Richard Hale has finished his last four opponents inside one round. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
While I have known this day would come for some time, it is nevertheless tortuous to admit that we have arrived at a point in time when I will no longer earn part of my monthly paycheck by making fun of MTV2.
Tragic, yes, but at least Bellator Fighting Championships has put together a worthy conclusion to its seventh season before moving to Spike TV in 2013. Bellator 84 on Friday features the finals of the heavyweight, lightweight and featherweight tournaments at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind. Prior to the main draw broadcast on The Bam Margera Network, the show’s preliminary lineup streams live on Spike.com.
Here is what to watch for at Bellator 84:
After failing in his bid to win Bellator’s Season 4 light heavyweight tournament, Richard Hale looked to be a long shot entering the Season 7 heavyweight draw.
Instead, “Rare Breed” has sliced through the competition like a lightsaber through a wampa, using his superior speed and concussive punching power to cut down Mike Wessel and then the arguable tournament favorite in Thiago Santos.
Hale’s technical knockout of “Big Monster” was especially impressive, as the American weathered a quick start from the stout Brazilian and managed to keep his wits about him while eating heavy shots. This is only one man’s opinion, but that result looked to be a case of the biggest kid on the playground getting hit square in the teeth and seeing his own blood for the first time.
Once it became clear that Hale had taken some of Santos’ best shots, the 27-year-old assumed control, clipping the Brazilian with a series of glancing blows that put Santos down and forced him to turtle, leaving the heavier man exposed for Hale’s finishing flurry of ground-and-pound.
As Hale stated after his win, we now know conclusively that he is capable of taking a heavyweight punch. The question is, will he be able to handle Alexander Volkov’s stinging jab and superior movement?
In Volkov, Hale faces a fellow wiry heavyweight with something to prove.
While “Drago” might not possess the violent power of his upcoming opponent, the Russian should own the advantage from the outside, provided he stays controlled and does not allow Hale to goad him into a leather-slinging contest. Volkov’s strengths are numerous, as he displayed in his first two tournament appearances, outclassing the heavy-handed Brett Rogers before stopping Vinicius Kappke de Queiroz with strikes after benefiting from a pair of questionable standups courtesy of referee James Warring.
Hale should take note of de Queiroz’s ability to navigate his way through Volkov’s jabs and straights in order to put the 24-year-old on his back, where his defense proved less than spectacular. Were it not for the referee’s intervention, we might be looking at a different tournament final.
Can Volkov keep Hale on the end of his range and pummel him with those piston-like shots, or will the pressure of the American’s power punching and the threat of a takedown put “Drago” on the defensive?
In the Portland, Ore., fight scene, “The Fugitive” went from local-kid-who-made-good to legit prospect to World Extreme Cagefighting washout in the span of just a few years. Now given a second chance by Bellator to climb the mountain and strap a belt around his waist, Jansen has made the most of his opportunity.
Posting five straight wins since joining the organization last year, Jansen showed great determination in his quarterfinal and semifinal tournament appearances, submitting a game Magomed Saadulaev in October before edging the rugged Ricardo Tirloni the following month in a split decision at Bellator 81.
Now, Jansen must contend with Polish wunderkind Marcin Held. If the wrestler can avoid the Pole’s relentless leg lock attack, I think he has an excellent chance at earning himself a shot at the lightweight belt and the title of Season 7 tournament winner.
Too Hot to Held
There is something endearing about watching a guy dig for leg locks obsessively for the better part of eight minutes before finally cashing in on a nasty toe hold like Held did against Rich Clementi in the tournament semifinals.
If that last sentence made you want to puke, you might want to warm up your vocal chords for some “USA” chants on Friday. Held’s style is not for everyone, but when he sticks to his guns, he can be a damn good fighter at this level.
A quick reminder for those with short memories: the 20-year-old had current Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler in trouble during the opening round of the Season 4 tournament. You remember Chandler, right? He is the guy who blasted Eddie Alvarez with twin barrels to the face before taking his back and making him say, “No more, please.”
Before Chandler’s masterful title-winning performance, Held caught him in a kneebar that was as deep as the San Antonio Spurs’ bench, and I reckon if he would have possessed a little more killer instinct, the young Pole might have halted Chandler’s rise to excellence before it had begun. Take nothing away from Chandler, as there is a reason he muscled his way out of that thing and then put Held to sleep with an arm-triangle choke just minutes later, but it is nonetheless entertaining to imagine, “What if?”
Held will likely have his hands full with Jansen, a superior wrestler who is well aware of the Pole’s desire to contort his lower extremities. Will Held’s leg lock expertise guide him to victory, or can Jansen avoid that dangerous guard and make the prospect pay while standing?