Bellator MMA returns to Spike TV in June with the start of their annual “Summer Series” tournaments. Bellator 96 airs the 19th of June, followed by Bellator 97 on July 31st as the series concentrates on mini 4-man tournaments and title defenses for champions in the 155 and 170 lb weight classes. Though the complete cards have not been released, there are several bouts on the slate that are interesting! The Bellator 96 card was to be headlined by the Lightweight title defense of Michael Chandler, taking on Bellator tournament winner Dave Jansen. It recently came to light that Jansen was forced to pull out of the bout with a knee injury, and fellow tournament champion Dave Rickels will take his place challenging Chandler. The bout will also be moved to headline Bellator 97, making it one of the most stacked cards in organizational history. Chandler looked spectacular in his last outing as he erased Rick Hawn’s challenge in the second round, and he is an undefeated 11-0. Since he took the Bellator belt from Eddie Alvarez, Bellator has not been able to keep Chandler busy enough, and he is a fighter worth watching. Chandler should be installed as the comfortable favorite, however he faces a long hard match against Rickels. The Light Heavyweight tournament features Muhammad Lawal taking on Seth Petruzelli and Jacob Noe versus Renato Sobral and is basically Bellator hitting the ‘reset’ button on the season 7 tournament that went wrong when favorites Sobral and King Mo were both wiped out before the final. Sobral and ‘King’ Mo are favored to meet in the finals again. Basically, unless someone finds Mo’s soft chin again, this tournament is meant to be a coronation of sorts, and Lawal is expected to break through. A match against 205 lb Champion Atilla Vegh or last season’s tournament champion Emanuel Newton awaits for next season. The Heavyweight Tournament has Richard Hale taking on Vinicius Quiroz and Vitaly Minakov facing Ron Sparks. Bellator is desperate to find talent in the Heavyweight division, as titleholder Alexander Volkov was given a belt that lay vacant and they have no competition at all lined up for him. This tournament will provide a body for Volkov to face, with Hale and Minakov likely being the favorites to meet in the final. Hale had his moments in the season 7 heavyweight tournament, but got beat up by Volkov in the finals. Perhaps Minakov, another Russian, can break through as Bellator has found several gems from the east, but unless that happens this tournament provides Bellator with 0 in terms of a talent upgrade at a division they see as essential. With Chandler-Rickels moving to Bellator 97, it now features two title bouts, as a 170 lb title defense for champion Ben Askren is also on the card. Askren is in contention with Chandler and Featherweight champ Pat Curran as the top talent on the roster, and is certainly the best Welterweight not in the UFC. He faces a solid challenge in Andrey Korkeshov, a fighter from Russia who is undefeated and won the season 7 welterweight tournament impressively. Korkeshov brings an aggressive all out style, and at just 22 years old, is a fighter who will be heard from for years to come. He will likely lose to Askren however, as the wrestler turned MMA world champion has been better than the competition that Bellator has provided. Askren will hopefully be pushed by the Russian’s unorthodox style, as Askren has a tendency to blanket people with his unparalleled wrestling. The tournament finals could be at Bellator 97 as well, though a formal announcement of those plans, or a date for the finals has yet to be announced.
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