The injury bug has bitten Bellator's lightweight division, and champion Michael Chandler's next title defense will be delayed – and will come against a new opponent.
Lightweight tournament winner Dave Jansen (19-2 MMA, 6-0 BFC) has suffered an injury, forcing him out of his title shot against Chandler (11-0 MMA, 8-0 BFC) later this month at Bellator 96. Instead, Chandler now will fight fellow tourney winner David Rickels (14-1 MMA, 8-1 BFC) next month at Bellator 97.
Sources close to the fight on Sunday confirmed Jansen's injury and the new title plan to MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). Bellator has yet to announce the changes, though official word from the organization is expected soon.
Without a lightweight title fight for its headliner, Bellator 96, which takes place June 19 at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla., likely will see former Strikeforce champion Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal (9-2 MMA, 1-1 BFC) in the main event against Seth Petruzelli (14-7 MMA, 1-1 BFC) in the semifinals of the "Summer Series" four-man light heavyweight tournament. The Bellator 96 main card airs live on Spike TV following prelims on Spike.com.
The change will give Bellator 97, which takes place July 31 at Santa Ana Center in Albuquerque, N.M., a pair of title fights on the main card. Already slotted to headline that show is welterweight champion Ben Askren (11-0 MMA, 8-0 BFC) against tourney winner Andrey Koreshkov (13-0 MMA, 5-0 BFC). Now Chandler-Rickels will join that card.
Jansen was coming into the title fight on a six-bout win streak that included the Season 7 lightweight tournament title. That crown came with a submission win over Magomed Saadulaev, a split call against Ricardo Tirloni and a unanimous decision win over Marcin Held in March, a fight that was pushed to Season 8 after complications with Held being under 21 at the time the fight was scheduled for Bellator 84 at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind.
"Caveman" Rickels takes Jansen's place in the order after winning the Season 8 lightweight tourney with decision victories against Lloyd Woodard and Jason Fischer, then a second-round TKO of Saad Awad at Bellator 94 in March. That gave Rickels four straight wins since the lone loss of his career, which came in the semifinals of the Season 6 welterweight tournament – a split-decision setback against Karl Amoussou. His decision to drop to lightweight paid quick dividends, though, with the tournament win and, now, a title shot.
As has been the case with injuries to past Bellator tournament winners in line for title shots, Jansen's shot is not expected to fall by the wayside. Instead, he moves behind Rickels now and, if healthy, eventually would face the winner between him and Chandler.
Chandler won the lightweight title in November 2011 against Eddie Alvarez. He fought just once in 2012, knocking out Akihiro Gono in a non-title fight. He defended his belt for the first time in January in Bellator's debut on Spike TV, submitting Rick Hawn with a second-round rear-naked choke.