Bellator preview (cont.)
Led by champion Eddie Alvarez, 19-2, the division could have the biggest payoff for the promotion at the close of Season 2. That's presuming Alvarez, 26, meets Huerta, the best-known fighter in each of the four tournaments.
Roger Huerta -- A big-money free agent signing from UFC, the 26-year-old Huerta, 20-3, provides name recognition and an established baseline from which to determine the level of competition among Season 2's crop of 155-pound fighters. He enters Bellator after decision losses in the UFC to Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard.
Chad Hinton -- A two-year veteran of MMA, Hinton, 38, brings power into a fight. With a 6-0 mark, he'll be tested immediately in an April 8 bout against Huerta.
Farrid Kheder -- The 35-year-old Frenchman with Spanish and Arabic roots scored seventh place in judo for France at the 2000 Olympics. He entered MMA six years later and has compiled a 16-5 record (winning 11 of 12). Kheder is solid defensively, but perhaps not the best finisher in the field.
Toby Imada -- The lone returning lightweight, Imada, 31, was recognized in 2009 for his inverted triangle submission against Jorge Masvidal, which became a viral video hit on YouTube. Imada (23-13 and 9-1 in his last 10) resides in Los Angeles. He was stopped by Alvarez in last year's lightweight tournament finale.
Mike Ricci -- He trains under Firas Zahabi at the TriStar gym in Montreal and is a training partner of UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. The 6-foot-tall Ricci is 5-0 as a pro.
Pat Curran -- Another young fighter, he's a cousin of veteran Jeff Curran, who oversees Pat's training just outside Chicago. The 22-year-old fighter (9-3) is capable of making a run against bigger-name opponents.
Joe Duarte -- Replacing Janne Tulirinta after the Finnish fighter withdrew because of visa issues, Duarte (5-1) is a former U.S. Army Ranger and Purple Heart recipient who was wounded by roadside bomb shrapnel in Iraq. He's best known for losing to Phillipe Nover on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter. A great story, but he seems unlikely to advance into the later rounds.
Carey Vanier -- A wrester with a 7-2 MMA record, the 28-year-old Vanier trains as part of Greg Jackson's network of gyms. His is the kind of story that Bellator tries to highlight: an All-American whose life got in the way of his athletics. He would be one of the more unlikely fighters to get the chance to fight Alvarez.
Favorite: Roger Huerta
Long shot: Joe Duarte
Dark horse: Mike Ricci
Winner: Roger Huerta
Joe Soto (8-0) showed in Season One that new talent can emerge out of the tournament format. The largely unknown, Northern California-based grappler shook up his division with a decision over favorite Wilson Reis in the semifinals, before pounding Yahir Reyes in the championship bout.
Wilson Reis -- One of the few fighters who returns for a second crack at a Bellator title, the powerful and compact 25-year-old Brazilian trains in San Diego at The Alliance with the likes of current WEC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Reis, 9-1, is known for his jiu-jitsu, a strong single-leg takedown, and unorthodox striking.
Shad Lierley -- The former fighter in the now-defunct International Fight League wrestled at New York University and has transitioned to the 145-pound division, where he remains unbeaten. With a 5-2 overall record, the 29-year-old is at his best when he pushes the pace against opponents.
Boa Quach -- An established veteran, Quach has bounced around weight divisions before settling in recent years at 145 pounds. The 30-year-old fighter is 17-9-1 (he's won 10 of 11 fights) and trains under Colin Oyama in Irvine, CA.
Georgi Karakhanyan -- A former professional indoor soccer player, Karkhanyan, 24, was regarded as one of the top unsigned prospects at 145 pounds before Bellator scooped him up for the Season Two tourney. His 12-1-1 record features eight wins by submission. Karkhanyan is just the kind of fighter who could make a name for himself in this format.
Joe Warren -- Though he has had just three fights (2-1), the 33-year-old is as decorated an athlete as there is in MMA. In 2006, Warren won the Greco-Roman world championship, and would have been the favorite for gold at the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, but was suspended from competition for two years after testing positive for marijuana. He debuted in MMA in 2009, upsetting Chase Beebe and Norifumi Yamamoto before succumbing to Bibiano Fernandes in the Dream Featherweight Grand Prix.
Eric Marriott -- Possessing one of the best records in the field, the 24-year-old has won his last nine bouts, and is 17-3 overall. There are questions about the level of his opposition, but they should be answered early in the tournament when he has a chance to make a splash against Warren.
Patricio Freire -- "Pitbull" makes his American debut with a 12-0 record, all fights in his native Brazil. The 22-year-old, who trains with Brazilian Top Team, is known for his knockout power.
William Romero -- A Muay Thai fighter first, the 5-0 Romero hails from just outside Toronto. A former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, he appears to be the least likely entry in the field to earn the shot against Soto.
Favorite: Joe Warren
Long shot: William Romero
Dark horse: Patricio Freire
Winner: Joe Warren