It’s back to Rama, Ontario, Canada for a second time as Bellator 67 docks at Casino Rama tomorrow night. Returning to the cage to begin his newly minted championship reign is relentless lightweight king Michael Chandler (9-0). Chandler will take on the most experienced fighter of his career when he welcomes long-time Japanese superstar and Pancrase, Shooto, PRIDE, Sengoku, and UFC veteran Akihiro Gono (32-17). One of the Season 6 Welterweight Tournament semi-finals will take place as finishing machine ”Killa B” Ben Saunders (13-4) takes on the reborn giant “The Beast” Bryan Baker (17-3). MFC veteran and Edmonton native “The Real Deal” Ryan Ford (17-4) makes his Bellator debut against powerhouse “Sapo” Luis Santos (50-7). Two-time Bellator veteran “Polish Pitbull” Damian Grabowski (15-1) returns to Bellator against heavy-handed newcomer “Bad Man” Dave Huckaba (17-4).
Damian Grabowski vs. Dave Huckaba: Heavyweight submission specialist Damian Grabowski returns to Bellator after an 18-month hiatus to take on newcomer Dave Huckaba. Grabowski is known for his aggressive pace, blitzing stand-up game, and ripping submissions that has brought 14 finishes in his 15 career wins. Huckaba is a finisher in his own right but he prefers to strike with 14 (T)KOs and two submissions in 17 victories. Grabowski is a cut and dry heavyweight but he makes up for it with speed and pin-point strikes. Huckaba is a larger heavyweight and will use his size advantage to his liking against the leaner Grabowski. The common factor with both men is that going to the judges is not in their intentions. “The Polish Pitbull’s” only loss comes by the wrestling of champion “The Polar Bear” Cole Konrad (10-0), so if Huckaba begins to lose the edge of the feet he can clinch and drag his opponent to the mat and score some much needed ground-and-pound. Grabowski will need to use his footwork to stay out of “Bad Man’s” range, work the body and lead leg with in-and-out strikes, and if he hurts Huckaba pounce for the finish. Huckaba won’t be as agile as Grabowski but he can make up for it with the mass behind his punches. The American will have to keep stalking Grabowski and press him against the cage to unload some heavy punches if he is to have any chance of stopping the “Polish Pitbull”. Grabowski via TKO (Strikes), Round 3
Ryan Ford vs. Luis Santos: Perhaps Canada’s most dynamic welterweight is MFC veteran “The Real Deal” Ryan Ford who returns to the mainstream spotlight in his Bellator debut against Brazilian powerhouse Luis Santos. Ford and “Sapo” both are well versed in all areas of the fight game, with a near even split between (T)KOs and submissions. Santos, however, has nearly triple the experience under his belt. Both men have a tendency to not hold back when they commit to an attack. “The Real Deal” has showed throughout his career that he isn’t afraid to stand and trade with his opponents. In his entertaining bout with “The Secret Weapon” Pete Spratt (25-21), Ford stood and traded with the heavy-handed Spratt until he got him to the mat and locked on the Rear Naked Choke to seal a victory. Santos may have lost by a Kimura to Ben Saunders but in his fight with “The Handler” Dan Hornbuckle (22-5), Santos literally out-muscled, out-struck, and out-worked his opponent. The combatants will feel each other out for a brief period before they go to war but “Sapo” will look to keep pressure on Ford and use his reach to keep him from getting the takedown. Ford will go where Santos wants to go and look to beat him at it; he’ll need to be cautious about taking it to the mat though, as Ford has been submitted three times and Santos has the Jiu-Jitsu to keep his foe in check. “The Real Deal” has to get inside and get the Brazilian to the mat, work his ground-and-pound, then look for a submission – but don’t be surprised if the two men want to just duke it out till the final bell. Ford via Split Decision
Ben Saunders vs. Bryan Baker: Two tall, heavy-handed, explosive contenders will battle for a spot in the welterweight finale of the Season 6 tournament as Ben Saunders and Bryan Baker face off in the co-main event of the night. Saunders and Baker are coming off victories over two well versed opponents. Baker is the bigger, stronger man in the cage due to his recent drop from middleweight but Saunders will have a speed and stamina advantage due to his time and experience as a welterweight. Baker started to slow down in his bout against veteran “Indio” Carlos Pereira (33-10) in the quarter-finals, so it seems that the later rounds will favor the more extensive gas tank of “Killa B”. Saunders will stay on the outside to counter-strike as Baker presses forward with his own offense, but he won’t peak until he sees Baker slowing; then he’ll turn up the heat. Baker has power in his hands to make it a short night for anyone, however wild and crazy strikes have gotten him in trouble in the past. Saunders’ Muay Thai will play a big role as the fight gets into deeper waters, and once the knees start landing Baker has to avoid getting his back against the cage. If he gets trapped by Saunders he will have to take the fight to the ground, where Saunders and his rubber-like offense lays in wait. Both are favorites to win the tournament and both have earned a lot of respect but there can be only one victor. Saunders via Unanimous Decision
Michael Chandler vs. Akihiro Gono: The Bellator 67 main event pits returning champion Michael Chandler against the experienced Japanese fighter Akihiro Gono. Gono is making his return to the North American scene as well as his Bellator debut against Chandler and one thing is for certain: Gono is going to give Bellator its most colorful walkout show ever. Chandler, a fighter who isn’t much for slow starts, will come out ready for battle as always. The American wrestler will keep pressure on Gono with in-and-out strikes and when Gono commits, Chandler will rush for the takedown and drive Gono onto his back. Gono won’t be a fish out of water on the mat, though, as he’s got submission skills and the fight experience to get back to his feet or improve his position against Chandler, however he will look to keep the leg kicks to a minimum and do his damage with his hands to avoid having to use those skills. Chandler can take a beating and press forward as made evident in his run to the 155lbs. crown, and his only downfall can be if he takes Gono lightly. The JMMA star can snake in a submission hold himself or catch Chandler coming in with a well-timed uppercut or knee and turn the tables on the Xtreme Couture fighter. This is Chandler’s fight to win if he sticks to his guns and wears down Gono until the later rounds and looks to finish with a submission or make a statement to the judges. Chandler via Unanimous Decision