Fight fans are in for a treat when Bellator MMA brings their summer series to New Mexico. On July 31st, Bellator 97 will be live inside the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho for a show that is absolutely stacked with talent from the main event to the rumored local undercard.
This past February, Bellator 91 marked Bellator MMA’s first show inside the New Mexico state lines and for their inaugural event the promotion did not disappoint. Bringing in a show headlined with a title fight and a main card full of relevant fights, the show set the bar high for any follow up visits to the “505”. Bellator 97 on paper blows that card away in terms of star power and if all of the scheduled bouts stay on the fight card, this event may be one of the best to ever come to the state.
Headlining the evening’s stacked card, undefeated and top ranked Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler (11-0) will defend his title against top challenger David Rickels (14-1). Many regional fight fans will recognize Rickels from his win over Jason Fischer back at Bellator 91 where he would earn his chance at the title shot by winning the Bellator Lightweight tournament. Chandler is notable for his four round war with Eddie Alvarez that saw Chandler capture gold with a rear-naked choke finish.
In the event’s co-main event, undefeated Welterweight Champion Ben Askren (11-0) will put his title on the line against number one contender and undefeated top prospect Andrey Koreshkov (13-0). The bout is of high anticipation and will be a rare occurrence where Champion and Challenger will both enter the bout undefeated. Askren has some of the most effective wrestling in all of MMA and Koreshkov is labeled as one of the top blue chip prospects in the sport today.
With two world title fights atop the fight card, it is difficult to imagine a main card listing on par with the elite levels of the champions. With that being stated, the next fight listed on the card is probably the most newsworthy and has captured the most buzz in the weeks leading up to the event. Bellator 97 will feature the finals of the Light-Heavyweight tournament between Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (10-2) and Jacob Noe (12-2). Not only has there been beef between the two, but Lawal is amongst the most popular and entertaining names in the MMA world.
Rounding out the main card, MMA journeyman Robert Emerson (12-10) will take on the dynamic and dangerous former title contender Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (17-2) and undefeated Vitaly Minakov (11-0) will look stay perfect against Ryan Martinez (10-2). With all of the notable names and match ups, it would be incredible if the local card can stack up to the rest of the Bellator 97 card.
But it does.
The bouts are so far unannounced so therefore unofficial, the rumor scene has created and sparked some serious buzz over the event’s local undercard. While these fights are not verified by any source, the potential competitors involved as well as their opponents are turning this event into one of epic proportions.
Judgement MMA’s Adrian Cruz (4-0) may have a another local fighter in front of him come July 31st when he is rumored to be staring across the cage at Mean 1 MMA’s Felipe Chavez (6-3). The two are expected to clash in a bantamweight bout that has huge implications for the landscape of the regional scene. Cruz was last seen at Bellator 91 where he won SWFight.com’s Submission of the ½ Year with a modified arm-lock victory over Jackson-Winklejohn’s Nick Gonzales. Chavez just ended a three and half year hiatus with a triangle choke victory over Ron White at the Triple-A-MMA event labeled “Win To Get In”.
Two other fighters from that Triple-A-MMA show are also rumored to be competing and will be competing on the card against each other. Mean 1 MMA’s Javier Palacios (1-0) is expected to face off with Richard Jacques (1-0) of Gracie Barra Las Cruces. The two fighters earned their shot in the bigger promotion with impressive wins in their fights. Palacios took a dominant unanimous decision victory while Jacques would apply the pressure to his opponent forcing the stoppage between rounds while his opponent was on the stool.
FIT NHB’s and former King of the Cage Champion Donald Sanchez (28-13) is also slated to return to MMA action where he has been rumored to be paired with Tennessee’s Chris Wright (6-2). Sanchez is a fan favorite and one of New Mexico’s most accomplished regional fighters.
Two Mean 1 MMA fighters are rumored to be joining “Flip” Chavez for Bellator 97 and it starts with Middleweight Lionel Lanham (5-1) taking on Team Wildman Vale Tudo’s Jeremy Kimball (9-3). Triple-A-MMA “Win To Get In” winner Steve Garcia (1-0) is also said to be on the event, where his opponent has yet to be announced but speculation is that he is facing off with wrestling standout and AKA fighter Shawn Bunch (1-0). It will be a huge step up for Garcia as Bunch has an impressive background but also a huge opportunity.
Another slot on the card was rumored to be filled by wrestling phenom and top prospect Will Brooks (9-1) facing off with a local fighter. However, there has been no word suggesting Brooks is on the undercard. Mike Barreras and Chris Leyva are also names floating around as possible local opponents.
Nonetheless, the card if the rumors ring true will be a spectacular undercard for regional fans to get excited for. Tuning in for a stacked regional undercard only to be treated with a star studded main card is the type of event to really start buzzing over.
Stay tuned to SWFight.com for more event coverage, bout announcements and breakdowns. Also, be sure to tune in to the scheduled press conference set for July 9th at 2:00 PM inside the Crowne Plaza.
Bellator 97 Fight Card:
Lightweight Title Fight – (C) Michael Chandler (11-0) vs. David Rickels (14-1)
Welterweight Title Fight – (C) Ben Askren (11-0) vs. Andrey Koreshkov (11-0)
Light-Heavyweight Final – “King Mo” Lawal (10-2) vs. Jacob Noe (12-2)
Patricio Freire (17-2) vs. Rob Emerson (12-10)
Vitaly Minakov (11-0) vs. Ryan Martinez (10-2)
Adrian Cruz (4-0) vs. Felipe Chavez (6-3) (official)
*Javier Palacios (1-0) vs. Richard Jacques (1-0)
*Donald Sanchez (28-13) vs. Chris Wright (6-2)
*Lionel Lanham (5-1) vs. Jeremy Kimball (9-3)
*Steve Garcia (1-0) vs. Shawn Bunch (1-0)
*Each bout has been speculated through rumors and isn’t confirmed by any promoter or Bellator MMA representative.