The Casino Rama in Ontario, Canada will host tonight's Bellator 47 event. The show will air on MTV2 at 9 p.m. ET and feature the Summer Series Featherweight Tournament semifinal matches.
The second round bouts to determine this season's finalists are Pat Curran vs. Ronnie Mann and Marlon Sandro vs. Nazareno Malegarie. Also on the card, former IFL and WEC lightweight Chris Horodecki will make his Bellator debut against Chris Saunders, as will season ten TUF competitor Zak Jensen, who takes on Neil Grove in a heavyweight contest.
The matchmaking for this particular bracket of the featherweight tournament was a pivotal decision. With no upsets occurring in the opening round (though Sandro got a scare from under-rated scrapper Genair da Silva), things will get interesting with this final four, who were unanimously pegged as the lions of the herd from the get-go.
Curran and Sandro still stand as the overall favorites, but the significant difference between the remaining two is that Malegarie, a BJJ specialist with thirteen submission wins, is a singularly proficient fighter. Mann's diverse style should offer a stiffer test for Curran, especially considering that Sandro trains with a litany of esteemed grapplers at Nova Uniao and showed exemplary submission defense against the dangerous clutches of Hatsu Hioki's ground onslaught.
After wreaking havoc as an underdog in Bellator's lightweight division, Curran eventually lost to top-ranked juggernaut Eddie Alvarez in a respectable display of resilience. While he validated his durability in becoming only one of three to survive to a decision with Alvarez, a fiery finishing machine, Curran was also criticized for being a little too flat and passive.
In his first featherweight bout under the Bellator banner, the back-pedaling counter puncher spiced up his arsenal with a new ingredient: raw aggression and killer instinct.
In the opening round, the Pat Curran who patiently shuffles backward while offering only sparse retaliation was nowhere to be found. As shown in the sequence to the left, Curran clipped Palomino with a sharp right, then bull-rushed him to unload a flying knee against the cage.
Generally, Curran used his wrestling as a device to stay afoot rather than pursuing takedowns of his own, and going ballistic with a flying knee is quite uncharacteristic for the normally reserved technician.
It's worth noting that Palomino ends up putting him on his back here, depicting the pitfalls of being highly aggressive, but Curran's ability to avoid danger and regain composure has been uncanny. It's also worth noting that he finished Palomino with a beautiful Peruvian necktie.
Instead of learning new skills, the easiest -- and often the most efficient -- improvement a fighter can make is to alter his mentality to maximize the talents he already has. This seems to be the case with Curran.
Beholding the staunch takedown defense and tight, accurate boxing in Curran's past performances, I'm sure I wasn't the only viewer murmuring for Curran to turn things up a notch and take some chances. This style modification leaves the type of lasting impression that is conducive to winning over fans and judges alike, and along with the drop down to his natural weight class, is the best course of action that Pat Curran could possibly take.
Curran's wrestling prowess might be his biggest advantage over Ronnie Mann, though the Cheltenham, England based fighter is no slouch in that department either.
With a striking game rooted in Muay Thai and a brown belt in BJJ, Mann has long been touted as a promising product at 145-pounds. Snaring the Shark Fights featherweight championship and recently relocating to the states to train full-time with Team Tompkins hasn't hurt either.
Mann has good balance, creative striking combinations that are mixed up and intertwined nicely, and excellent scrambling abilities. Adam Schindler chose to trade leather with Mann in the quarterfinals, which proved to be unwise.
At the request of his corner, Mann pieced together an uppercut with a trailing left hook that folded Schindler. Mann pounced immediately and left the referee no choice but to intervene for a first round TKO.
Again, it's not that Mann is a weak wrestler, but his Thai and BJJ acumen give him two dimensions compared to the three of Curran's boxing, wrestling, and submissions.
