The four-man field in Bellator MMA’s Season 9 heavyweight tournament has two notable names with UFC vets Cheick Kongo and Lavar Johnson, but though under the radar, Vinicius Queiroz believes it’s his tourney to win.
Queiroz (6-3 MMA, 1-1 BMMA) and Johnson (17-7 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) co-headline Friday’s event, which airs on Spike TV from California’s Visalia Convention Center. The winner meets Kongo or Mark Godbeer.
Oddsmakers – overwhelmingly – believe that tourney final will include Kongo and Johnson, who make their UFC debuts after recent runs in the UFC. They’re solid and needed additions to a Bellator heavyweight division that’s traditionally been light on talent.
Queiroz, though, believes too many people are overlooking him and instead focused on the new guys.
“All four fighters in this heavyweight tournament are excellent, and all are strong strikers,” he said. “Lavar Johnson and Cheick Kongo are good fighters with bigger hips, but in Bellator, things are not so simple, and everyone will see many surprises in these fights.”
While primarily a muay Thai fighter, the 30-year-old Queiroz has worked extensively on the ground for this fight. The Nogueira brothers have helped sharpen his jiu-jitsu game, and in turn, he believes it’s made him more confident with his standup since he doesn’t fear getting taken down. He believes that could spell disaster for fellow slugger Johnson.
“If you want to see a violent fight with a knockout or high-kick knockout, then do not blink,” he said. “So you must go to the bathroom before the fight starts, grab your beer before the fight starts, and your popcorn before the fight starts – because, if you forget this, my friends, you will only be able to see the replay.”
Johnson, who fought five times for Strikeforce before his four-bout UFC stint, was cut after back-to-back losses in the octagon. However, his past nine wins have all come via knockout, and with his obvious punching power, it’s tough to look away from his fights. In a split second, the 36-year-old Californian can change the course of a fight – or end it.
“Lavar Johnson is a big monster,” Queiroz said. “He punches very hard and has good technique of blows. It’s the kind of fight that I really like because [it'll be a] struggle, and that’s what I want. I respect him, and winning will be a great achievement for my career. I consider him, without a doubt, a top fighter.
“However, I believe he does not have good defense of punches and fighting on the ground. I think he does not appreciate those aspects. I think I’m a better boxer. The fight will be decided when one of us is able to connect the first punch clean.”
In addition to claiming a signature career win (or two) and a tournament title, Queiroz has further motivation: revenge. His Season 7 tournament run came to an end with a semifinal-round TKO loss to Alexander Volkov, who later claimed the vacant title.
To get a chance to avenge the loss and win the belt, he must first get by Johnson.
“I’m (feeling) very well for this fight,” Queiroz said. “It’s my chance to finally win the tournament and then get my revenge against the champion, Alexander Volkov. My [plan is to] win by knockout.
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