After promoting five consecutive championship fights in the previous five weeks, Bellator MMA returns to its tournament roots on Friday, April 11 (9 P.M., Spike TV), as a quartet of heavyweights take center stage at Bellator 116, all of them vying for a spot in the season 10 finals, and a future date with current titleholder Vitaly Minakov.
Topping the fight card are the hard-hitting Lavar Johnson (18-8, 1-1 BMMA), a UFC veteran known for devastating knockouts, and submission ace Blagoi Ivanov (10-0, 5-0 BMMA), while former strapholder Alexander Volkov (20-4, 4-1 BMMA) takes on "Mighty Mo" Siliga (6-2, 3-0 BMMA) in the other semi-final contest.
With 16 of his 18 career wins coming via KO/TKO, Johnson tends to finish fights early, and violently, with only one of his matchups going the distance. And at 6-foot-3, he owns a significant height and reach advantage over the 5-foot-11 Ivanov, however, holes in Johnson's submission defense open the door for the Bulgarian Sambo champ to control the contest on the ground. Expect Ivanov to absorb a few shots, methodically closing the distance on Johnson to bring the fight to the mat, where he will earn the submission victory.
On the other side of the heavyweight tournament bracket, Volkov is looking to reclaim the title he lost nearly five months ago, and should face little resistance from the 43-year-old Siliga, a kickboxer who has submitted his last two opponents. Known for his combinations and pressure, Volkov, who stands 6-foot-7, will use his reach to pick his shots, keeping Siliga at a distance before landing a second or third round TKO.
Also set to square off at Bellator 116 are light heavyweights Joey Beltran (14-10 1 NC, 1-1 BMMA) and Vladimir Matyushenko (27-7, 1-0 BMMA), a pair of UFC veterans with little to lose come Friday. Beltran last saw action inside the Bellator cage in November 2013, losing to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson via TKO after accepting the fight on short notice. Matyushenko, a 34-fight pro who challenged for the UFC 205-pound title in 2001, is set to make his second appearance for Bellator, but regardless of the verdict, the 43-year-old Belarusian has already stated that this will be his final professional bout. While Beltran will look for the early knockout, Matyushenko will outlast the "Mexicutioner" en route to a decision win.
Rounding out the Bellator 116 main card are welterweight tournament semifinalists Nathan Coy (14-4, 2-0 BMMA) and Adam McDonough (10-0, 2-0 BMMA), who will go head-to-head for a chance to advance to the season 10 finals. While Coy holds a slight edge in terms of experience, it is McDonough who has looked more impressive of late. Expect McDonough to continue his unbeaten streak to earn the decision.
Best of the Undercard (7 P.M. EST, Spike.com)
Once one of MMA's brightest talents, Judoka Karo Parisyan (22-10 1 NC, 0-1 BMMA) is set to make his second appearance for the Bellator promotion, facing the durable Ron Keslar (11-5, 2-1 BMMA), who reached the season nine welterweight finals only to lose to Rick Hawn, another Judo practitioner, via knockout. Parisyan has yet to display his former promise since controversy derailed his career more than three years ago, but in Keslar, he will face a tough-but-beatable foe. For Keslar, the contest is chance to return to the win column, and after taking minimal damage early on, he will outlast Parisyan and end the match via late submission.
Follow Dan Shapiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/roguedanny