Bellator 96: What to Watch For

By: Mike Whitman
Jun 18, 2013
Uncertainty surrounds “King Mo” Lawal ahead of his second Bellator appearance. | Photo: Dave Mandel/

Has it really been six weeks?

For my money, that is far too long both this writer to go without watching Bellator MMA and for my fellow fight nerds to go without reading one of my award-winning previews. Fortunately for all of us, that time of darkness has ended.

Bellator returns to Spike TV on Wednesday for its first installment of the 2013 Summer Series, also known as Bjorn Rebney’s Magical Monthly MMA Triathlon. Up first is Bellator 96, which takes place at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla., and will see the opening round of two four-man tournaments contested in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.

Much is riding on these semifinal pairings. Reliable sources have told me that the winners will not only receive guaranteed title shots and $100,000 paydays but be handed the keys to Rebney’s very rare collection of custom built Magic Mobiles, which I am told are exactly as cool as they sound.

Here is what to watch for at Bellator 96:

The King’s Time to Shine

If there was ever a time for Muhammed Lawal to hulk out and smash a couple of people, it has come.

With the possible exception of the newly signed Quinton Jackson, Lawal is likely Viacom’s most valuable commodity, between his potential as a professional wrestler and mixed martial artist. While everybody knew going in that Lawal would take some time to mature on the mic and in the TNA Impact Wrestling ring, it was just as widely assumed -- at least by everyone I know in this business -- that he would waltz right through the Season 8 light heavyweight tournament en route to becoming Bellator’s next champion.

Then came Emanuel Newton’s spinning back fist, and suddenly, Lawal’s golden future appeared a little less bright. Whether anyone wants to admit it, the stakes are high right now for “King Mo,” and the results of this four-man draw should heavily impact his status in MMA and dictate his level of marketability over at TNA.

In Seth Petruzelli, Lawal faces no setup. “The Silverback” has played the role of spoiler before, and I imagine he has no plans to roll over for the ex-Strikeforce ruler. Can Lawal take care of his business and dampen the memory of his defeat to Newton or does Petruzelli have another upset up his sleeve?

Babalu’s Final Bow?

File Photo

Sobral has seen better days.
Renato Sobral may have hit his last high note at the Tropicana.

That was a Ricky Ricardo joke, you know, because his nickname is ... never mind. The point is, Sobral is not getting any younger, and I think this is probably his last chance at holding another major title or even competing for a large promotion.

In my opinion, the Brazilian is simply not the fighter he once was. This is not a slight against the veteran; time catches up with every man. “Babalu” has lost three of his last five fights, and all of those defeats have resulted in cringe-worthy knockouts. Frankly, I do not want to see Sobral continue on in that manner after he suffered just three knockout losses in his first 42 professional fights.

There are a lot of miles on this 37-year-old, but I have no doubt that he still believes in himself, even if the odds are stacked against him. After failing in his run at the Season 8 tournament, can Sobral right his ship against Jacob Noe and earn a spot in the Summer Series final?

War Machine

While writing this piece, I felt guilty for a moment after deciding not to include the four-man heavyweight tournament as a reason to watch the event. Then I came to my senses.

Facts are facts. Bellator’s heavyweight division is by far its weakest category, and although the big men will sometimes put on quite an entertaining display of violence, history has taught us that a snoozer or a technical travesty is just as likely. For my money, you would be better served to keep your eye on that wild welterweight known as War Machine, who makes his first in-cage appearance since November 2011.

Born Jon Koppenhaver, this fighter turned porn star turned inmate turned fighter has continually made headlines since introducing himself to MMA fans during “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 6. Talent has never been the issue with him. When he has his head screwed on straight and focuses on fighting, he is absolutely a serviceable 170-pounder -- or he was, at least. How he will look after rehabilitating a torn knee ligament and broken fibula over the past six months is a total unknown.

While I personally do not believe that Mr. Machine has anything for Bellator champion Ben Askren, I would not be surprised in the slightest if he earned himself a crack at the belt by winning a tournament in the near future. The real question: can the 31-year-old find a rhythm after so long away from the cage? I think his match with World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Blas Avena will tell us much about what to expect from him in his Bellator career.

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