MMA: Thiago Santos

Notes and Nuggets: Bellator 63 edition

March, 29, 2012
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
BjornHenry S. Dziekan III/Getty ImagesWhile Zuffa catches its breath, Bjorn Rebney and the boys at Bellator have picked up the slack.
UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Through the first couple of weeks of Bellator’s quarterfinal brackets we’ve witnessed some peculiar things. There was last week’s rarely seen Von Flue choke, courtesy of lightweight Brent Weedman -- and that came on the same night that Lloyd Woodard emerged from the woodwork to upset Patricky Freire. The week before that, we saw Brian Rogers down Vitor Vianna with a flying knee from Hades. The thing was executed with such diabolical ease that it almost looked unspectacular.

And before that, Pat Curran totally anesthetized Joe Warren to become the promotion’s featherweight champion.

In other words, Bellator has a built up a good head of steam while Zuffa catches its breath. Things continue along this weekend on the Mohegan Reservation, a roped off part of the state of Connecticut where MMA is perfectly legal. This time it’s the welterweights, where there’s always intrigue to be found regardless of the promotion.

For starters, everybody with Bellator tournament experience in the eight-man field is coming off a brutal loss. Chris Lozano got KO’d by Douglas Lima. Ditto UFC veteran Ben Saunders. Bryan Baker was TKO’d by Vianna. There’s a lot of gnawing within the guts of the promotion’s best-known guys. Meanwhile, David Rickels (3-0 in Bellator) will use his prelim experience and try his luck in the brackets.

As for everybody else? They are all debuting. And of everyone in the field, perhaps none is more interesting than Baker, who has been training at Greg Jackson’s and is cutting down to 170 pounds for the first time. He will be fighting Carlos Pereira.

“I was a lighter fighter [at 170],” he said at the open workouts. “I used my speed, and I have power, and so I was able to hold myself as a middleweight. I was able to use my speed with my quickness against heavier opponents. But now it’s time for me to be the heavier opponent, to stand in the middle of the cage and not be so worried about trying to move and worry about power. I can really stand the power at welterweight and I can make them fear my length more and just really own the cage.”

Each time Baker fights he defies odds, having already battled through leukemia (which is in remission) and a couple of tournaments as an undersized middleweight. Now he’s wiser, lighter and in tune with the most essential cliché of them all -- that is, he’s taking it one fight at a time.

“I’m not sure who it’s quoted by, but my little brother told me, ‘it takes skill to want to fight, but it takes character to repeat.’ That’s pretty much where I’m at. I’m just going to go and win this fight, and it’s in my character to be a professional to be where I need to be and continue winning.”

Saunders revs up for second run
Ben SaundersDave Mandel/SherdogBen Saunders has put his dangerous Muay Thai game to good use in the Bellator cage.

After losing to insistent wrestlers in Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman and subsequently getting released by the UFC, Ben Saunders went on a four-fight winning streak. That all ended when Douglas Lima stopped him at Bellator 57 in the welterweight final. Now he’s back to square one as he sets for his fight with Raul Amaya, an undefeated fighter (9-0) who has finished everybody he’s faced.

Saunders, who has one of the most sadistic Thai clinches in the sport -- one in which he uses all eight limbs gratuitously (as evidenced the last time he fought in Connecticut against Matt Lee) -- says that martial arts is a game of perpetual acquisition. So don’t be surprised if he breaks out some wrestling and goes for the takedown against Amaya if it’s there, because, hey, this game forces you to evolve.

“I’m going to be improving everyday,” he says. “I’m never going to be a master of martial arts. I’ll never be a master of my style until I die. There’s always going to be something new that I can learn, so I’ve got to take [my losses] with a grain of salt. You learn more from a loss than you do from a win and it just made me more hungry.”

Prindle/Konrad possible for April 13
Cole KonradSherdog.comAfter a series of twists and turns, Cole Konrad is finally closing in on an opponent.

It seems like heavyweight champion Cole Konrad has been waiting for resolution in the Eric Prindle/Thiago Santos saga forever. Realistically, it’s only been a couple of months, and after many bizarre twists and turns, stubborn weight cuts and flu-like symptoms, it’ll be Prindle who gets the nod to challenge Konrad. When is it going down? According to Bellator officials that fight could take place on the April 13 Bellator 65 card in Atlantic City. That’s the same night that the company’s smallest men -- the bantamweights -- kick off their quarterfinals.

How’s that for size discrepancy on a card? Konrad walks around the size of two Marcos Galvao’s and change.

