Lightweight was once a division that UFC figurehead Dana White suggested didn’t have enough talent to establish a division but over the years has morphed into the gold standard – The 155-pound class captures the speed and athleticism of the lower weight-classes with the power and strength of the higher weight-classes into a perfect blend.
And it isn’t just inside the UFC that there are high-level lightweights, there are a number of rising stars in the Bellator ranks, and eight of them will begin their journey towards newly crowned Bellator champion Michael Chandler this Friday night on MTV2.
The 25-year-old unbeaten prodigy is going to be a tough task for anyone, especially after he dethroned top-flight lightweight Eddie Alvarez but whomever makes it through this stacked series will be up for the challenge, let’s meet the participants.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and his team have a keen eye for talent, snatching up a string of high-level athletes, Patricky Freire along with his brother Patricio who competes at featherweight are two of the best they have found.
Compiling a 7-1 resume on the Brazilian circuit Freire got the opportunity to join the season four tournament and he wasted no time making a statement showing off devastating acts of brutality with his knockouts of Rob McCullough and Toby Imada to make it to the finals before losing a competitive decision to the current champion.
Since his first defeat inside the Bellator circular cage he has returned shattering the image that Bellator fighters can’t hang with those in the UFC with his 50 second knockout of five year veteran of the elite mixed martial arts organization Kurt Pellegrino.
“Pitbull” will be let off his leash this Friday night as he has his eyes set on redeeming his loss to Chandler.
When you see a mixed martial artist with the nickname “Cupcake” it’s easy to laugh and continue on your way but you would be making a mistake, Woodward is a twelve fight professional known for his submission chops.
The Dog Pound Fight Team member made his promotional debut in highlight-reel fashion putting away Greg Jackson trained fighter Carey Vanier but his lightweight title hopes were cut short when, like Freire Chandler earned a decision victory over him.
Woodward is an accomplished grappler with seven submissions to his credit but has the rest of his game covered also.
The 5-foot-11 combatant has tasted defeat for the first time in his career and is back to make an impact with his quarter-final fight and coming in and dispatching a former finalist would be exactly the way to do that.
Hawn is an eyebrow raising addition to this field due to being a former welterweight, now making his debut at 155-pounds – The 2004 Olympic team judoka has more tricks up his sleeve than just his mat game though.
Hawn made his MMA debut following an unsuccessful bid to join the 2008 US Olympic squad winning eight straight fights in a little over 18 months to get the call to compete in the Bellator tournament.
The Oregon native qualified with a first-round knockout of LeVon Maynard and followed it up with back-to-back victories over Lyman Good and Jim Wallhead, only to fall short in the finals losing a competitive split decision to UFC & Strikeforce veteran Jay Hieron.
Debuting at a new weight-class is a tough task for anyone, having three fights in three months at a new weight-class is almost unheard of but a world-class athlete like Hawn might be able to pull it off.
Similar to fellow lightweight Freire, Tirloni cut his teeth early between several countries working his way from the bottom before getting snatched up by Bellator – The once beaten Brazilian joined the organization on a nine bout unbeaten streak.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has only tasted defeat once, to reigning UFC lightweight kingpin Benson Henderson and has his Bellator debut behind him submitting Steve Gable.
The 29-year-old has a world of experience behind him and has a tendency to put his opponents away before the final buzzer, only going to decision twice in his career.
Over the years he has developed from a straight-grappler into a great striker with a solid wrestling base, although he is considered a longshot by pundits he could be a sleeper in this tournament.
Michel enters this series with a lot of support, a former kickboxing and muay-thai champion turned to MMA in November 2006 notching three-straight knockouts in just 22 days.
Michel is looking to snap the trend of failing kickboxers turned mixed martial artists with his biggest mainstream exposure this Friday night, the heavy-handed Brazilian prospect has knocked out all nine opponents in his career with six coming in the opening stanza.
Studying in hand-to-hand combat since his early teens he is a strong stand-up fighter with knockout power in both hands but the clear chink in his armor is his ground-game with both his career defeats coming by submission.
The 27-year-old hot prospect has the potential to become a YouTube sensation with some devastating highlight-reel knockout but also has the potential to become a real player at 155-pounds if he can clear up the biggest hole in his game.
Nazare is a Brazilian-born New Yorker and four-time jiu-jitsu medalist who previously worked with Brazil’s top camp Nova Uniao who house top-flight competitors in Jose Aldo, Marlon Sandro and Renan Barao.
From his resume you would assume he is a one-dimensional grappler with no striking game but it’s quite the opposite, Nazare garnered a reputation as a finisher on the East Coast circuit notching four submissions and four knockouts.
Much like current featherweight semi-finalist Alexandre Bezerra, Nazare has been a prospect that Bellator have signed and has almost turned into a pet project developing him – Since his promotional debut he has gone 3-1 with a victory over Pride veteran Luiz Azevado.
Nazare is a power-puncher who can do damage on the feet but his bread-and-butter is his jiu-jitsu skills so look for him to remove a limb or two on his way to the title.
Ambrose makes his promotional debut joining this eight-man field on a seven-bout win streak, his biggest claims to fame thus far have been a lone performance in the short-lived Affliction organization and an unsuccessful bid to join season eleven’s Ultimate Fighter house.
Ambrose’s lone setback since 2006 is a submission loss to current UFC welterweight Mike Pyle and is known for grappling abilities but has fought as a professional boxer in the past and sharpens his skills between the Tiger Muay Thai gym and American Kickboxing Academy.
Ambrose has to be the biggest longshot in this tournament, although he has a well-rounded tool set and finishes his opponents with a variety of submissions and knockouts for the most part with only three decision wins under his belt.
Whether or not he can step up to this level of competition after beating up on the lower-level fighters on the Californian circuit but fighters in this tournament are several notches above anything he has dealt with.
The final addition to this series is another welterweight dropping down to try his luck in the stacked 155-pound division. Weedman joined Bellator with a 14-5-1 record having fought the likes of Dan Hornbuckle, Gray Maynard and Douglas Lima.
Although he had faced a lot of quality opponents in the first five years of his professional career he seemed to be on a fast-track to becoming a Midwestern journeyman and weekend warrior he joined Bellator and turned it all around.
Finishing HDnet favorite Ruby Bears and John Troyer to qualify for his first welterweight tournament he met up with Hornbuckle in the quarter-finals with most considering him a sacrificial lamb facing the American Top Team product but he wound up winning a narrow decision.
However, the fairytale story ended there as he lost in the semi-finals to eventual winner Jay Hieron and failed to succeed in his second 170-pound tournament losing to Chris Lozano which signaled his drop down in weight.
Much like Rick Hawn a lot of this comes down to how he adapts to fighting at a new weight-class but he has shown in his six Bellator appearances that he has the abilities to hang with some of the best.
Keep it locked to MMASucka.com on Friday night as we give you full coverage of the nights proceedings.
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