PRELIMINARY FIGHT #1 - CHIP POLLARD VS. TIM WELCH
By Brent Wilson (
I don't know what to think about Bellator's attempt to enter the reality show genre. People who have seen the first episode have praised the concept and felt it was entertaining and not at all an Ultimate Fighter
On the other hand, while the show may be fine while it lasts, I don't see it having a lasting impact on viewers. Entrance into the Bellator Welterweight tournament is a paltry prize, one that I can't imagine too many viewers care about. And as lame as the prize is, few of the competing fighters even deserve a shot at the tournament, let alone Ben Askren (or hypothetically Andrey Koreshkov).
The majority of competing fighters are actually coming off losses in Bellator and there are really no high potential prospects in the bunch. Hard hitting Chris Lozano and Joe Riggs are the most recognizable names while Lelo Aurelio, Eric Bradley, Gareth Joseph, Steve Montgomery, Josh Quayhagen, Cristiano Souza, Bryan Travers, and Joe Williams all at least have somewhat intriguing aspects to their games....if you squint.
The intro is narrated by Jimmy Smith and puts over the concept of the show. The 32 chosen fighters have gathered in New Orleans will face off in the preliminary rounds with the 16 advancing fighters getting to choose who their coach will be for the duration of the season.
The coaches are the real stars of the show with Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Greg Jackson, and Joe Warren as options for the fighters to select.
Frank got his braces off! All four coaches are excellent in their roles, speaking with conviction about why they are the OBVIOUS choice for the fighters to make. Warren does express the concern that no one will choose his team, while Couture talks about trying to subtly make lesser fighters avoid choosing him.
Pollard (7-4) is a Northeastern striker who prefers to stick and move, using footwork and switching stances to stay on the outside and land hard leg kicks, a stiff jab and accurate countershots. Pollard prefers to keep the fight standing but has only decent defensive wrestling and a ground game that is not particularly threatening.
Pollard also mentions his grandmother passed away the previous week and that he missed her funeral to come to the show. Ouch.
Welch (9-4) is a fiery redhead has already competed in the Bellator welterweight tournament, losing in the first round of the season seven tournament to Russian grappler Michail Tsarev. Welch is aggressive and strong throwing to the body and wild looping hooks to the head with mean intentions and big power in every shot. The brawler also stands out in the clinch with mean dirty boxing and knees. Welch's aggression can work against him as he has big time defensive wrestling and grappling issues that opponents who can survive his early onslaught can exploit.
The fight is two five minute rounds with a sudden victory third in the event of a draw. No elbows are allowed in the preliminary fights. There's no commentary with the audio consisting of the coaches discussing both fighter's technique and appearance which is great.
Both fighters are light on their feet trading jabs and bouncing in and out. Pollard lands a decent right. Welch steps back and counters as Pollard leaps in with another jab. Welch lands his hard straight right and it stands Pollard up. A left hook follows and drops Pollard with some perfunctory ground and pound to finish it.
Winner: Tim Welch by TKO (Punches) at 1:22 of R1
Pollard protests the stoppage a little but Welch displayed his big, big power. His striking technique also looked much cleaner and less wild with a beautiful counter to end things.
After the fight, Welch comes back out to choose his coach. Welch asks Warren if he's going to run his camp like a hard-nosed wrestling camp or a more modern MMA gym. Welch with more tough questions as he asks Jackson and Couture if their focus will be divided given the amount of other fighters they have. The questions may have been scripted for Welch as he stutters and pauses a little giving them out.
All four coaches express that they want Welch but: TIM WELCH SELECTS TEAM GREG JACKSON citing the desire to pick Jackson's brain for six weeks.
PRELIMINARY FIGHT #2 - ERIC SCALLAN VS. CHRIS CURTIS
Scallan (11-4) is a well-rounded fighter who got his start in MMA training with Dustin Poirier and Tim Credeuer and is fighting at home here in Louisiana. The southpaw is light on his feet, mixing kicks and punches effectively but given his wrestling background prefers to get the fight to the mat. Scallan's wrestling is only decent, however, and he has had issues taking better opposition down, leading to defeats when the competition level has stepped up.
