We are four events down in the third season of Bellator Fighting Championships and already we have seen the promotional debut of the pound-for-pound queen of MMA, as well as the first ever championship change hands and this is only the beginning.
This Thursday Bellator will host its 28th event going head-to-head in the same city and the same night as the 2010 NFL season opener, a rematch of the NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings.
While other traditional Thursday programming such as Total Nonstop Action (TNA) wrestling have shied away from the NFL, Bellator has chosen to challenge it directly.
This week's edition of Bellator Fighting Championships is the first time one of its events will not feature a tournament bout—however we will get to see a few familiar faces as well as the Bellator debut of a four-time collegiate All-American wrestler.
The opening bout of the evening pits two featherweight newcomers against one another—Marcus Andrusia steps into the cage for the biggest fight of his career to date and he has no easy task ahead of him.
Andrusia has been competing as an amateur mixed martial artist since 2008 and compiled an impressive 6-2 record in sanctioned competition and claimed the TAFCA lightweight championship.
This past June Andrusia made his professional MMA debut when he made quick work of the much more experienced Aaron Williams in London—now he looks to make a huge leap in his career by showcasing his skills on national television.
His opponent already has a page full of accomplishments as an amateur which will serve him well inside the Bellator cage.
Eric Larkin graduated Arizona State University with a record of 34-0 for his senior year and over his time collected 123 victories as well as being a four-time All-American and a national championship to go along with it.
Since making his professional MMA debut this past April he has been unbeaten collecting two victories over Bob Tuttle and Bruce Johnson.
I have watched tapes of both these men compete over the past few days and I have grown to see great things in the ability of Marcus Andrusia—he is very quick on his feet and is no slouch on the mat neither but I am giving the nod to Larkin in this bout.
His wrestling game is second to none, he controls his opponents and I see him doing that from the get go—in addition he has shown that he has power in his hands with a knock out victory in his last outing but I will predict him to collect a unanimous decision.
The next bout of the evening gives the middleweights the chance to shine as Matt Horwick squares off against Eric Schambari.
Matt Horwick is best know for his run in the International Fight League (IFL) where he went 7-4 and captured the IFL middleweight title from Benji Radach however lost the title in his first defense.
When IFL closed its doors Horwick got the opportunity to compete in the big time, he made his debut in the UFC just a few months later however his run to the top was cut short when he suffered back-to-back defeats to Dan Miller and Ricardo Almeida.
Since then he has gone 2-3 in various organizations, most recently submitting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and former top contender for the UFC middleweight title, Thales Leites.
Eric Schambari on the other hand is most recognizable from his run in the WEC several years ago—Schambari entered the organization with bright hopes, sporting an undefeated 5-0 record.
During his short stint in the WEC he continued his winning ways defeating Art Santore and Logan Clark before running into Bryan Baker who handed him his first career defeat.
Schambari also competed in this past seasons middleweight tournament where he would defeat Luke Zachrich with an arm triangle in the opening round only to run into the brick wall known as Brian Baker once again—to this date Baker is the only blemish on Schambari's impressive record.
This middleweight clash is a very intriguing one: Matt Horwick is an experienced veteran with 36 professional bouts to his name and recently picked up one of the bigger upsets of the year over Thales Leites, but I believe Schambari is too well rounded and too skilled for Horwick.
Schambari has shown over his career that he is very accomplished on the mat, his wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu game should be enough to control the fight and submit Horwick however he could have troubles in a standing affair with the former IFL champion.
Featherweights back in the limelight next up with Anthony Leone facing Georgi Karakhanyan.
Georgi Karakhanyan began his fighting career part-time while following his dream to become a professional soccer player.
Over time he dropped the soccer dream to focus full time on becoming an accomplished mixed martial artist—Karakhanyan fought in a number of MMA organizations compiling an impressive 12-1-1 record before getting the opportunity to compete in Bellator's featherweight tournament this past season.
Karakhanyan would make an emphatic statement in his debut by knocking out Bao Quach with a vicious knee but his tournament dreams got cut short when he ran into eventual winner Joe Warren.
Karakhanyan will look to get back on track when he returns to the circled cage and is considered a heavy favorite.
His opponent, Anothony Leone is an accomplished wrestler—having competed for two years and collecting a perfect 8-0 record he caught the eye of WEC matchmaker Sean Shelby who gave him the opportunity to compete in the elite featherweight division.
Leone would make his WEC debut in the opening fight of the night on their WEC 49 event however that night was not his night, his opponent Renan Barao controlled the pace of the encounter both on the feet and on the mat for two rounds before submitting Leone in the third round—Now Leone gets his chance for redemption.
I am going to predict Georgi Karakhanyan to pick up the victory on this night, although I see great potential in Leone I feel he has too many holes in his game that Karakhanyan can exploit, I would expect Georgi to knock out Leone in the second round.
Main Event of the evening is one that will bring the fireworks—lightweights Carey Vanier and Rich Clementi are given the main stage in what should be a fun affair.
Carey Vanier is an NCAA Division III All-American wrestler, in his senior year he would finish sixth in the state championships and later made the transition into mixed martial arts.
For his first three years as a professional Vanier accepted fights in a number of smaller MMA organizations and compiled an impressive 7-2 record before getting the call to compete in the Bellator lightweight tournament.
In his Bellator debut he would knock out Joe Duarte in devastating fashion, with this victory it gave him the opportunity to face eventual finalist Toby Imada.
On that night though, Imada was the better man after winning the first round before submitting the NCAA wrestler in the second.
Now he gets the chance to put his name back out there in a big way—his opponent is a veteran of mixed martial arts, most notable for his various stints in the UFC.
Rich Clementi brings a world of experience into the cage having competed in a colossal 55 professional bouts with 38 victories against his name.
Clementi has fought some of the top lightweights the world has to offer in Caol Uno, Marcus Aurelio, Sam Stout, Melvin Guillard, and Gray Maynard all having tested their skills against this veteran.
Part of me wants to call the upset here and predict Vanier to defeat Clementi but I have a feeling that Clementi will bother him on the feet for the majority of the bout—over the years Clementi has developed some pretty good boxing and he should be able to keep the fight on the feet and knock out Vanier.
All in all, every bout on this card provides an intriguing element which cannot be missed so DVR the NFL and give Bellator your attention this Thursday night.