by Jeffrey Zielinski
By Adam Martin
During the summer, Bellator signed a number of new fighters that will make their promotional debuts during season nine, and we wanted to highlight a few of these hungry young prospects that fans should keep an eye on starting with tonight’s event in Temecula, California.
So, without further ado, here are nine Bellator prospects to watch out for during this coming season of fights.
9. John Alessio
(Photo via Getty)
The first fighter to keep an eye on this season is veteran John Alessio, who has been fighting professionally since 1998. After making his name as a top prospect fighting for SuperBrawl in Hawaii, the UFC fed Alessio to the sharks when, at just 20 years of age, he fought Pat Miletich for the UFC welterweight title. And while Alessio would get tapped out in just 1:43 and leave the UFC immediately afterwards, he returned in 2006 and fought both Diego Sanchez and Thiago Alves, losing to both and losing his spot on the roster again. Never perturbed, Alessio then carved out a solid run in the WEC, MFC, Dream, and a few other promotions to get yet another crack in the Octagon in 2012, but after losing to Mark Bocek and Shane Roller — becoming the only fighter in UFC history to go 0-5 — he was cut for good. Bellator then picked him up and he’s been installed as a participant in the season nine lightweight tournament. Winning it, he says, is his destiny.
8. Paul Sass
(Photo via MMAJunkie)
Another UFC veteran to look out for this season is Paul Sass, the British submission wizard who was picked up by Bellator after two-straight losses in the Octagon, although his 3-2 overall UFC record wasn’t too bad. Sass, in my opinion, was cut far too early by the UFC as he was one of the best submission guys in the entire 155-pound division and seemed to be coming along a bit with his striking. Although Bellator’s lightweight division is very good, I do believe that Sass had it rougher in the UFC’s 155-pound shark tank and so I expect him to pick up some nice undercard wins in Bellator and then maybe get a shot in a future lightweight tournament.
7. Vladimir Matyushenko
(Photo via LowKick.com)
Vladimir Matyushenko, who at 42 years and eight months old is almost the oldest fighter on the Bellator roster, was cut by the UFC earlier this year after a 4-3 second run in the Octagon that culminated with back-to-back stoppage losses to Ryan Bader and Alexander Gustafsson. Not too long after, Bellator reached out to the former IFL light-heavyweight champion and he signed a deal with the promotion. According to Matyushenko, he still has something left in the tank and wants to prove it to both himself and to the fans in the circled Bellator cage tonight at Bellator 99. The Janitor will be making his promotional debut against Houston Alexander, with the winner of the fight getting an immediate shot against Keith Jardine (just kidding about the Jardine part).
6. Houston Alexander
(Photo via MMAWeekly)
As stated above, Alexander recently signed with Bellator after two-straight wins on the regional circuit and the 41-year-old will take on Matyushenko in a battle of two hard hitters who have been knocked out a combined nine times. Something tells me that one of these two men is going to wake up to a doctor’s flashlight – or maybe even both will, for the rare double KO – and, in a fight between two fighters with a combined age of 83, it wouldn’t be surprising if this match marks the end of one or both of these fighters’ careers. Or, maybe they’ll just keep dragging along. Isn’t 40 supposed to be the new 25?
5. Mighty Mo
I had no idea until I was looking through the official Bellator roster (forgive me, I don’t do it often) that they recently signed Mighty Mo, who is currently on an eight-fight losing streak in kickboxing, turns 43 next month, and is most fondly remembered in MMA for getting kicked in the groin by Josh Barnett and then getting to return the favor after the fight back in DREAM. Mo, who is just 3-2 in mixed martial arts competition, hasn’t fought in MMA in over three years, and I’m puzzled why Bellator signed him. I guess they were impressed by his knockout of Ruben “Warpath” Villareal back at Dynamite!!! USA in 2007 – his last win in MMA – and think he has the power to cause problems in the Bellator heavyweight division. Truth be told, he can still probably compete with guys like Ron Sparks and Rich Hale, and he could definitely be involved in some sloppy, groin-shot-filled Bellator heavyweight bouts in the near future.
On the next page: A legit featherweight contender, and some big names you love to hate.
4. Diego Nunes
(Photo via MMAWeekly)
One of the best signings Bellator made this summer was inking former top-10 ranked featherweight Diego Nunes to a deal and putting him into the season nine featherweight tourney. Like Sass, I think Nunes was cut far too soon by the UFC after going 3-3 against top competition, and at only 28 years of age he still has a lot of time to put it all together. Unfortunately for Nunes, however, Bellator has matched him up against buzzsaw Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, who he meets in the main event of Bellator 99 tonight. This sure seems like a fight that’s designed to gain “Pitbull” some legitimacy over a UFC vet, as he’s constantly forgotten in the rankings of the top featherweights, and it’s arguably an even tougher matchup for Nunes than his recent fights against Nik Lentz and Dennis Siver, of which he lost both.
3. Cheick Kongo
(Photo via MMAJunkie)
Speaking of heavyweight nut shots, the king of the shorts grab and knee to the groin technique, longtime UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo — who was cut after a KO loss to Roy Nelson in April — signed with Bellator for its season nine heavyweight tournament and, in his first fight with the promotion, he’ll take on Mark “The Hand Of” Godbeer in a fight that just begs for a crazy, ridiculous Bellator-heavyweight-esque finish. Although he was always going to be the ultimate gatekeeper in the UFC, in Bellator Kongo will have a legit opportunity to be a world champion. Or maybe he’ll just be the definition of gatekeeper on UrbanDictionary.com once again. We’ll see.
2. Tito Ortiz
(Photo via Sherdog)
Bellator dropped a bombshell announcement during Bellator 97 when they revealed former UFC light heavyweight champion and MMA icon Tito Ortiz had come out of retirement to take on former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the main event of Bellator 106, the organization’s first foray into pay-per-view. The announcement was met with mostly laughter by fans and media alike, and I admit while I would have preferred Ortiz to stay retired, he does put on entertaining fights [Ed. note: ???] and I’m curious to see how he promotes the fight against “Rampage.” Although he is 1-7-1 in his last nine fights, Ortiz has the opportunity to take out “Rampage” – who is still ranked in many people’s top 15 at 205 pounds – and make a serious statement that he can become one of Bellator’s poster boys going forward. Oh wait, he already is.
1. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
(Photo via Bellator)
I picked “Rampage” over Ortiz as the top Bellator prospect heading into season nine because he’s most likely going to be the fighter to emerge victorious when they compete — he’s currently a -240 betting favorite — and therefore he has more of a chance to become a star for the promotion. Or at least Bellator hopes so, because they’ve basically given this guy the keys to the city, so to say, by giving him a sweet contract, a new car, and the opportunity for him to accomplish his dream of wrestling professionally. Although he was run out of the UFC with three-straight losses to Glover Teixeira, Jon Jones, and Ryan Bader, there is the hope that getting cut by the UFC and signing with Bellator will light a fire under “Rampage.” And for between $35 and $45 on November 2nd on PPV, we’ll all get to find out. Well, maybe not all of us. But for those of you who actually order this thing, do us a favor and tell us what happens, okay?