It was New Year’s Eve 2008 when former Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez (22-3) submitted to a crippling Heel Hook by Japanese superstar “Tobikan Judan” Shinya Aoki (30-5) just 92 seconds into their K-1 event “Dynamite!! 2008″ match-up, crowning Aoki the inaugural WAMMA lightweight champ. Over three years have passed and the rematch will finally take place in the Bellator cage this Friday night. Bellator 66 at the I-X Center in Cleveland, Ohio will host not only one of the most sought after rematches in lightweight history but also a stacked card of Season 6 tournament semi-final match-ups in both the middleweight and lightweight divisions. Ohio’s own “The Predator” Brian Rogers (9-3) brings his knockout power against a last-minute replacement in MFC and Strikeforce veteran ”Sweet Swede” Andreas Spang (7-1). Russian fighting sensation “Slava” Vyacheslav Vasilevsky (16-1) takes on the powerful “Big Rig” Maiquel Falcao (29-4). Colorful yet dangerous “Cupcake” Lloyd Woodard (12-1) takes on former Judo Olympian Rick Hawn (12-1) in one of two 155lbs. semi-final bouts, the second being Thiago Michael Pereira Silva (10-2) and Brent Weedman (19-7), which will take place on the event’s undercard hosted by Spike.com.
Lloyd Woodard vs. Rick Hawn: Lloyd Woodard, a submission specialist who just loves to stand and bang, will face the Judoka Hawn who’s shown that his boxing is his deadliest weapon. Woodard and Hawn both exited the cage at Bellator 62 with impressive wins over very respected opponents, Woodard with a come-from-behind submission victory over “Pitbull” Patricky Freire (10-3) in the second round and Hawn with a chilling first-round KO over veteran Ricardo Tirloni (14-2). Woodard is a man on a mission, that mission being a rematch with newly-crowned champion Michael Chandler (9-0), making “Cupcake” perhaps the most dangerous man in the tournament. Hawn came up short in last season’s welterweight finale against “The Thoroughbred” Jay Hieron (22-5), however this time he is embracing his place at a more natural weight at 155lbs. and looks to take home the championship title of Season 6. Woodard may not have the prettiest style on the feet but it does the job. He throws heavy shots and keeps opponents on their heels and if the fight hits the mat, he throws everything but the kitchen sink at his foes. Hawn’s boxing is looking more like a sweet science than MMA – his punches are crisp, clean, and heavier than one would think. Woodard may have the upper hand in the power department but Hawn has the advantage in patience and technique, and he will keep counter-striking against the aggressive Woodard. Woodard will look to come forward and batter Hawn with heavy shots and slamming kicks to the legs, but he has to be careful of Hawn’s Judo background. One slip up and Hawn can bring this fight to the ground with a simple Judo toss and land in a top position. Woodard overcame the large Freire and it will be Woodard who will have the size advantage this time. That coupled with his slick submission game will likely prove the ace in the hole when and if they tie up. Woodard via Unanimious Decision
Vyacheslav Vasilevsky vs. Maiquel Falcao: The 23-year-old M1 veteran Vyacheslav Vasilevsky is proof that wisdom in the cage comes from the battlefield, and come Friday at Bellator 66 that wisdom will be challenged by another battle tested veteran in Maiquel Falcao. “Slava” made his US and Bellator debut with a domination of Victor O’Donnell (11-4). Over three rounds he showed that he has it all – the ground game, the wrestling, and the striking to beat up his opponent. Falcao, an extremely powerful middleweight with 23 first-round (T)KOs, isn’t up for playing games, either. He looks to push his opponents until their breaking point, always looking to damage them in any way possible. His performance against Norman Paraisy (10-2) spoke true to his Chute Boxe spirit. Vasilevsky knows he can’t stand and trade with “Big Rig”, as that’s a death sentence. Vasilevsky is well versed on the mat but his strength is nowhere near that of Falcao and getting him to the ground will be a hard fight. Even when Falcao has been taken down before he was able to either get back to his feet or get into a dominant position. Vasilevsky will have to use an in-and-out gameplan, pepper the legs, and double-pump his jab to keep “Big Rig” from coming inside. Vasilevsky has to keep in mind that Falcao has been defeated by strikes before and if he can hurt him against the cage and stay on him he could gain an upset victory, but Falcao is far too hungry to fall so easily. Falcao via TKO (Punches) Round 3
Brian Rogers vs. Andreas Spang: Heavy-handed Brian Rogers will look for another highlight reel knockout when he faces tourney semi-finals replacement Andreas Spang after Brazilian brick house “Carioca” Bruno Santos (13-0) was struck by a serious shoulder injury during training. “The Sweet Swede” may be a late replacement but it is safe to say he’s more than Santos’ equal. He is a man with a finisher’s spirit, having sealed five first-round stoppages against only two decisions. Rogers is a fighter’s fighter and the fan’s man; he rarely even makes it to the mid-point of his fights and his eight first-round knockouts stake claim to that fact. “The Predator” is riding high from his flying knee knockout over Vitor Vianna (12-3) last month and with that kind of momentum he may be looking to do it again. Spang hasn’t seen cage time since last November, making ring rust a potential factor; making his Bellator debut at the same time will only add to the jitters. Rogers is the heavy favorite to win as long as the fight stays standing. However, if Spang gets a takedown an upset is far from out of the question given his submission skills. As long as Rogers comes in with a level head and doesn’t plant his feet then he will likely score another knockout win. Rogers via KO (Punch), Round 1
Eddie Alvarez vs. Shinya Aoki: It will be a hostile playing field for Shinya Aoki, who will be out of his element in the Bellator cage. Eddie Alvarez is chomping at the bit to get back at Aoki for injuring him intentionally and his main event match-up at Bellator 66 will afford him that opportunity. Aoki is known for his “milking of the rules” and getting away with multiple violations in Japan where he is seen practically as a hero but that won’t be happening in Bellator. Alvarez is a blue collar worker with some of the best boxing in MMA and will want to keep it standing and batter the submission master. Aoki, of course, will do everything in his power to get the fight to the mat and look for a submission. Alvarez also knows he can’t get trigger happy if he appears to hurt Aoki, he has to get him into deeper waters and break him down. Aoki’s fights usually don’t last past the first round but if they do it’s because he doesn’t get his wish to go to the mat. Alvarez will stay in the center of the cage and use a get-in-and-get-out style of boxing on Aoki, avoiding kicks to the body and avoiding the takedown when Aoki shoots. Aoki’s best chances to get the fight to the ground is to wait for Alvarez to miss with a heavy shot or catch a kick and go from there. Alvarez may be coming off a loss to Chandler but scoring a win over Aoki will make the pain of being beltless hurt a little less. Aoki knows a win over a well-known, well-respected, and very dangerous American opponent will do his stock good especailly to the fans in the USA. Aoki way have won the first go-round but Alvarez will take it in the rematch, all it takes is beating Aoki enough to break his spirit. Alvarez via Unanimious Decision