Dropping the anchors in Lake Charles, Louisiana at the L’Auberge Du Lac Casino Resort for its returning heavyweight tournament, Bellator 52 features a fearsome bracket of knockout artists. “300″ Mike Hayes (13-4) returns to Bellator riding a two-fight win streak against South African striker “Goliath” Neil Grove (11-3) in the main event of the evening. Brazilian giant “Big Monster” Thiago Santos (4-1) makes his debut on US soil against Bulgarian import and one-time Bellator veteran Blagoi Ivanov (4-0). Mark Holata (7-2), the two-time Bellator veteran, will duke it out with the feared and respected Ron Sparks (4-0) in a bout that will likely not make it out of the first round. Titan FC poster boy Abe Wagner (10-3) meets Eric Prindle (6-1) in the opening match of the night with the winner gaining the spotlight as the rising star of the tournament. Every fighter on the slate has devastating power and the ability to end the fight at any moment, ensuring fans that they won’t want to miss a single second of this tournament.
Abe Wagner vs. Eric Prindle: The owner of perhaps one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, Abe Wagner demolished former UFC champion “The Maine-iac” Time Syliva (29-7) in just 32 seconds and looks to do the same to the heavyweight tournament field. He is a strong striker with a creditable submission game, and overall is the more complete fighter in the Bellator 52 main card opening match-up. Experience is also on Wagner’s side, as he has more than a half-dozen fights on Prindle. Prindle though has a physical advantage, coming in at an inch taller and nearly 20lbs. heavier than the Titan FC and Victory Fighting Championships veteran. The key to victory for Prindle lies in utilizing his size advantage to bully and batter Wagner; brawling isn’t always the best idea, but it could prove the right poison for Wagner’s game. Wagner needs to use his more well-rounded skill set to get Prindle to the mat and work his submission game, first using his fast hands to set up the proper takedown. Not many fans know of Wagner’s fights despite HDNet’s broadcast of several of his bouts, so he could be the dark horse to go all the way to the finals, something that Wagner will use to fuel his fire once he hits the cage. Wagner via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 1
Mark Holata vs. Ron Sparks: The well known and always entertaining Ron Sparks has fought his way into the Bellator tournament and looks to add Mark Holata to his list of opponents he has broken with his fists. Holata may have more cage time than Sparks but that doesn’t bother Sparks at all. Sparks is a big country boy from Kentucky that could possibly wrestle down a bull with ease, making the force that’s firing behind his hands that much more important to avoid. Holata isn’t afraid to throw hands with Sparks, giving the fans a fight they want to see and the Bellator brass a fight to proudly broadcast to the world, but it is his ground game that can give Sparks fits. Both men aren’t gun shy but the favor on the feet leads towards Sparks. With his strength he will keep the fight standing unless he sends Holata crumbling to the mat. A surely entertaining fight, but Holata lacks the wrestling to overcome Sparks’ raw strength. Sparks via TKO (Punches), Round 1
Thiago Santos vs. Blagoi Ivanov: Bulgarian native Blagoi Ivanov is making his second appearance inside the Bellator cage while his opponent, the Brazilian Thiago Santos, is making his debut. Ivanov is a young gun in the sport at the age of 24 but makes up for it with his hulking size and quick hands. Santos is a big man in his own right, but with Ivanov he will have a stern test in front of him. Santos has finished only one opponent in contrast to Ivanov’s three, and although both men have the same number of victories, the fight leans towards Ivanov due to his more aggressive approach. Ivanov has been out of the first round once in his career so the question for him is could he go into the deeper waters and still be as destructive as he is when he is fresh out of the container. Santos would prefer to keep the fight at a distance and use his ground game to wear down Ivanov as the match wears on but he also wants to keep the fight on the feet and avoid the takedown of Santos by using kicks and well-placed jabs. It is imperative for Santos to clinch with the Bulgarian and take the fight to the mat to drag it into the later rounds that Ivanov is unaccustomed to, and either finish his exhausted opponent or impress the judges enough to win the decision. Questions regarding the extent of Ivanov’s cardio may not be answered in this fight, as he is likely to come out swinging his heavy hands and send Santos packing. Ivanov via TKO (Punches), Round 3
Mike Hayes vs. Neil Grove: Two of the most exciting heavyweights within Bellator’s ranks, Mike Hayes and Neil Grove, will determine who the big dog will be this season. Grove is coming off a whiplash performance over Zach Jensen (10-7) at Bellator 47 with a first-round TKO. Hayes has finished his past two opponents with submissions under the banner where he cut his teeth, Rumble on the Ridge. Now Hayes is back in Bellator with the goal set to capture gold, but unfortunately for him, Grove has the same in mind for himself. The “Goliath’s” game plan is to stand and strike with his fists that he has deemed, “Good Night” and “Sleep Tight”. Hayes, on the other hand, will look to go to the ground where he has a clear cut advantage over the South African fighter. Hayes does have a bulk of his wins by decision, but they are far from lack luster. He is a solid, crisp striker with a ground game to tangle with the best of the heavyweight division. Grove’s ever-improving skills are showing more and more, but he isn’t ready to roll with Hayes. So long as the fight stays standing, Grove holds a substantial advantage over his foe; just one of his well-placed punches could be all that is needed to turn the tides in his favor. To Hayes’ credit though, he has never been finished in his career, though he was out-worked on the feet in his Bellator 26 bout against Alexey Oleinik (9-6), who then came up short against Grove in the Bellator Season 3 Heavyweight Tournament Semi-Finals. Hayes’ keys to victory lie in his ground game where he can control the action. Grove has been submitted before and with the skills Hayes has it could happen again. Make no mistake, both men respect each other and even stated that the loser of the fight buys the first round of drinks. There’s nothing wrong with two warriors shaking hands before and after a fight, but in the cage it’s all business and Grove is the one making the deals. Grove via KO (Punch), Round 1