Saad Awad has finished his last six foes, four in less than a minute. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
We must address two quick pieces of good news before we get started.
First, not one but two Bellator MMA Season 8 tournament titles will be on the line when Bellator 94 goes down on Thursday from the University of South Florida Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla. While this is undoubtedly exciting, that fact pales in comparison to my second selling point, which is that “Olympus Has Fallen” hit theaters on March 22, thereby almost guaranteeing that we will be assaulted with fewer ads for the film. This not only relieves me of my initial instinct to commit suicide but also ensures that all of us will have a more pleasant viewing experience; now to do something about those “Urban Tarzan” commercials.
Here is what to watch for at Bellator 94:
Power of the Punch
Saad Awad has got it going on, folks.
Here is a quick recap for those who have not been paying attention. Awad received the chance of a lifetime when he was called upon to replace Patricky Freire in the Season 8 lightweight tournament. The Californian was originally booked to face Jason Fischer in a Bellator 84 alternate bout but instead found himself in the main event against Guillaume DeLorenzi after “Pitbull” was pulled from the card due to a last-minute injury. A little more than half a minute later, DeLorenzi found himself lying unconscious.
Awad then repeated the trick last month in his semifinal showdown with hot prospect Will Brooks, who saw his perfect professional record crumble before Awad’s punching power in just 43 seconds. At this point, Awad’s ability to completely change the dynamic of a fight with a single blow cannot be underestimated. Only two questions remain in regard to the 29-year-old. First, what happens if and when his hard-swinging style leaves him fatigued, and, second, do his hands know exactly how hard David Rickels’ head is?
If there is a guy on the Bellator lightweight roster tougher than Rickels, point me his way so I can shake his hand.
“The Caveman” possesses an aggressive style and the gas tank to make such an approach effective, outlasting Lloyd Woodard in a quarterfinal barnburner before cutting through injury replacement Fischer in the Round of 4.
Rickels should also be praised for his size, strength and technique, all of which he has used to complement the unrelenting pressure he places on his foes. Bottom line: the dude was scary at 170 pounds. At lightweight, he is even better. Rickels may not be able to withstand Awad’s bombs, but I certainly would not be surprised if he does.
I watched Bellator 90 live from press row, doing my best Gandhi impression so as not to strangle the “journalist” on the end who was openly cheering for certain guys. This was the same dude who seemed to be friends with the local referee, who, by the way, stood up two fighters from back control and later let poor Josh Tyler take a 30-second nap while caught in Shanon Slack’s Peruvian necktie. How hard is it to check a man’s hand to see if he is conscious when he is caught in a hold and you cannot see his face? Explain that to me.
Anyway, I also saw what happened after Newton landed his spinning backfist on “King Mo.” The crowd erupted, sure, but I was more interested in the bodies hovering cageside. Several important people within the Bellator/Viacom network all shared the same look. I have not been able to quite nail it down, but I would say it most resembled a cross between “I just found out my mom used to be an adult film actress” and “I really should not have eaten those seven chili dogs for lunch.”
With that said, I think Bellator has done as well as could be expected in promoting Newton’s dark horse punch party with Mikhail Zayats. Despite his finish of Lawal, Newton is not normally a guy known for his knockout power, which could put him at a disadvantage against a finisher like Zayats. Still it is hard to hate Newton’s well-rounded game and ample cardio, which he could very well use to drag Zayats into deep waters and drown him.
Early and Often
If Zayats is going to beat Newton, I think he will need to pull off a finish in the first 10 minutes of the fight. The longer the bout goes, the more of an edge I give to “The Hardcore Kid.”
Stopping Newton will be no easy task; the former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder has been put away just three times in 27 career outings. Perhaps just as impressively, Zayats has lost just one decision in his 27-fight career, posting 15 victories by either knockout or submission along the way.
The Russian has left little to the imagination regarding his intentions in this tournament, destroying both Renato Sobral and Jacob Noe inside of five minutes to advance to the final. Zayats previously came up short in his 2011 bid to capture the M-1 Global title from Vinny Magalhaes, suffering a highlight-reel knockout that ended any hope of winning a major championship until now. Now standing just one win away from a crack at the Bellator belt, will Zayats rise to the occasion and earn a second chance at a world title?