The eight prodigious 145-pounders preparing to step into the Bellator ring later this evening with hopes of advancing towards a crack at champ Joe Warren and a $100,000 paycheck all come from a variety of backgrounds with a multitude of disciplines at their respective cores. Those differences will be put to the test tonight on MTV2 and, according to recent comments from the group, are in essence motivating them all to push forward no matter what and prove themselves in the process.
“I know Nazareno is a really good Jiu-Jitsu guy, and that’s my biggest weakness, but just because that’s his strength doesn’t mean I won’t play into it. I’m more than game to go to the ground with him. If my strategy involves taking him to the ground, then that’s what I’m going to do,” said Daniel Straus of his impending match-up with “Naza” Malegarie. “I don’t really know any of the guys (he) fought before me, so I can’t really say how tough they were. I can only tell you how tough I’m going to be for him. It’s not going to be easy for him to do anything to me.”
“I’ve never fought a wrestler like Daniel but I’m ready for anything,” the 19-0 Brazilian responded in regards to the challenge ahead of him. “I’ve been training really hard on my wrestling. I’m completely prepared to fight (him) anywhere the fight goes. Whether it’s on the ground or standing, I’m ready.”
Fellow tournament participant and BJJ expert Wilson Reis also expressed preparedness for all aspects of his bout against Zac George, saying, “I definitely think I’ll have the advantage on the ground, but I’m also very confident on my feet as well. I’m absolutely ready for anything that Zac has to bring. I know there are going to be no easy fights in this tournament, so I expect for Zac to be a really tough fight, but it’s a fight I definitely expect to win.”
George appeared ready to test Reis’ confidence in an improved striking game but also mentioned a lack of fear regarding the 26-year old grappler’s mat-based attack, replying, “I know Wilson is extremely decorated in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and that’s awesome for him, but I’ve tapped out a lot of black belts. I like to describe what I do as ‘Anti-Jiu-Jitsu’, because when you add the strikes in there, it really opens things up,” when asked about his opponent’s abilities. “I’m sure it’s going to go to the ground at some point in the fight, but it’s going to be me on top, punching him and busting him up.”
Meanwhile, Kenny Foster’s fight with highly-decorated amateur wrestler Eric Larkin may not pit two individuals with vastly different styles against each other but should provide an example of the difference between success in the cage and on the collegiate level, at least according to Foster.
“I know Eric is an incredibly talented wrestler, but I think that wrestling is wrestling and MMA is an entirely different sport. This isn’t going to be wrestling and I feel like he still has to prove that he can transition his wrestling to make it work for MMA, which is something I feel like I do well,” said the New Yorker. “I’m definitely excited to mix it up with him and see how it plays out. I’m definitely excited to mix it up with him and see how it plays out.”
Larkin seemed unworried by the assertion while explaining his focus was purely on his own capabilities and not those of his adversary. “I didn’t even know that Kenny had a wrestling background until just now,” the 3-0 Larkin began. “I don’t really concern myself with my opponent. I just know that I have to go out there and do what I know I’m capable of doing. I know he’s not going to be able to take me down, but I’m definitely excited about the fact that he’s a better competitor than I’ve faced up to this point in my fighting career.”
The final set of featherweights, Georgi Karakhanyan and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, are also additionally motivated to win based on present circumstances. Freire expressed a desire to stand alongside his brother, Bellator lightweight Patricky Freire, as promotional champion at the end of Season 4 as well as an interest in honoring manager Ivan Cavello who unexpectedly passed away at the age of 32 two weeks ago.
However, in terms of his fight with 14-2 Karakhanyan, Freire seemed to feel victory was a foregone conclusion, stating, “I am extremely confident in my ground game. My submissions are definitely better than Georgi’s. I’m sure of that. (His) striking ability does not worry me at all. I’m always prepared for all aspects of the fight. It doesn’t matter who my opponent is. But with that being said, I definitely studied his game, and I’m ready for anything he brings.”
As far as what is helping fuel Karakhanyan’s fire, the Californian deferred to last season’s tournament and the success Freire experienced en route to a razor-thin loss to Warren.
“I know Patricio ‘Pitbull’ is a well rounded fighter because he made it all the way to the finals last year, and I think that will bring the best out of me. It’s safe to say that he’s one of the most dangerous fighters I’ve fought so far. He’s a Noguiera Black Belt in Jiu-Jitsu so I’m definitely excited about the challenge that represents. I want fights like this. I want to constantly challenge myself so I definitely feel like this is going to bring the best out of me.”
“I would definitely like to go out there and finish the fight,” Karakhanyan continued, “…but I’m a smart fighter so if I have to win a decision, I’ll win a decision; if I see a submission, I’ll take the submission; and if I see an opening for a flying knee, I’m going to use my flying knee.”
Fans can tune in on MTV2 at a special start-time of 7:00 PM EST to see who from the group lives up to their own expectations and progresses to the semi-final round of the Bellator Season 4 Featherweight Tournament!