Bellator’s Season 5 Bantamweight Tournament kicks off this weekend at Bellator 51 in Canton, Ohio. The winner of this stacked eight-man tournament takes home a check for $100,000 and the chance to fight Bellator 135lb Champion Zach “Fun Size” Makovsky (13-2). The tournament is full of young prospects, highly decorated grapplers and plenty of intrigue, as 7 of the 8 fighters have fought either another participant or the current champion.
The night’s main event features Joe Warren (7-1), on his quest to hoard all the gold he can, against undefeated Alexis Vila (9-0). Warren, the current Bellator Featherweight Champion, has been quite vocal about his desire to capture the 135lb title while defending his 145lb title and making a run for a gold medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 2012 London Olympics.
If Warren is in need of some advice about Olympic glory, he’ll have to look no further than across the cage. Vila won a bronze medal in Freestyle Wrestling at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for his native Cuba.
Vila has fully committed himself to MMA and hooked up with American Top Team in Coconut Creek, FL. The best way to describe Vila is powerful. He drives through his takedowns, slams his opponents, throws heavy strikes on the ground and has finished 8 of his 9 opponents. But the 40-year old Vila, who is normally a flyweight, will have a noticeable size disadvantage in the biggest MMA fight of his career.
The match will showcase two truly world-class wrestlers. Warren is a former World Champion and was a frontrunner to make the 2008 US Olympic Team when he tested positive for Marijuana during trials and was suspended for two years. Warren’s takedowns and wild standup have put him into danger in his fights, but they have also secured him several close decisions in his short career.
The second tournament quarterfinal will showcase another highly respected grappler, Brazil’s Wilson Reis (12-3), facing off with one of the best 135lb prospects in the world, Nova Uniao’s Eduardo ‘Dudu’ Dantas (12-2).
After being eliminated in the semi-finals of three Bellator Featherweight tournaments, Reis will take a shot at the bantamweights. His confidence will be bolstered by a 2008 submission victory over current Champion Zach Makovsky.
At the age of 22, Dantas already has 14 professional fights on his resume, and has been a staple of Shooto Brazil cards since his 18th birthday. That year, Dantas fought five times and stunned the MMA world with a win over Shooto Bantamweight (123lb) Champion ‘BJ’ Kojima in a non-title fight.
Dantas is a high intensity fighter that can be wild and aggressive, but he never gets flustered when he’s hit. ‘Dudu’ has shown the ability to use his reach and long legs to keep opponents outside of striking range, but he rarely sticks to a conservative gameplan for long. He uses plenty of kicks and flying knees because he has a slick submission game and is completely unafraid of fighting from his back.
Dantas will be well advised to keep the fight standing instead of letting Reis get into his comfort zone on the ground. Dantas will also have to adjust to the crowd as he makes his debut on US soil against a seasoned veteran.
Not to be outdone by the highly decorated wrestlers in the main event, two-time Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Marcos Galvao (9-4-1) will take on former WEC Bantamweight Champion Chase Beebe (19-7).
As one of the best grapplers in the world, Galvao entered the MMA scene with plenty of fanfare, but he has struggled to convert his vast skills into submission victories. The Nova Uniao fighter is coming off of a controversial loss to Joe Warren in a catchweight fight. Although Galvao appeared to control the opening round by outwrestling Warren and went on to land several big knees in the second, Galvao managed to lose a unanimous decision that included one 30-27 scorecard.
Beebe was on the rise after defeating Eddie Wineland for the WEC title and then outgrappling ADCC Champion Rani Yahya. But Chase hit a skid that saw him drop 6 of 8 fights, including a fight against Joe Warren in Japan that was stopped due to a cut and an outrageously bad decision against Mike Easton that will go down as one of the worst decisions in MMA history.
Chase, who’s brother appeared on Wednesday night’s TUF season premier, has now won his last 5 fights and hopes to continue his run as he steps back up onto the bigger stage, but he’ll face a much stiffer challenge in Galvao.
The main card will open up with a fight between two of the lesser-known fighters in the tournament. Season three’s bantamweight tournament finalist Ed “Wild” West (16-5) takes his first step towards a rematch with Zach Makovsky by taking on dangerous Brazilian prospect Luis Alberto Nogueira (11-1).
Nogueira is a luta livre fighter and another veteran of Shooto Brazil. He is on a seven fight win streak that includes a victory over Jerod Spoon that earned him a spot in the tournament. ‘Betao’ is a Brazilian National Wrestling Champion with a solid striking game. He loves to showcase all of his tools, including flying knees, spinning back kicks and bone-crunching leg kicks.
Nogueira may be hoping for some favorable matchmaking that will give him a chance to avenge his lone defeat at the hands of Eduardo Dantas. Nogueira will also have to work hard on his defense to avoid taking as many clean shots as he did in the Spoon fight. West has dangerous submissions and does not fear working from the guard, but he is also willing to stand and trade from both a traditional MMA stance and a karate/TKD style side stance.