5 Things to Watch for at Bellator 67
Bellator Fighting Championships will return to Canada and Ontario for the second time in a month on Friday with a very exciting and relevant night of fights from Casino Rama in Orillia, Ontario.
The mixed martial arts card will be headlined by a feature fight between current lightweight champion Michael Chandler and Japanese veteran star, Akihiro Gono. The BFC title will not be on the line.
The card will also feature a welterweight tournament semi-final between Ben "Killa B" Saunders and Bryan Baker. This fight has large implications for the title aspirations of both fighters and could signal a bit of a shifting of the guard within the BFC welterweight division.
In a very highly anticipated fight, Canadian welterweight star Ryan "The Real Deal" Ford will make his BFC debut against 50-win veteran Luis Santos. Ford is a very popular fighter in Canada and many fans will be tuning in to see if Ford can make that next step in his career.
The rest of the card is not to be ignored as top fighters such as heavyweight Damian Grabowski and locals Will Romero, Nordine Taleb and Nathan Gunn will all be in action.
Here are five things to watch for on Friday night.
Is This the End for "Killa B" Ben Saunders?
When former UFC fighter and TUF alum Ben "Killa B" Saunders signed with Bellator in February of last year, many thought that he would be the future welterweight champion.
Saunders got his first crack at the climb as a participant in the Season 5 tournament, and many had him the favorite to win and earn that shot at Ben Askren's title.
No one seemed to tell Douglas Lima that and Lima knocked out Saunders in the tournament final in somewhat of an upset outcome.
Saunders turns 30 years old later this year, and is now in the semifinals of his second tournament run to a title shot. A loss to the younger and surging Bryan Baker could mean some serious soul-searching for Saunders, to see where he stands in his career.
Is It Time for a Big Step Up for Nordine Taleb?
Nordine Taleb is a very highly touted up-and-coming fighter who trains at the famed Tri Star Vale Tudo gym in Montreal.
Taleb is a feared striker who knocked out UFC veteran Pete Sell before making his Bellator debut last month in Windsor where he dominated the relatively unknown Matt Secor.
Secor seemed to be a step down in opponent coming off a win over Sell and Taleb toyed with the grappler on his way to a dominant debut victory.
If Taleb gets another dominant victory on Friday it may be time to boost him up and give him one of the better welterweights in the promotion.
Are Japanese Stars Deserving of BFC Feature Fight Status?
Back in the original days of MMA, it was not uncommon for a Japanese star fighter to be compared to the best of the best in the UFC. Many came over and jumped right into title fights without having to make a climb to get a shot.
With the current state of inactivity and eroding skills in Japanese MMA, many of the country's best are now being compared to the best in Bellator, and not the UFC. Last week saw this scenario play out at Bellator 66 with former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez taking on Japanese star Shinya Aoki in a feature fight.
Alvarez knocked Aoki out in the first round and if Chandler does the same to Gono, it will clearly show that the best Japanese fighters are clearly inferior to the champions on the Bellator roster and are undeserving of feature fight status.
Is Ryan Ford the Real Deal?
Edmonton's own Ryan Ford has been kicking ass north of the border for a few years now, and many people believe that he is good enough to test himself against the best of the best at 170 pounds. He has beaten the likes of Pete Spratt, Tommy Speer and Karo Parisyan and lost to Douglas Lima and Pat Healy twice.
Past indiscretions and a criminal record have prevented him from competing in the United States and that has definitely hindered his career progress. Ford will make his much anticipated Bellator debut against Luis Santos and has recently moved his training to the TriStar Gym in Montreal to train with some of the best fighters in the country.
This fight will go a long way in finally answering if Ryan Ford is indeed the real deal.
Will Chandler Lose and Throw the BFC LW Divison Upside Down?
Michael Chandler has a lot of pressure on his shoulders on Friday night. The lightweight champion wants to stay active and has signed on to fight Akihiro Gono in a feature fight for the promotion.
The lightweight title is not on the line in this fight but in my opinion, there is much more at stake in this fight than the gold belt that hangs on a champion's waist.
Bellator has made its brand with a consistent set up of tournaments where the tournament champion gets a well earned shot at the best fighter in the division when all is said and done. If Chandler loses this fight, it clearly erodes the credibility of the BFC champion as well as the title itself.
It is a big risk to have a champion in a feature fight with no title on the line. If Chandler loses, it will be interesting to see what consequences it will have on the promotion.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA, MMA Editor at CKSN.ca and guest blogger for Sportsnet.ca.