If you're a fan of mixed martial arts, you need to be paying attention to the Bellator Fighting Championships. It's as simple as that.
Entering their second season, the brain child of Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is quickly becoming one of the most anticipated series of events on the 2010 MMA calendar.
Their initial season delivered a number of highlight reel finishes, including the 2009 Submission of the Year, and gave lesser known fighters an opportunity to gain greater exposure. Now they're ready to do it all again and the mixed martial arts community can't wait.
At the center of the excitement are the four divisional tournaments. From featherweight to middleweight, eight fighters begin with the goal of being champion. Last year's winners now sit atop their respective divisions, with this year's competitors fighting for a title shot.
Those champions are a mix of two exciting prospects, a well-respected lightweight, and a Cuban wrecking machine: Lyman Good (welterweight) and Joe Soto (featherweight) are two of the better prospects in their divisions, while Eddie Alvarez is universally recognized as one of the top five lightweights on the planet, and then there is Hector Lombard.
The former Olympian and American Top Team product is riding a 12-fight winning streak and hasn't dropped a contest since losing a decision to Gegard Mousasi in 2006. Sitting at 24-2-1, the Cuban who was once slated to compete in the UFC is certainly back on the company's radar.
Even though the complete rosters for this season's series of tournaments have yet to be announced, the names that have been released have fight fans eager awaiting the April 8 start date.
With six of the eight participants announced, this year's welterweight tournament is garnering the most attention, and for good reason.
Two of the top prospects in the sport are in the field, as Arizona Combat Sports fighter Jacob "Tick Tock" McClintock (6-0) and former Olympian Ben "Funky" Askren (3-0) make up one-third of the announced field.
Adding to the anticipation is the inclusion of "Judo" Jim Wallhead (18-5-0), a member of Team Rough House. Training along side of Dan Hardy, four members of the TUF 9 team (Dean Amisinger, Nick Osicpzak, Ross Pearson, and Andre Winner) and Paul "Semtex" Daley, the company is impressive, but so too is Wallhead, who many consider the best British fighter outside of the UFC.
The most talked about member of the announced sextet is Dan "The Handler" Hornbuckle (19-2-0). A fighting nomad who has competed in more organizations than can rightfully be listed here, Hornbuckle came into focus last year with an impressive two-fight performance at Sengoku's ninth and 10th Battles.
First, the Illinois native with a background in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu delivered one of the best knockouts of the year, finishing former UFC competitor and respected veteran Akihiro Gono with a devastating headkick.
A little more than a month later, Hornbuckle was back at it, stopping Nick "The Goat" Thompson by TKO in the second round, pushing his winning streak to four and proving the Gono win was far from a fluke.
Steve Carl (7-1-0) and Canadian wrestling champion Sean Pierson (9-4-0) round out the already announced welterweight group.
In addition to the noteworthy names taking part in the welterweight tournament, the announced fighters for the remaining competitions are equally impressive.
The Featherweight tournament features 2009 DREAM Grand Prix runner-up Joe Warren (2-1-0), veteran Bao Quach (17-9-1), up-and-coming Canadian Will Romero (5-0-0), as well as highly-regarded Patricio "Pitbull" Freire (12-0-0), Georgi "Insane" Karakhanyan, (12-1-1) and last year's early favorite Wilson Reis (9-1-0). And there are still two more spots to fill.
Both the lightweight and middleweight tournaments only have three fighters announced, but all three are the kind of quality prospects fight fans can come to expect from Bellator.
Mike Ricci (5-0-0): Canadian prospect who trains with Georges St-Pierre under Firas Zahabi at Tri-Star Gym in Montreal
Ferrid Khader (16-5-0): 2000 Olympic Judo competitor who holds a win over former UFC competitor Drew Fickett and lost early in his career to current UFC welterweight contender Paulo Thiago.
Carey Vanier (7-2-0): He was invited to New Mexico to help Donald Cerrone train in November and has been there ever since. That should tell you what you need to know.
Eric Schambari (11-1-0): Holds wins over Art Santore and Logan Clark in the WEC, and trains with Irvin Bounds in Victorville, Calif.
Bryan Baker (11-1-0): His lone loss came to Chael Sonnen at WEC 33. "The Beast" also holds wins over TUF alum Rory Singer, Matt "Suave" Horwich, and fellow tournament competitor Eric Schambari.
Matt Major (6-1-0): A former competitor on the TapouT reality show, Major is best known for him impressive victory over "Mr. International" Shonie Carter, and, as Sergio Non of USA Today put it "being a fighter with a sizable chip on his shoulder."
They may not be household names, but that is the beauty of Bellator and regional promotions everywhere.
Everyone knows the Anderson Silvas and BJ Penns of the world, but the stars of tomorrow will come from events like this.
Instead of being the next to board the bandwagon of the latest addition to the UFC roster, this is your chance to be the first to follow 32 of the most talented prospects the sport has to offer.
Season two of the Bellator Fighting Championships will air LIVE on Fox Sports Net in the United States and The Score Television Network in Canada beginning Thursday, April 8.
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