Bellator’s fourth season kicked off last Saturday with the welterweights in the promotion’s season opener, Bellator 35. This week at Bellator 36, it’s the lightweights’ turn. Eight men will compete for a chance to challenge current champion Eddie Alvarez for the 155-pound belt.
Bellator heads to Shreveport, La., for the lightweight tournament’s quarterfinal round. The action airs live on MTV2 beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Rather than just previewing one night’s worth of action in the tournament, we’re going to preview the entire bracket. So, let’s get started.
“Razor” Rob McCullough (19-6) is a former WEC lightweight champion who also has a decorated past as a Muay Thai fighter. The veteran fighter has competed against the likes of Jamie Varner, Donald Cerrone and Josh Thomson, though he was on the losing end in all of those encounters. Since dropping the WEC belt to Varner, “Razor” has gone 4-2, including wins in his last two outings under the Tachi Palace Fights banner.
Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (7-1) is the older brother of Season 2 featherweight tournament finalist Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. The Team Nogueira fighter’s lone defeat came at the hands of UFC veteran Willamy “Chiquerim” Freire via unanimous decision. The five-year veteran is currently riding a three-fight winning streak.
Carey Vanier (10-3) competed in Bellator’s Season 2 lightweight tournament, advancing to the semifinals before losing to Toby Imada. He has since defeated UFC veteran Rich Clementi in non-tourney action. The NCAA Division III All-American wrestler recently moved to Albuquerque to train under the tutelage of Greg Jackson.
Lloyd “Cupcake” Woodard (10-0) has only been fighting professionally for a couple of years, but he already has a solid resume. The former high school wrestler has defeated veterans Ryan Healy and Alonzo Martinez, and has stopped eight of his 10 foes. The Montana native trains out of the Dog Pound Fight Team, but has also spent time as a sparring partner for UFC veteran Jeremy Stephens.
Marcin Held (10-1) is only 19-years-old, but already has more than two years of professional MMA experience under his belt. The Polish fighter won his first eight fights before tasting defeat. He has bounced back from his lone loss to add two more wins to his record, including an injury TKO of Pride veteran Jean Silva. The Gracie Barra Bastion Tychy fighter is a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has won numerous grappling and jiu-jitsu competitions in Poland.
Michael Chandler (5-0) might only have five professional fights, but he’s no stranger to the sport’s larger stages. He has twice emerged victorious under the Strikeforce banner and has already notched two wins inside the Bellator cage. The Xtreme Couture fighter is a one-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler who served as a team captain of the wrestling team at the University of Missouri.
Toby Imada (28-15) is no stranger to the Bellator lightweight tournament. In addition to his highlight reel inverted triangle choke against Jorge Masvidal, Imada has made his name under the Bellator banner by twice advancing to the lightweight tournament finals. He was unsuccessful in both bouts, losing to Eddie Alvarez in the inaugural lightweight tourney and to Pat Curran in his second time through the bracket. Imada has posted one win outside of Bellator since the loss to Curran. The black belt judoka trains out of the Throwdown Elite Training Center.
Josh Shockley (6-0) punched his ticket into the tournament as late as possible – even after weighing in. Shockley was slated to fight on the undercard, but when Ferrid Kheder apparently was going to miss weight, he opted to leave the building and not weigh in at all, leaving Shockley to face Imada. Shockley trains out of Duneland Vale Tudo and stands 6-foot-2. The former Hoosier has a background in wrestling and has finished all but one of his opponents. He has not competed since Sept. 2009.
Kheder has competed professionally for more than four years, but this was to be his first appearance in a major organization.
Rob McCullough vs. Patricky Freire
Carey Vanier vs. Lloyd Woodard
Marcin Held vs. Michael Chandler
Josh Shockley vs. Toby Imada
He might sport the least impressive record of the bunch, but there’s no denying that Imada has a knack for advancing to the Bellator lightweight tournament finals. While he faces another tough roster this season, especially with the one-day notice of taking on Shockley, it’s hard to bet against someone who has already run the gauntlet twice. He has experience and has found a format that suits him.
Perhaps the third time will be the charm. And if not, count whomever defeats Imada as a strong favorite to take the Season 4 tournament championship.
Lloyd Woodard trains out of an obscure camp, but the undefeated prospect has already notched some big wins. The tournament bracket is another step up in competition for “Cupcake,” but it’s not a reach to envision him winning against any of the seven potential opponents he could face over the course of this tourney.
Shockley’s extremely late entry into the tournament and his first round match-up with the bracket’s most experienced member makes the Duneland Vale Tudo fighter the tourney’s long shot. Shockley has been inactive for more than a year and was preparing for an undercard bout at the event. Late replacements can sometimes play huge spoilers, but this isn’t likely one of those instances.
The Quarterfinal Fight to Watch
The quarterfinal battle between Marcin Held and Michael Chandler offers an intriguing look into two of the bracket’s young and promising competitors.
Chandler has fought for Strikeforce and Bellator in the past, but is still relatively new to the sport with only five fights under his belt. The experience on a big stage should help ease any jitters, but he isn’t battle-tested and will have to prove himself as he enters the tournament as the field’s least experienced combatant.
Despite being the tourney’s only teenager, Held actually holds the experience advantage over the 24-year-old Chandler. He has just as much to prove as Chandler, only with a lot more weight on his shoulders.
Held has a grappling background and a great record, but any fighter who has competed exclusively in one country in Europe has to answer a number of questions upon stepping into the cage with non-European competition.
Can Held handle the wrestling of fighters like Chandler and Vanier? Does he have the skills to compete against guys who train out of elite programs such as Xtreme Couture and Team Tompkins? How will the pressures of being the “the prodigy of Polish MMA” affect the youngster as he journeys outside of Poland for the first time in his career, competing an ocean away from his homeland while also facing high expectations from America’s MMA fanbase and journalists?
The answers to these questions could prove that Held is ready to prove the hype, or it could result in a quick exit from the tournament.
The Other Tournaments
Bellator still has two more tournaments kicking off this season. We’ll look at the featherweight bracket next Saturday and the light heavyweights the week after.