Bellator has been establishing their organization as the top "Not Zuffa owned" Mixed Martial Arts organization in North America. CEO Bjorn Rebney has done a good job of amasing talent while not signing every Zuffa washout to come into the free agent market. It was also a smart move for Bellator to make the move to MTV2 so they can ensure all events are free for anyone with more then a basic cable or dish television package can watch. Bellator 48 is more then just the Featherweight Tournament Finals but is also an event hosting two solid Heavyweight fights on the Main card that showcases Bellator's growth as an organization in overall talent and name recognition. When the fans can tune in and recognize most of the names on the fight card without having to do Google research, that is always a positive.
1. Can Pat Curran win two different weight class Bellator tournaments in a period of 14 months?
The 23 year old Pat Curran is building a name for himself by reaching two Bellator Tournament finals. What makes this even more impressive is he has done it at 155 pounds AND 145 pounds. He has looked faster and sharper on the feet at Featherweight while not losing his wrestling strength.
But he is facing a much different opponent in this tournament finals in comparison to last year. In June 2010 Curran faced a veteran fighter in Toby Imada who has really good grappling skills. This Saturday night Curran faces Marlon Sandro: a dynamic fighter with a 19-2, one of those losses was by controversal Split Decision to current UFC fighter Michihiro Omigawa. Both Sandro and Curran have gotten 47 percent of their career wins via decision so expect this to be a three round war.
If Curran can win this matchup it will boost his MMA resume. Expect him to get some serious interest from the UFC when his Bellator contract runs out.
2. How will Bellator Heavyweight Champ Cole Konrad handle a step up in competition?
Cole Konrad is a young Heavyweight MMA prospect who will be facing a fighter Saturday Night in Paul Buentello who has been in 6 times as many fights (42) than Konrad (7). Konrad was a great collegiate and international wrestler before coming to MMA and he trains with former UFC Heavyweight Champ Brock Lesnar. Yet training at Lesnar's camp can only do so much to prepare a young fighter to face a man who has fought for Heavyweight titles in four different MMA organizations.
Buentello's MMA record is comprised of a "Who's Who" of upper level MMA heavyweights who have fought over the last ten years. He has faced 11 fighters who have fought in the UFC, compilling a record of 3-8. This matchup with Buentello is a good fight to measure where Konrad is at in his MMA career. Despite the paradox of Konrad not defending his belt in his fight this Saturday (a "tradition" Bellator does with many of their belt holders, reserving championship fights for winners of their tournaments) defeating a veteran like Buentello would be a good sign that Konrad has made the big step from MMA prospect to serious MMA Heavyweight fighter. Also he would avoid the comparisons to guys like Todd Duffee and Brandon Vera who were hyped Heavyweight prospects that came up short of the hype and expectations.
3. What does the future hold for Ricco Rodriguez if he keeps winning?
Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Ricco Rodriguez is on an unique winning streak: he has won 12 straight fights while fighting for 12 different MMA organizations. Since returning from his suspension by the California Athletic Commission in 2007 Rodriguez has amassed a fighting record of 21-5. Although he has not beaten any big names during that stretch winning can do a lot for a fighters confidence. Hopefully Rodriguez has finally found a fighting home with Bellator after his MMA world tour for the last four years. He faces another former UFC fighter, Seth Petruzelli, who is best known for his fast knockout of Kimbo Slice in 2008. If Rodriguez wins his fight this Saturday night he will have beaten two Ultimate Fighter Alums in two of his last three fights while extending his winning streak to 13 fights. Having a fighter with Rodriguez's name recognition and winning streak is a nice perk for Bellator as they continue to grow in popularity.