What To Watch For – Five Fights Of Note At Bellator 97

With UFC 163 this weekend, and a UFC on Fox behind us, Bellator 97 is right in the middle for a mid-week fix of MMA. And on paper it could be one of the best Bellator cards ever with a lot of talent, including a couple of undercard fights that you should try and watch. With that in mind here are the five fights you can’t miss.

Shawn Bunch vs. Russell Wilson – Bunch has a fairly impressive freestyle wrestling resume and is a two time Olympic alternate. He made his professional debut in Bellator and they’re bringing him along slowly, giving him another opponent who he should beat. How good can Bunch be? I don’t know. He’s starting his career much older than most and lighter weights tend to age faster … BUT he’s got such a pedigree and is a fairly good athlete that he could have a good MMA career on that basis alone. Throw in the fact that he trains at AKA (a great place for wrestlers) and this could be a nice win for him; Wilson is coming off two straight losses and Bellator likes feeding their prospects guys with Lycopene deficiencies.

Will Brooks vs. Cris Leyva – Brooks is another good prospect coming off a loss. Leyva is on a protracted losing streak and making his promotional debut. How Brooks responds after his first loss, especially one via KO, will show us how good he can potentially be.

Jacob Noe vs. Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal – Lawal had a pretty emphatic win over Seth Petruzelli last time out and now needs to continue his atonement tour in Bellator. He came in insanely hyped, especially with the pro wrestling stuff, and the knockout loss to Emmanuel Newton left a lot of people wondering how good Mo really is. He’s a great athlete and tremendously skilled but Mo hasn’t exactly ingratiated himself into many people’s good graces. It was a running gag in Jordan Breen’s old Sherdog chat on Fridays that Mo would walk through the entire heavyweight and light heavyweight weight classes, potentially all in one night, and Mo getting planked like he did made a lot of people question how talented he really was. The one downside to being in Strikeforce as long as he was meant we didn’t really know how good he was; it was more of a really good guess than anything else. People have rated Newton up based on that win … but we don’t know how good Mo really is. Is he elite at 205 … or did we overrate him because of his days in Strikeforce? Noe isn’t a great fighter but he’s a tough out with enough power to duplicate what Newton did.

Ben Askren vs. Andrey Koreshkov – Askren is rumored to be on the last fight of his contract, making him a free agent in the near future potentially. He’s also probably a Top 5 welterweight in the world, my pick for the best fighter in MMA currently not in the UFC. He’s also got a great style matchup; Koreshkov is not great on the ground and Askren has a stifling top position game that’s the best in the sport. Not shocking considering he’s one of the greatest wrestlers in NCAA history, and a former Olympic team member, but Askren is slowly becoming a better fighter while using the one elite skill he has. He’s also stated multiple times he’s “in the winning business, not the fight business” and one can respect someone who admits that; his game is based on his strengths, not playing to the crowd.

Michael Chandler vs. David Rickels – Chandler was in the same spot as Askren up until a week ago. On the last fight of his contract, Chandler got a big money deal from Bellator to stay. It was an interesting move, as Chandler opted to re-up with Bellator instead of at a minimum testing his market value with a UFC offer. I’m shocked, mainly because I thought he’d at least get one offer to establish his market and see if Bellator could do him better. Rickels is a tough out, as well, but Chandler should be ranked in everyone’s Top 10 (towards the bottom, like 8-9 or so). This is a tough but winnable fight for him and a showcase event; Chandler is the new Eddie Alvarez for Bellator, his fortunes tied to theirs.