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Bellator Vengeance: Homegrown stars headline final tentpole event of 2015

Friday night, Bellator returns to Spike TV with its final “tentpole” event of the year. Last year, when Scott Coker took over the promotion, a new strategy was unveiled in which they would build to big quarterly PPV-like special events. Results to this point have been somewhat mixed with the most recent big show, Dynamite, drawing a very disappointing TV rating for a mixed kickboxing /MMA show built around a tournament for a Light Heavyweight title shot and Tito Ortiz challenging for the title.

This weekend’s event is unique in the sense that most of the stars of the show are “homegrown” but in terms of a show with no outside names, it’s as big as it gets for the #2 promotion in the US. Two title fights headline the show, all featuring long-time Bellator stars who date back to the days of the tournament schedule in Patricio “Pitbull” Friere, Daniel Straus, Will Brooks and Marcin Held.

Michael Chandler, who has appeared on most of the highest rated shows in company history, including headlining the first show to do 1 million viewers, will fight David “Caveman” Rickells in a title eliminator bout. Bobby Lashley, the former WWE and current Impact Wrestling star will face James Thompson in a rematch of a 2012 fight in India. Rounding out the card are two featherweight contenders in Justin Lawrence and Emmanuel Sanchez squaring off in what will probably be a good fight but seems better suited for the prelims.

Bellator has used a 3 part TV series, Road to Vengeance, to build up interest in this show and Will Brooks and Patricio Pitbull have been going non-stop at each on Twitter since their respective fights were signed. The first episode on Spike did 272,000 viewers airing at 1130 pm eastern, which is about what the UFC Countdown shows do. What this means for Friday’s rating? We’ll find out early next week.

We will have extensive coverage of the show on the site, with the weigh-ins on Thursday night and the Spike.com prelims on Friday afternoon/evening, leading into the show. The five match main card kicks off at 9 pm eastern on Spike TV and should go about 3 hours with a ton of video features as well as the likely elaborate walk-outs that have become a staple of the big Bellator shows.  David Rickells in particular will likely have a memorable walk-out with his Caveman gimmick.

Some talking points going into the show:

Will a show headlined by mostly really good fights with the top talent that Bellator has do better ratings than a show with a pro-wrestling type build around guys mostly past their primes?

Every fighter on the card, with the possible exception of James Thompson, is top 100 in their division. With UFC having most of the world’s top fighters under contract, that’s as good as it gets in Bellator. Most of these fighters are UFC caliber with Chandler, Friere and Brooks possible title contenders if they were ever to fight there.

What’s next for Michael Chandler?

The former title holder has already beaten David Rickells once, knocking him out in the first minute of a 2013 fight. Most expect him to win the rematch. He’s already lost twice to current champion Will Brooks. He also lost to Eddie Alvarez, who’s been struggling in UFC. If Brooks were to lose to Marcin Held, they could certainly book a Chander/Held rematch (they fought in 2011, with Chandler winning by first round submission) but if Brooks wins, Chandler’s in limbo. He seems too big to cut to 145 but too small for Welterweight.

Is Bobby Lashley a title contender?

Lashley is on a six fight win streak, which would be the longest in the division for anyone in Bellator or UFC (UFC Champion Fabricio Werdum also has 6 wins in a row, against much tougher competition). But Lashley’s opponents have all been relative unknowns. He’s gotten the job done, finishing off all but Tony Melton but at 39 years old, it’s now or never for Lashley. Vitaly Minakov is the current Bellator Heavyweight champion but he has not fought for the promotion in two years and is at a contract impasse. Should Bellator not be able to come to terms with him, it might make sense to book a tournament for the title and Lashley would certainly be a prominent part of that tournament.

Friday night, we’ll either get some answers to these questions or at least have a clearer idea of the road ahead for Bellator as they complete their first calendar year under Scott Coker’s direction. Next year, the current plan is for more big events (up to 6 from 4) and more “regular” events. With Spike having cancelled Glory kickboxing, there would seem to be more need for Bellator shows in 2016. When they were running weekly on Friday nights, the audience base was steady but growing and a return to that format could help them out in the future.

Here’s the full card as currently scheduled:

Main Card:

  • Bellator Featherweight World Title Bout: Patricio Freire (24-2) vs. Daniel Straus (23-6)
  • Bellator Lightweight World Title Bout: Will Brooks (16-1) vs. Marcin Held (21-3)
  • Bellator Featherweight Feature Bout: Emmanuel Sanchez (11-2) vs. Justin Lawrence (7-2)
  • Bellator Lightweight Feature Bout: Michael Chandler (13-3) vs. Dave Rickels (16-3)
  • Bellator Heavyweight Feature Bout: Bobby Lashley (13-2) vs. James Thompson (20-14)

Preliminary Card:

  • Bellator Heavyweight Feature Bout: Alex Huddleston (6-1) vs. Augusto Sakai (8-0)
  • Bellator Welterweight Feature Bout: Adam Cella (6-4) vs. Chel Erwin-Davis (2-1)
  • Bellator Welterweight Feature Bout: Garrett Gross (6-4) vs. Luke Nelson (2-1)
  • Bellator Lightweight Feature Bout: Steve Mann (11-2) vs. Hugh Pulley (5-2)
  • Bellator Featherweight Feature Bout: Chris Heatherly (9-3) vs. Vince Eazelle (9-2)
  • Bellator Welterweight Feature Bout: Kevin Engel (4-0) vs. Kyle Kurtz (4-1)
  • Bellator Heavyweight Feature Bout: Kain Royer (1-2) vs. Clay Mitchell (1-0)
  • Bellator Middleweight Feature Bout: Adam Meredith (3-1) vs. Jordan Dowdy (2-0)
  • Bellator Bantamweight Feature Bout: Garrett Mueller (2-0) vs. Scott Ettling (3-0
  • Bellator Lightweight Feature Bout: Brandon Lowe (debut) vs. Rashard Lovelace (1-0)