King Mo Bellator MMAIt’s been awhile, but Bellator MMA is back this week with another tournament and more MMA talent from near and far. Wednesday’s Bellator 96 event will kick off the Summer Series and fresh tournaments in the Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight division, as well as the “much-anticipated” return of War Machine.

So, let’s dig into the Bellator 96 action below and see what’s in store for our Wednesday night.

King Mo vs. Seth Petruzelli: One of the biggest stars in Bellator today, King Mo will look to start his trek to the top of the division, taking on travelling fighter Seth Petruzelli.  With all the fanfare behind King Mo, there hasn’t been enough substance to get excited about on my end, and by my estimation, I’m fairly sure his knee trauma and staph infection may have ended his career.  Gone are the days of a fleet-footed wrestler, mixing takedowns and strikes into a seamless blend; replaced by a stationary power puncher of some skill. This isn’t a bad transition mind you, and it shows a great deal of determination on Lawal’s part that he’s decided to stay in the sport, having had to completely change his style to do it.

What we have here is a situation where the pre-injury King Mo would destroy Petruzelli, but this incarnation finds himself in a difficult battle.  Petruzelli is a highly mobile fighter with a wide range of strikes and the timing that comes from a lifetime in the game.  While I think Lawal can land his power on Petruzelli on occasion, it may be the exception rather than the rule here, depending on how Petruzelli engages his foe.  If there’s one thing we know about Petruzelli however, it’s that game plans aren’t always his strong suit.  Look for a tight match-up, but one where Petruzelli comes in tight a few too many times and is ultimately taken out by a counter punch, allowing KingMo to take one more step towards the Bellator crown.

Renato “Babalu” Sobral vs. Jacob Noe: Another example of a companies best laid plans coming apart, Renato Sobral fell victim to a KO by the unheralded Mikhail Zayats, but will look to return here against Jacob Noe.  Sobral is a great example of an elite fighter whose skills are sharp but body less than willing to fight at this point.  However, even an aged lion is still dangerous, and Noe has a tough test ahead of him here.

Noe comes into this fight with a dubious win over Seth Petruzelli after the Silverback suffered a leg injury in the fight.  This allowed Noe to advance in the tournament, but found himself on the mat with Mikhail Zayats, whom offered no quarter before latching a fight-ending armbar on the Midwestern wrestler.  While Sobral is on the decline, Noe was never there to begin with, and doesn’t bring anything to this fight that Babalu can’t handle.  Noe finds himself outwrestled fast and submitted within two rounds, allowing Bablu to make it into the finals of this shortened tourney.

“Spartan” Vinicius Kappke De Queiroz vs. Richard Hale: One of the most competitive fights on the card this evening, Spartan takes on Heavyweight title challenger Richard Hale.  Spartan is a massive and dangerous adversary, having a deceptive amount of speed for someone his size, and using a hard-style muay thai game.  Hale is a slightly small heavyweight, but packs more than enough power to drop any man walking, with a fair bit of timing to make that power count.  This is a coin-flip as neither guy cares for grappling and both have the power to slay the other.  In a brutal fight, I give a small edge to Hale for staying power and accuracy, though his chin could make this short indeed.

Vitaly Minakov vs. Ron Sparks:  The next “Fedor” out of Russia will make his tournament debut, as Vitaly Minakov faces hard-hitting American Ron Sparks.  Minakov is an undefeated MMA fighter with world-caliber Sambo experience, bringing the skill set and physical traits of an elite athlete to the cage.  Sparks has little in terms of skill, but his size and power make him dicey to engage in most circumstances, as it only takes one touch for the big man to send someone to the canvas.  I like Sparks, but Minakov is far too lethal at every range and I don’t see him falling prey to Spark’s somewhat novice boxing game, making this an easy night for Minakov with a first round takedown and TKO.

War Machine vs. Blas Avena:  A walking illustration of Bellator’s odd hiring policy, War Machine finally makes his debut for the company.  Having logged just one fight in the last three years and a good deal of time in prison, War Machine will look to work his way into the Welterweight tournament, facing WEC veteran Blas Avena.  Avena is a BJJ ace that’s had a hard road in MMA due to a faulty chin and lack of fire in some showings.  I’d say this is a hand-picked opponent for War Machine, but there’s no certainty when you’ve spent years on a shelf and in prison, making it a bit more of a toss-up than you’d think.  War Machine does have some power and counter-wrestling skills however and should be able to put Avena on ice early.

You can watch Wednesday’s Bellator 96 main card on Spike TV starting at 5pm Pt / 8pm ET, immediately followed by the Premiere of Fight Master: Bellator MMA.

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