6 Bellator Fighters You Need to Know Before Spike TV Debut
Michael Chandler via Bellator.com
For almost four years, the men and women of Bellator Fighting Championships have floated just beneath the radar of most casual MMA fans.
Sure, they've had 84 fight shows, but almost all of them in smaller venues, in smaller cities and broadcast on television non-entities like ESPN Deportes and MTV2.
All that is about to change.
Thursday, Bellator makes its long-awaited debut on Spike, the network that together with the UFC made MMA a hot property on cable television. For many, it will be their first exposure to the product, and there are a few things, and people, they need to know going in.
First and foremost, this isn't the MMA you are used to with the UFC. You know how the UFC books fighters into title bouts, record be darned, giving Frankie Edgar and Chael Sonnen shots at the belt coming off of losses, and in weight classes they haven't competed in? How fighters are given high-profile spots based on their ability to move tickets more than their ability to win bouts?
That's the UFC way, and it has worked for them. That's not the Bellator style.
Promoter Bjorn Rebney believes in a tournament format, comparing it often to the NCAA's iconic basketball tournament. All title contenders, no matter how big a name, must earn their shot at the championship by winning a tournament that plays out over the course of a season, usually a couple of months.
These tournaments, in a number of weight classes, will continue to be Bellator's focus. Title bouts are also sprinkled in throughout the season, with winners of previous tournaments getting their shot at gold. These bouts will all appear live on Spike and not PPV. For now, Bellator is exclusive to Spike TV.
That's the lowdown on the sole national survivor, the UFC's last competitor.
Good. Now let's have a look at five fighters you'll need to know for the big Spike debut.
Chandler vs. Alvarez. Great fight.
Who: Michael Chandler
Weight class: Lightweight (Champion)
What: The current lightweight champion, Chandler sent shock waves reverberating through the MMA world with his 2011 win over the highly respected Eddie Alvarez. Now training at the Alliance in San Diego, California, the wrestler will defend his title for the first time against Season 6 tournament winner Rick Hawn.
A former All-American at the University of Missouri, Chandler is one of a handful of Bellator fighters considered by most experts to be among the top 10 in the world in his weight class.
Who: Rick Hawn
Weight class: Lightweight
What: a 2004 Olympic judoka (see our extended look at his judo background here), Hawn came into his own last year after dropping from welterweight to 155 pounds. Not your typical grappler, Hawn won two of his three tournament bouts by knockout.
He hopes to touch Chandler with those heavy hands and walk away with the title, joining former teammate Ronda Rousey among the judo greats who have conquered the MMA world.
Renato "Babalu" Sobral
Sobral in UFC action
John Gichigi/Getty Images
Who: Renato "Babalu" Sobral
Weight class: Light Heavyweight
What: Longtime fans of the sport will certainly recall "Babalu." The Brazilian has been around the block twice and is circling back for a final run at Bellator. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt, who made his UFC debut all the way back in 2000, has fought Fedor Emelianenko, "Shogun" Rua and Chuck Liddell, so the bright lights of Spike TV won't phase him.
He was one of the favorite and best-known fighters taking part in Season 8, and fans are eagerly awaiting a potential showdown with "King Mo" Lawal, the season's other shining star. His first-round matchup is against Mikhail Zayats.
Curran wins the belt
Who: Pat Curran
Weight class: Featherweight
What: Curran is one of Bellator's great success stories. As a lightweight, he won the Season 2 tournament, but couldn't unseat then-champion Eddie Alvarez. Adjusting fire, he moved down to the featherweight class where he surprised the pundits, first by beating Marlon Sandro to win the Summer Series tournament in 2011, then by taking the featherweight title from Joe Warren.
Curran will defend his title for the first time against Patricio Freire—"The Pitbull" opened the eyes of hardcore fans by winning the Season 4 tournament, but injuries have kept him out of the cage since May of 2011.
Who: Patricio "Pitbull" Freire
Weight class: Featherweight
What: Pitbull earned a title shot against Joe Warren, who had beaten him in Season 2, by winning the Season 4 tournament in 2011. It was an opportunity that wasn't meant to be. Plagued by injury, the Brazilian hasn't stepped into the cage at all since disposing of Daniel Strauss all the way back at Bellator 45.
Thursday, he finally gets his long-awaited shot, although now it comes against Curran. A very different fighter than Warren, his willingness to stand and trade may actually work to Freire's advantage.
No one knows exactly what to expect from Pitbull. He's been out of the cage for more than 18 months, but at 25, it's hard to write him off in the biggest fight of his life. He and Curran will open the show, becoming the first Bellator fighters to compete live on Spike. It's a true honor. Here's hoping they're worthy of it.
Kind of a goofball huh?
Who: Seth Petruzelli
Weight class: Light Heavyweight
What: Ever wonder what happened to the guy with the pink hair who shocked Kimbo Slice on national television? Wonder no more. The man's name is Seth Petruzelli and he is joining the Season 8 light heavyweight tournament.
Besides the Kimbo fight, Petruzelli has never really risen to the occasion. In four UFC appearances, he has a grand total of zero wins. But he's riding a two-fight win streak, including a knockout of former UFC heavyweight champ Ricco Rodriguez, and at 33, he realizes that if he's going to make it big in the sport, it's now or never.
Petruzelli will headline the undercard, free on Spike.com, against Jacob Noe.