Mann is more diverse standing, but Curran's boxing is airtight and all business, and he's adept at precisely timing counters. Revisit the first animation of Mann above, and note how he leans his head to the left in the same spot while recklessly circling into Schindler's power hand. Those are tiny little mistakes that Curran will prey on.
Curran's adamantium chin, superior wrestling, and systematic striking should carry him to a decision. While the betting lines range from -150 for Curran to even, and Mann has sound experience for his age (twenty-four fights at twenty-four years old), I believe Pat Curran is destined for the finals.
In the second featherweight semifinal of the evening, exciting new addition Marlon Sandro squares off with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Nazareno Malegarie.
"Naza" held a flawless nineteen-fight record going into his Bellator debut this March, but dropped a decision to Daniel Straus for his first career loss. His return was triumphant by way of a barrage of guillotine chokes, finally forcing Jacob Devree to tap in the third round.
Malegarie hasn't tasted much elite competition, and his fairly one-dimensional approach will be difficult to engage versus a firecracker like Marlon Sandro.
Sandro was the only semifinalist who did not finish his opponent in the quarters. In fact, fellow Brazilian "Junior PQD" gave him enough trouble to sway one judge in his favor.
With the less than flattering split decision behind him and a foe lacking stand-up in front of him, I expect Sandro to shine.
While he hasn't been impervious to takedowns, Sandro's submission defense and ability to regain his footing has been strong. Hatsu Hioki might have the most treacherous ground skills in the featherweight division, so it's unlikely that Malegarie will catch him, and I see him eating spoonfuls of punishment trying to get Sandro down.
The uppercut is the brightest weapon in Sandro's repertoire. He's used it to turn the lights out with frighteningly regularity, and its presence alone should cause Malegarie to think twice about dropping levels and shooting.
My Prediction: Marlon Sandro by TKO
Neil Grove (10-3-1) vs. Zak Jensen (10-6)
Here's a billing you don't hear often: Grove is a South African born, England based heavyweight who specializes in knocking people silly with Gojuryu karate.
"Goliath" had a single stint in the Octagon where he was heel-hooked by Mike Ciesnolevicz at UFC 95. Of his other two losses, one came via current UFC heavyweight Rob Broughton, the other a submission in the finals of the Bellator tournament to Cole Konrad, the decorated wrestler who became Bellator's first heavyweight champ with the win.
Zak Jensen was a competitor on season ten of The Ultimate Fighter, where he lost to Darrill Schoonover in the first round. Jensen was unable to score a post-TUF match and has split results in the ensuing six fights, with a loss to Tim Hague being the only reputable name on the list.
Grove is a beast standing, and Jensen would be well advised to ground the fight quickly. Jensen has decent mobility and could make things ugly with an enveloping clinch and dirty boxing, but he'll have to walk through the revolving door of heavy punches that Grove surrounds himself with to get there.
All ten of Grove's victories have been ghastly and malicious knockouts, and he should be well aware that Jensen won't be keen to trade with him, and I expect his footwork to propel him to a sprawl and brawl knockout within the first two rounds.
My Prediction: Grove by TKO
Chris Horodecki (17-3) vs. Chris Saunders (9-1)
This will be Horodecki's Bellator debut despite not performing terribly in the WEC, where he beat Downes and Ratcliff but lost to Njokuani and Cerrone. Horodecki was a rising standout in the IFL where he carried an undefeated record all the way through until losing to Ryan Schultz at the World Grand Prix finals in 2007.
Horodecki made a name for himself with his clean stand-up, exciting style, and impressive IFL run. Still only twenty-four years old, he has a ton of experience for his age and is still improving rapidly.
I know little about his opponent, Chris Saunders, and couldn't find much footage of him either. He'll carry a seven-fight streak into tonight's bout, his Bellator debut. Considering the level of his previous opposition, I'm thinking Saunders might be in a little over his head. Horodecki might not be an elite fighter yet, but he held his own against other elite fighters and should now be a big fish in a small pond.
My Prediction: Horodecki by TKO