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Bellator 97 May Be Bellator's Best Yet; Headliner Michael Chandler Welcomes UFC Comparisons

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COMMENTARY | Two title fights. Two tournament finals. Only 11 losses between 10 main-card combatants. That's what Bellator 97 is offering July 31 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., in what may be one of the promotion's best events yet.

And it's what is building interest in the Ultimate Fighting Champion's rival promotion.

"Mark July 31st in your calendars: We are 2 weeks out from the most stacked card we've ever done live on @SpikeTV!" tweeted Bellator President Bjorn Rebney back on July 17.

Action-packed shows have become a Bellator staple. Bellator 96 on June 19 featured nine finishes out of 13 fights. Before that, Bellator 95 racked up eight finishes, while Bellator 94 wound up with six finishes. Entertainment is an expectation as each fighter battles to control his or her destiny through the organization's tournament-based format.

That level of action, as well as the organization's developing talent, has some people wondering just how Bellator stacks up against the big man on the block -- the UFC.

It's a comparison that Bellator's recently re-signed lightweight champion, Michael Chandler, whose title fight with David "Caveman" Rickels headlines the event, said is good for mixed martial arts.

"It's something you never want to get tired of hearing, after all it's good for the sport," Chandler said. "It's always good to have other organizations have success, sign big guys, have big-name guys, have top-10-ranked guys on the roster. You don't get tired of it. All I can do is really focus on keeping the main thing the main thing, which is myself, my training, my legacy that I'm trying to build and my legacy that I'm trying to leave. I don't get sick of [the comparison]. I get asked about it a lot or you hear about it a lot, but competition is good."

While the signing of Chandler to an eight-fight deal speaks volumes about Bellator's future, it goes without saying that the caliber of fighters across the board does not yet compare. And few would argue it does.

However, Bellator and its upcoming show can argue -- and boast -- great entertainment value.

On July 31, Chandler (11-0-0, five submissions) puts his belt and undefeated record on the line against Season 8 Lightweight Tournament winner Rickels (14-1-0, six submissions) in the main event. Chandler and Rickels put on great shows each time they enter the cage, so expect the fight to be action-packed from the start.

In the co-main event, welterweight champion Ben Askren (11-0-0, three submissions) will attempt to defend his belt against the fast-rising and explosive Andrey Koreshkov (13-0-0, eight KO/TKOs). Both men are undefeated and highly motivated.

The four main- and co-main event fighters have a combined record of 49-1-0.

All tallied, the main card features a 118-11-0 record.

"It will sound good on TV and it will look good on TV, and hopefully there will be some dominant performances," Chandler said of the event. "I can only guarantee my preparation. I know I'm prepared to go out there and show my dominance and show how hard I've been working. That's all I can vouch for, but with the guys on the card -- the names on the card, it's bound to be a great show."

Outside of the two title fights, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal (10-2-0, eight KO/TKOs) and Jacob Noe (12-2-0, six KO/TKOs) battle in the Summer Series Light Heavyweight Tournament finals for a shot at the winner of Attila Vegh and Emanuel Newton. "King Mo" is coming of a quick knockout of Seth Petruzelli, while Noe most recently made short work of Renato "Babalu" Sobral.

Meanwhile, Vitaly Minakov and Ryan Martinez will call a close to the heavyweight tournament, the winner earning a shot at Alexander Volkov's belt. Minakov (11-0-0, six KO/TKOs) has finished his last five opponents by either KO or TKO, while Martinez (10-2-0, five KO/TKOs) is coming off two straight knockouts. Expect these heavy-handed heavyweights to come out swinging.

In all, the 10 men on the main card, which also includes Patricio Freire vs. Jared Downing, have a combined 49 knockouts and 36 submissions.

And Bellator 97 promises more of the same.

"I'm excited to be a part of it," Chandler said.

Main Card

Michael Chandler vs. David Rickels

Ben Askren vs. Andrey Koreshkov

Muhammed Lawal vs. Jacob Noe

Ryan Martinez vs. Vitaly Minakov

Jared Downing vs. Patricio Freire

Prelims

Will Brooks vs. Cris Leyva

Rodrigo Lima vs. Rafael Silva

Frank Baca vs. Anthony Leone

Mike Barreras vs. Bubba Jenkins

Richard Jacquez vs. Javier Palacios

Keith Berry vs. Jeremy Kimball

Felipe Chavez vs. Adrian Cruz

Shawn Bunch vs. Steve Garcia

Donald Sanchez vs. Cliff Wright

Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications.

Source: Personal Interview

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