Curtis (7-3) is an athletic southpaw who lost to Forrest Petz on June 1, so he likely did not experience prolonged success on Fight Master. Curtis flashed a powerful left hand along with flying and more traditional "non-flying" knees. Curtis' willingness to reach for the plum from the clinch doesn't help his already deficient wrestling game, and overall lacking grappling skills.
Scallan throws a head kick at the start of the first round as Curtis reaches out to touch hands, a definite cheap shot. Later we see Curtis dropping Scallan with a flash knockdown off of a stiff jab. A big knee when the two come together drops Scallan again. After that, it's takedown city as we see clips of five or six Scallan takedowns. We don't see any of Scallan's work on top or control.....which must not have been that strong if he needed five or six takedowns over two rounds.
Winner: Eric Scallan by Majority Decision
From the highlights, Scallan did not impress, having to work doggedly to take Curtis down and apparently struggling to hold him down, There were no clips of Scallan landing effective offense. Couture was also unimpressed calling pretty much every aspect of Scallan's game raw.
This is incredible. Warren also confesses not to really wanting Scallan. When asked, Jackson says that he thinks that either Couture or Warren would be best to help hone Scallan's takedown abilities. ERIC SCALLAN SELECTS TEAM JOE WARREN. Someone picked Joe Warren! And it's someone who Warren didn't even want!
PRELIMINARY FIGHT #3 - BRENDAN TIERNEY VS. NICK BARNES
Tierney (10-5) has been trained by Thomas Denny and is now fighting out of the Power MMA team in Arizona. Tierney is decently well-rounded but is entering the show off of consecutive losses. Tierney can display clean, straight punches with some power coming from his very long frame which also helps his solid grappling game, particularly out of scrambles. Tierney has worn punishment extremely poorly against better competition and also slows markedly as the fight wears on.
Barnes (6-0) is a San Diego native and is one of the few untested prospects on the show. Barnes looks to be fairly athletic and has been extremely aggressive, diving headlong for takedowns and pounding and passing like crazy once on top to secure quick submission victories. However, he has faced woeful competition, and there's not much you can take from his victories, other than he can submit guys who hand him their neck.
After an initial feeling out period, Barnes charges forward pumping and landing with both hands throwing wild hooks. From there he drops for and completes a double leg driving Tierney down and against the fence. Tierney threatens with a kimura and heel hook attempt although both leave him with no hands to defend and Barnes smashes away. The leglock attempt does allow Tierney to scramble back up though. The two stand in front of each other and Barnes is firing away, big overhand left, straight right, uppercut, left, right! They clinch up and now it's in the much longer Tierney's territory as he lands three giant knees from the plum in succession dropping Barnes.
Tierney hops onto the back and looks for the choke before securing his hooks. He eventually slides them in but is really high on the back before locking in a nasty reverse triangle from back control. Barnes is working himself free out the back door but is in danger of leaving an arm behind. Barnes is free and on top, he spins and easily takes the back of the turtled Tierney. Barnes softens Tierney up with some punches before sinking in the rear naked for the win!
Winner: Nick Barnes by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 4:25 of R2
Wild fight. Barnes stepped up the competition level a tad and still was largely able to impose his aggressive, wild swinging, takedown, rear naked choke game apart from getting plunked with the knee and the reverse triangle wildness thrown in. Frank Shamrock pushes hard for Barnes to join his team and Barnes relents. NICK BARNES SELECTS TEAM FRANK SHAMROCK.
PRELIMINARY FIGHT #4 - DARRYL COBB VS. AJ MATTHEWS
Cobb (6-6) is entering the show on a five fight losing streak, highlighting the major holes in his game. Cobb does have decent hands, but his defensive wrestling and grappling acumen are glaring weaknesses for opponents to latch onto. Once inevitably put onto the ground, Cobb tends to either lay flat on his back and eat shots, or give up position to try to get up and ends up submitted.
Matthews (6-2) generated some buzz as a prospect as he combines a quick and athletic frame with some explosive and flashy finishes utilizing leaping knees and hard kicks. Matthews fights in bursts which allows less skilled fighters to turn fights into close contests, as does his lack of top control and his potential issues with his chin.
