to some heroics from a man who’s already hung up his gloves once. McGeary will look to take Tito down early, and press the pace. Look for him to be attacking Tito’s arms (McGeary holds three wins by submission) from the top. If Tito can put the reigning champ on his back, McGeary is maybe more dangerous, attacking for the triangle and arm bar while looking for any limb left dragging.
I don’t see Liam McGeary or his camp risking a purely standup fight; he will look to turn the bout into grappling early. Tito is no slouch on the ground, though. He was infamously hard to submit in the UFC and remains one of the toughest men in the sport. That said, McGeary’s constant motion and pressure on the ground will be hard to battle off.
Liam McGeary by submission. Third Round.