Bellator, Dream Highlight Big Weekend Outside UFC

Shinya Aoki

Plenty of MMA action to enjoy Friday and Saturday

UFC 135 isn’t the only mixed martial arts event of note taking place this weekend; far from it, actually.

Bellator and Dream are both poised to deliver exciting events, each featuring bantamweight tournament action, while the Strikeforce Challengers series returns to The Pearl at The Palms for another round of fights.

The third of Bellator’s four Season 5 tournaments hits the cage this weekend in Canton, Ohio, as the bantamweight quarterfinals headline Bellator 51.

All four of the opening round match-ups are quality affairs, with the best of the bunch being a pairing between Bellator featherweight champ Joe Warren and Olympic bronze medalist (Freestyle wrestling, 1996) Alexis Vila. This one has become heated, with the combatants exchanging verbal jabs in the prelude to the fight.

The other three opening round pairings are Ed West vs. Luis Alberto Nogueira, Bellator tournament veteran Wilson Reis against Nova Uniao standout Eduardo Dantas, and Marcos Galvao versus former WEC champ Chase Beebe.

Bantamweights are featured prominently on the Dream 17 card as well, as the opening round of the Dream World Bantamweight Grand Prix begins. The event features WEC veteran Antonio Banuelos, former Dream featherweight champ Bibiano Fernandes, leglock master Masakazu Imanari, and King of the Cage standout Abel Cullum.

While the 135 pound athletes take center stage in the Bellator event, they’re merely part of an outstanding line-up at the Saitama Super Arena Saturday for Dream. The event features a number of recognizable names, including former UFC middleweight Gerald Harris, MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba, and long-time Japanese standout Caol Uno.

Tatsuya Kawajiri makes his featherweight debut in the co-main event against Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen, while Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki faces former WEC champ “Razor” Rob McCullough in a non-title bout in the main event. This will mark the first Dream event where bouts will be contested as three, five-minute rounds rather than the traditional 10/5, two round structure.

Even before Bellator and Dream cast the spotlight on the lighter weight classes, Stirkeforce Challengers 19 delivers a quality line-up of fights on Friday night in Las Vegas.

There are a number of interesting talents dotting the fight card for Friday night’s event at The Palms, including guys like Quinn Mulhern, Bobby Green, and Magno Almeida, but three fighters in particular are worth paying attention to here.

“The Kansas City Bandit” Jason High has won five straight since a one-and-done with the UFC. In that time, the soon-to-be 30-year-old defeated welterweight prospect Jordan Mein and veteran Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, and a win Friday night could punch his ticket back to the UFC.

Because of his famous last name, Ryan Couture is always going to be someone who generates attention. The son of UFC legend Randy Couture returns to the cage after losing his last outing to Matt Ricehouse. The jury is still out on Couture, and seeing how he responds to his first loss will shed some light on his future potential. He takes on Wand Fight Team member Maka Watson.

In the main event, light heavyweight prospect Lorenz Larkin looks to remain unbeaten against late replacement Nick Rossborough.

Larkin has shown flashy striking and questionable conditioning thus far, and has been able to get by. He looks like he would be much better suited to middleweight, but hasn’t shown any interest in making the cut to 185 pounds.

Elsewhere Friday night, former WEC champ Jamie Varner and ex-Strikeforce slugger Brett Rogers highlight the action at Titan Fighting Championships 20. Both are looking to fight their way back to the big leagues in 2012.