There’s already been one Bellator card since Scott Coker took over the reins of the promotion early this year, but Bellator 123 is the first event that Coker has really been able to put his stamp on. With that in mind, this looks very much like a Strikeforce card. It’s headlined by a solid title fight in the promotion’s best division, but beyond that the bouts are reminiscent of either the mismatches Coker’s old promotion put on regularly, or the type of fight designed purely for action purposes. The title fight rematch between defending featherweight champ Pat Curran and two-time tournament winner Patricio Freire, has been highly anticipated ever since their original meeting was one of the best bouts of 2013. Freire was passed over for a title shot because of politics, and that did not endear the previous Bellator regime to him at all. It will be interesting to see if that disdain trickles over to Coker and co. or not. Muhammed Lawal fought for Coker in Strikeforce and became the promotion’s light heavyweight champion. Despite high expectations for him in Bellator, has hasn’t been able to reach those same heights despite some favorable matchmaking along the way. After dropping two of his past three, he needs an emphatic victory to stay relevant at 205, but as long as Emanuel Newton remains champ, it’s unlikely he gets another shot at the belt any time soon. Lavar Johnson was featured on the televised portions of many Strikeforce: Challengers cards, because he is exciting. That’s exactly what the organization is hoping to get out of Johnson here, but pairing him with Cheick Kongo either means this could be deliciously violent, or a drag of a 15 minutes. Bobby Lashley is another reclamation project Coker has undertaken from his Strikeforce days. After losing as a massive favorite to Chad Griggs in what would become his final Strikeforce bout, Lashley has gone 5-1. More recently, he’s re-energized his pro wrestling career by becoming the world champion of TNA, and one must think that his placement on this card could be in order to draw some of the pro wrestling crowd over to Bellator. We saw how poorly that worked with Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson, and Lashley is a legitimate pro wrestler, so it could have a happier ending this time around. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting lines for Bellator 123 today at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Check them out: ——————– MAIN CARD (Spike TV, 8pm ET) Bellator Featherweight Title Pat Curran -120 Patricio Freire -120 Muhammed Lawal -600 Dustin Jacoby +400 Bobby Lashley -1200 Josh Burns +600 Cheick Kongo -190 Lavar Johnson +150 ——————– Brad’s Analysis: The Curran/Pitbull rematch is probably the best MMA bout this weekend (yes, better than Jacare/Mousasi), and no matter what is happening on the UFC’s broadcast at the time, I’ll be tuning into Spike to watch this fight. It’s going to be extremely competitive — like the first bout — and will probably go to the judges — like the first bout — but I’m siding with Freire this time around. I think his aggression will play better in the judges eyes than Curran’s counterstriking, and if there does happen to be a finish, I would expect it to come from the Brazilian. Curran has moved to a new camp for this bout, but his style of fighting is more instinctual than strategic, so I don’t see him looking much different here than he has in the past, and I expect Pitbull to be ready. If the line moves any more in Curran’s favor and I can grab Freire at even or better, I’m making that play. I have zero desire to bet on any of the other fights on this card. Lawal should be able to ground Dustin Jacoby and make things look easy on the mat, but Jacoby is a decent striker (don’t let his GLORY resume fool you, he’s still not a spectacular MMA striker) and Mo’s chin isn’t the most stout. Bobby Lashley should destroy Josh Burns. Flat out destroy him. Burns is essentially Bellator’s “Brooklyn Brawler”. He’s fought in the organization four previous times and gone 0-4. Even when Eric Prindle needed a win they called Burns, and the job was done. Burns throws a hard punch, and that’s about the extent of his game. Lashley hasn’t shown a particularly soft chin in MMA, but his problem has been dreadful cardio. Against Burns however, his wrestling will be so superior that even if the gas tank is on empty, he’ll still get takedowns to win a decision. More likely however is a keylock or neck crank stoppage in the first. Still, this is Bobby Lashley. Are you going to lay a big number on the only guy other than a 46-year-old Dan Severn who lost to James Thompson by decision? Me either. Kongo is the better overall fighter than Johnson, but like Mo his chin is extremely worrisome. If Johnson hits him within the first couple minutes of this bout, things could be all over. Outside of that, Kongo takes him down and wins a decision. I see both possibilities being quite likely, but I’m not willing to bet on either based on this opener.
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