We see Cobb controlling the striking throwing a THRUST KICK, multiple jabs and a TON of leg kicks. He also finishes a takedown and takes Matthews back before the round ends. Round two is the opposite as Matthews starts landing his punishing kicks, a clipped head kick and horrific body and leg shots. Matthews takes Cobb down and lands big hammerfists, but lets Cobb back up as he looks for an armlock.
The fight is a majority draw so it goes to a third with Cobb looking worn down. Matthews easily picks Cobb up and slams him down then rides Cobb out for the round, landing ground and pound from the guard and riding positions.
Winner: AJ Matthews by Unanimous Decision
Matthews showed the good and bad of his game, he has a flashy, damaging stand up game when he imposes his will. Too often he lets lesser fighters such as Cobb dictate the pace and steal rounds. In addition his ground game is decent but his defensive wrestling and top control both need major work. Matthews admits that he was not yet a fan when Frank Shamrock was competing, so he's not sure what Shamrock would offer him. FOUR FIGHTERS FOUR DIFFERENT GYMS as AJ MATTHEWS SELECTS TEAM RANDY COUTURE. Part of me thinks this is a complete work to make each of the four coaches seem like worthy and relatively equal selections.
PRELIMINARY FIGHT #5 - JOSH QUAYHAGEN VS. CHRIS LOZANO
Quayhagen (6-1) is a former hotel bellboy came out of nowhere to outbox noted Muay Thai kickboxer Cosmo Alexandre in both men's professional debuts at lightweight in Bellator. Alexandre avenged that loss in Quayhagen's last fight, but Quayhagen has proven the initial win was no fluke displaying a fearless, aggressive, technical striking game with excellent movement and defense, good counters, a stiff jab and an assortment of kicks. Quayhagen throws in combination with power in both hands. Quayhagen's wrestling and grappling games still lag far behind his striking, but his polished stand-up game makes him one of the few fighters on the show with actual potential, albeit probably at Lightweight.
But it looks like Bjorn Rebney HATES Quayhagen as after making him fight Alexandre for his pro debut on short notice, he has to fight series favorite Lozano in the opening round.
Lozano (10-3) is an ultra-powerful Ohioan who has competed in two previous Bellator welterweight tournaments. Lozano is a big welterweight who fights mean with serious power in everything he throws, punches, knees, leg kicks, spinning elbows. Lozano is relatively well rounded with improving defensive wrestling and grappling. In his losses he's eaten big shots from opponents who picked him apart, taking advantage of his headhunting ways, and his grappling is still exploitable, particularly his penchant for giving up his back or position to try and get back up.
Quayhagen lands a few really nice, sharp kicks to open things up to the legs and the head. But all it takes is for Lozano to catch one and then Lozano swarms him and jumps right to mount. Jackson talks about the much bigger and stronger Lozano ragdolling the outmatched Quayhagen. Quayhagen gets back to his feet but eats a number of shots to do so.
In the second round, Lozano is slowing down a bit as he throws absolutely everything into every shot. He's still able to take Quayhagen down, pinning him against the cage in half guard, pinning an arm behind Quayhagen's back, Schultz/Horodecki style, and starts pounding away. Quayhagen somehow survives to the bell but eats INSANE punishment from Lozano's monstrous ground and pound.
Winner: Chris Lozano by Unanimous Decision
Quayhagen's face is a complete mess. The whole thing. Both eyes are swollen. HIS WHOLE FACE IS PURPLE. Quayhagen's matchmaking in Bellator proves that life is not fair. Lozano has previously trained with Jackson and all coaches seem impressed with him, Shamrock even pushes Lozano towards Jackson in what he claims is a reverse psychology ploy. SOMEHOW IT WORKS as Lozano says since he's already learned with Jackson he wants to learn from another great mind.
LOZANO SELECTS TEAM FRANK SHAMROCK.
This show was enjoyable. The coaches gimmick is actually well executed and all four of the coaches come off as knowledgeable and interesting. So far, the show does not look to be a TUF clone at all.
It looks like they're going to milk three or four episodes out of the fighters choosing the coaches gimmick which is fine, that is the most unique and engaging part of the show. After that? I don't know, I really don't care about house antics, and very few of the fighters have real long-term potential. Of the fighters who fought tonight, I only see Lozano making any sort of long-term impact although Barnes and Matthews at least have some modicum of potential.