Oklahoma will be treated to a night of Bellator MMA action for a third time with a stacked fight card that features heavy hitters and Jiu-Jitsu aces as well as the Season 4 Welterweight Tournament final between former IFL Welterweight Champion and Strikeforce and UFC veteran ”The Thoroughbred” Jay Hieron (18-4) and the undefeated Judo Olympian Rick Hawn (11-0). Bellator 43 will take place at the First Council Casino and Hotel in Newkirk and will feature three solid supporting bouts in the middleweight, heavyweight, and bantamweight divisions. The co-main event features UFC and Strikeforce veteran “Diesel” Joe Riggs (33-13) and Season 2 Tournament finalist “The Beast” Bryan Baker (11-2) with the winner likely gaining a spot in the Season 5 Middleweight Tournament. Also on the card, former WEC Bantamweight Champion and Jiu-Jitsu wizard “The Rage” Chase Beebe (16-5) will face off with returning Season 3 Bantamweight Tournament semi-finalist Jose Vega (8-4). A heavyweight tilt was scheduled between “Goliath” Neil Grove (10-3) and Bellator newcomer Zach Jensen (10-6), but due to an injury Grove was pulled from the bout and Bellator announced on May 5 that “The Monster” Ron Sparks (3-0) would return to the cage against Vince Lucero (20-18) as a late replacement for the bout.
Ron Sparks vs. Vince Lucero: Ron Sparks, nicknamed “The Monster”, is true to form. Sparks is a big man with a massive physique dropping down from super heavyweight to make the 265lbs. weight limit to compete in Bellator and he hasn’t had an opponent yet who comes close to his size. He may have only a trio of pro fights under his belt but, having won his first fight under the Bellator banner at the 50 second mark of the first round by submission due to strikes, he undoubtedly is a force to be reckoned with. Lucero is also a big man with a lot of power. In fact he may be the closest thing to an equal match in size and power Sparks has ever faced, but he hasn’t seen a win since 2008 and even that was by DQ. Against Sparks he will have his hands full and will have to bring everything he has if he wants to walk out a winner. Sparks will look to add Lucero to his undefeated win column while Lucero will look to breathe new life into his fighting career with a win that is three years in the waiting. Sparks is the clear cut favorite to win this match-up against Lucero, but if Lucero can dig deeper than he has as of late he could pull off an upset. Anything is possible when two men of such massive proportions start throwing leather. Sparks via KO, Round 1.
Chase Beebe vs. Jose Vega: Chase Beebe has won his past five fights, four of which came by first round submissions in what appears to be a solid return to his former glories. After a four-fight losing skid that encompassed his last bouts in the WEC and both his appearances in DREAM, Beebe returned to the minor league promotions of Chicago, Illinois where he cut his teeth, winning bouts in Chicago Cagefighting Championships and Ruckus. Now with his return to the national spotlight he will look to take the bull by the horns by defeating Jose Vega, who has some unfinished business of his own. Vega is finally returning to action after his loss to Bellator Season 3 Bantamweight Tournament runner-up Ed West (14-5) and has his eye set on another run at the belt. He is well versed on the mat, winning six of his eight fights by submission, Beebe, however, has 14 career wins by submission and has trained for years at Gilbert Grappling alongside “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (28-11), giving him the advantage on the mat. Vega’s best route to victory is in keeping the fight on the feet and punishing Beebe into the later rounds. Beebe has been stopped by strikes only once in his career – by Bellator Featherweight Champ Joe Warren (7-1) at DREAM 7 – but he has also never finished an opponent after the first round, calling into question his ability to compete at a high level in the later rounds. Beebe is the favorite to win the fight but only if he comes with his A-game. His plan is simple: get the takedown and work for a submission while maintaining control on the top. With a spot in the upcoming season’s bantamweight tournament on the line, both men will look to impress the Bellator brass, but only one will be granted a spot. Beebe via Rear Naked Choke, Round 1.
Joe Riggs vs. Bryan Baker: Bryan Baker welcomes Joe Riggs to the Bellator cage in a bout that promises fireworks. Baker came up short against “The Storm” Alexander Shlemenko (29-4) then rebounded with a win over “Gumby” Jeremy Horn (87-21), and now a spot in the upcoming tournament hangs in the balance as he faces a UFC and Strikeforce vet in Riggs. “Diesel” is returning to the major spotlight after a pair of fights in smaller organizations, but with that return to the spotlight comes the return of high profile opponents against whom he has always struggled. Riggs has fought in almost every organization under the sun but has yet to win a major title, a fact he looks to rectify with his high octane ground-and-pound in Bellator’s middleweight division. Riggs represents one of the more experienced and higher caliber fighters Baker has faced and knows defeating Baker is only a small step to getting a shot through the tournament format. Defeating Baker will be no easy task, however. Baker is an “Ace” Rich Franklin (27-6)-style middleweight: tall and well muscled with no wasted fat. Baker is known for his heavy hands and reckless pressure and he also knows that time has started to take a toll on Riggs’ once granite chin. There is no trick to this match. Both men will want to stand and trade with each other until one man falls. Baker seeks a rematch with Shlemenko and a shot at champion “Shango” Hector Lombard (26-2). Riggs seeks to prove that he is a top level fighter. The UFC veteran is always dangerous as long as he still stands but his days as a top notch contender are limited and it is Baker who has the sharper tools in his shed. Baker via TKO, Round 3.
Rick Hawn vs. Jay Hieron: The night’s main event pits a seasoned veteran against an up-and-comer who pulled off an upset win over a former champion. Rick Hawn proved in his fight against “Cyborg” Lyman Good (11-2) that he is for real and his skills are only getting better. Hawn’s boxing won him his first bout against “Judo” Jim Wallhead (18-6) and takedowns won him the fight against Good where he mixed the two aspects of his game to keep Good off guard and under control. Jay Hieron’s performance in the tournament is not what most of his fans expected with his close decision win over Brent Weedman (18-5) preceded by a controversial stoppage in his first tournament fight. Hieron’s ground game, however, is far beyond that of Good. His submissions are top notch and his wrestling can perhaps cancel out Hawn’s Judo-based takedowns. Hieron has to set the pace early on and keep Hawn on the outside in order to work his own striking game. Hawn is shorter than Hieron so in order to do proper damage and control the former IFL champ he has to get inside and work the body. Going to the ground with Hieron may be too much for Hawn but he won’t know until he tries to control Hieron and do some damage. It’s a solid bout for the finals that could end with some real fan pleasing action. It will also determine a future title contender for Ben Askren’s (7-0) welterweight belt. In the long run, Hieron will likely grind on Hawn by beating him to the punch and looking for a good scramble off a failed Hawn takedown. Once the fight gets to the mat expect Hieron to work his high caliber wrestling, lock on a D’arce Choke or Rear Naked Choke, and wait for the tap. Hieron via D’arce Choke, Round 2.