By Daniel Galvan
Assuming that Bellator 77 this Friday goes off without a hitch, the promotion led by Bjorn Rebney will have featured more Russian fighters in its initial four events of their seventh season than the UFC has featured in its entire history.
(Here are the details. After Friday, Bellator will have had eight Russians compete under the banner: Alexander Volkov, Andrey Koreshkov, Michael Tsarev, Magomedrasul Khasbulaev, Shabulat Shamhalaev, Alexander Sarnavskiy, Murad Machaev, and Magomed Saadulaev. Since its inception, the UFC has only had seven Russians compete inside the octagon: Oleg Taktarov, Dmitri Stepanov, Igor Zinoviev, Andre Semenov, Dennis Siver, Khabib Nurmagedov, and Aanar Chalangov.)
Needless to say, there has been a real Russian presence in this season of Bellator, and that presence will be blatantly evident in the opening round of the lightweight tournament at Bellator 77. The eight man bracket will kick off in Reading, Pennsylvania this Friday, and it will feature three Russian fighters in the field.
The most notable Russian in the tournament is top prospect Alexander Sarnavskiy. Sporting an unblemished 20-0 record, Sarnavskiy has been on the prospect radar for quite a while. Slated to face former UFC fighter and 66 fight veteran Rich “No Love” Clementi, Sarnavskiy will finally be able to prove himself against a considerable challenger.
Clementi is no stranger to fighting undefeated fighters. In fact, Sarnavskiy will be the eleventh fighter Clementi has ever faced that had an unblemished record. With thirteen years of professional fighting under his belt, Clementi is an experienced and well-rounded fighter to say the least. Although “No Love” is skilled in all facets of the game, in recent fights his grappling game has shined, and I have a feeling that Clementi will want to further display his grappling chops on Friday due to Sarnavskiy’s talented and dangerous kickboxing arsenal.
On the feet is where Alexander Sarnavskiy shines. He has power, technique, and accuracy with his strikes, and he’s probably the best striker in the bracket. His grappling game is adequate, but it would be in his best interest to keep the fight on the feet and try to improve upon his 85% finishing rate.
I expect Rich Clementi to keep this fight close, but at the end of the day I can’t pick against Sarnavskiy. Sarnavskiy’s striking is just too good, and his grappling game will prevent him from getting submitted. The multi-dimensional game of Sarnavskiy should prove to be too much for the grizzled veteran.
On Friday night, either Ricardo Tirloni or Rene Nazare will suffer the same result as they did in their last fight, a first round Bellator tournament event. On paper it’s relatively close with both combatants having similar grappling-based games, but Tirloni should be able impose his will with takedowns and control the bout against the hard to finish Nazare en route to a victory.
Since his release from the WEC due to a 1-2 record in the promotion, Jansen has piled together three wins inside of the Bellator cage. Now, the 33 year-old Jansen will have an opportunity to shine again. Jansen is scheduled to face Magomed Saadulaev in one of the quarter-finals of the Bellator Lightweight Tournament.
Both fighters prefer the grappling as evident by their combined seventeen submission finishes. Saadulaev is a stocky, powerful fighter with a good base, but Jansen’s experience on the big stage and previous performances against solid competition leads me to believe that he’ll be the one getting his hand raised.
In another battle of grapplers, Marcin Held will take on undefeated Murad Machaev. For a fighter that still can’t legally drink in the United States, Held has really impressed me with his slick submissions. Constantly searching for submissions, Held’s aggressive style makes him a fun fighter to watch.
His opponent, Murad Machaev, is a consistent, technically sound fighter that closes the distance and makes fights a bit dirty. In what should be an enjoyable grappling contest, I think the aggressive Marcin Held will be able to lock on a fight-ending submission.
Bellator Matchmaker and VP of Talent Relations Sam Camplan’s scouting of the Russian MMA scene will come to fruition this Friday night at Bellator 77 as three Russian prospects will compete in the opening round of the Season Seven Lightweight Tournament.
By Daniel Galvan