Amoussou the former undercover cop

Karl Amoussou was an undercover officer not all that long ago, bringing robbers and drug dealers to justice in his native France. Obviously this would have made for an amusing back-story if he’d gotten his original opponent at Bellator 63, the always colorful War Machine, instead of Chris Lozano. As has been much publicized, Machine was re-incarcerated before making his Bellator debut against Amoussou. This whole “cop versus delinquent” thing that never happened wouldn’t have mattered to Amoussou inside the cage, anyway.

“Yeah, I don’t care,” Amoussou said. “I plan to do a normal fight so what he does outside is his problem, I don’t care.”

Should Bellator ditch tournament format?

March, 25, 2012
Dundas By Chad Dundas
Eric Prindle Courtesy BellatorThe Bellator heavyweight tournament hit a road block the moment this happened.
Throughout its first handful of seasons, the tournament format has been pretty good to Bellator Fighting Championships.

At the outset, Bellator’s tournaments set it apart from the rest of the non-UFC MMA pack, giving fans an easily digestible concept to latch onto while effectively disguising a lack of organizational depth.

All of that was obviously to the company’s benefit, but in light of recent events I can’t help but wonder if Bellator has outgrown its current seasonal format and might be better off moving in a different direction when it takes up with SpikeTV next year.

Never has the need for change been more apparent than Friday, when Thiago Santos failed to make weight for his scheduled heavyweight tournament final against Eric Prindle. Santos’ weigh-in snafu scuttled the already delayed end of Bellator's season five 265-pound draw and awarded victory to Prindle, who will now advance to face champion Cole Konrad at a later date.

For Bellator, it’s about the worst outcome imaginable for a heavyweight tournament it spent the last six months trying to build. For nearly the last four of those months, we’d been waiting for the Santos-Prindle redux, after their original Nov. 26 bout was ruled a no contest when Prindle suffered a low blow that landed him the hospital.

Company brass tried to make it right last week, but were again forced to delay the fight because Prindle was reportedly suffering from the ever-popular “flu-like symptoms.” On Thursday (which amounted to Bellator’s third try with this pairing), Santos badly missed the 60-pound window proscribed to heavyweights -- checking in at a reported 276.8 pounds -- and the matchup was scrapped for good.

Prindle wins. Kind of. Not really.

In any case, the whole thing has been a lot of trouble for a tournament that will now never see it's conclusion.
[+] EnlargeThiago Santos
Sherdog.comThiago Santos, left, threw a wrench into the Bellator heavyweight tourney by showing up overweight.

You certainly have to feel bad for Bellator, an assumedly good-hearted organization made up of assumedly good people who all seem to be trying as hard as they possibly can to grow into a legitimate runner-up to the UFC. Unfortunately, marooned as it is on MTV2 until it can make the transition to Spike, Bellator continues to exist in a kind of strange suspended animation.

In this one instance, maybe that’s a good thing. Had anyone been paying attention, the Santos-Prindle debacle would have been a major embarrassment. Fortunately, that doesn't necessarily seem to be the case. After last week’s Bellator 61 drew a reported audience of just 108,000 -- the company’s second-worst rating ever -- it’s tough to argue that a significant number of people would’ve noticed even if Prindle and Santos had made it to the cage at Bellator 62.

As it stands, maybe all Santos' gaffe did was underline the flaws in Bellator’s current format in a way few people saw, or will remember if the promotion goes on to find success on a channel with a well established track record in MMA.

If Santos had dropped out of a No. 1 contender fight in any other fight company, officials could have just subbed in somebody else, stubbornly insisted that the fight would still determine Konrad’s next opponent and called it good. When you brand something as a “tournament” however, you can’t really do that.

In a tournament, fans naturally expect there to be a beginning, a middle and -- in a perfect world -- an end. In other words, they expect some modicum of consistency. When you’re dealing with MMA and especially with the heavyweight division (a weight class that is constantly pioneering new and interesting ways to screw up) consistency is awfully hard to come by.

Because of that, it might be better for Bellator to drop the tournament format entirely moving forward. Doing so would give it more matchmaking freedom and would never again put it in a position where it has to admit it can't finish what it started.

At the very least, it's clear that Bellator needs to have contingency plans in place for when disaster strikes. Having alternate fighters at the ready at all times might be a good start.

On the bright side, perhaps incidents like this one give Bellator the chance to pinpoint what's wrong and make the appropriate changes before next year, when (hopefully) more of the MMA world will be watching.