Lightweight tourney taking shape
The lightweight division has, for years, ranked as mixed martial arts' deepest and most competitive weight class. Regardless of the promotion, lightweights continue to churn out quality, meaningful MMA, as was the case Friday in Reading, Penn., where Bellator promoted its latest 155-pound tournament.
Early next year, Michael Chandler will put up his Bellator title against Rick Hawn. Both fighters matriculated through the promotion's tournament format and each has every ingredient necessary to be considered a top-tier fighter.
The next batch was halved from eight to four Friday. Do one or more of them have what it takes to do the same as Chandler or Hawn?
Bellator 77 grades
Tirloni, 29, was thoroughly convincing against fellow Brazilian Rene Nazare. Pressuring Nazare from the opening bell, especially in the clinch where Tirloni unloaded knees and dictated grappling, eventually led to a second-round tapout via D'Arce choke. The win pushed Tirloni (15-2) into the semifinals against Dave Jansen. Considering that Tirloni's losses came against UFC lightweight Benson Henderson (way back in 2008) and current Bellator No. 1 contender Rick Hawn, he remains a prospect worth watching.
The 33-year-old American wrestler (17-2) wore down Magomed Saadulaev before finishing with a tap-inducing guillotine choke in Round 3. Jansen's effectiveness in the second period fatigued Saadulaev to the point that he had little left for the last five minutes. Jansen's a hard-nosed guy, a quality, unspectacular lightweight, and that may also describe his ceiling in the division. Winning the Bellator tournament would be his most impressive accomplishment as a pro.
The advancement of a veteran such as the 35-year-old Clementi in the Bellator tournament calls into question the overall talent of the field. After handing Russian Alexander Sarnavskiy his first defeat in 21 fights, a fun contest that produced exciting moments for both men, Clementi (45-21-1) might be in position to rekindle interest in his career. But it will take much, much more than a quarterfinal victory. He must win twice more to have a shot at making an impression on MMA fans, and even then chances are it won't happen for him.
Held, a 20-year-old Polish prospect, hung on to decision previously unbeaten Russian Murad Machaev. Unable to dictate grappling, and thus the submission game, Held (14-2) was the least impressive semifinalist. He'll pay a price for keeping his hands down, and if he can't engage in longer grappling exchanges, the road to a Bellator title shot appears too treacherous to negotiate.
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