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Bellator bouts back at Star Center July 31; RR’s own Steve Garcia on the card

The Summer Series continues for Bellator MMA as the promotion returns to Santa Ana Star Center on July 31 and features reigning Bellator welterweight world champion Ben Askren.

Askren will be defending his title against Russian phenom Andrey Koreshkov and lightweight champion Michael Chandler will face Season 8 lightweight tournament champion David Rickels live on Spike TV.

The night will also feature the light heavyweight tournament finals, as King Mo Lawal faces Jacob Noe, while heavyweights collide as Vitaly Minakov battles Ryan Martinez in the tournament finals.

Askren brings a spotless 11-0 record and is regarded as one of the best welterweights in the world. The former US Olympian has continued to impress during his illustrious career with Bellator, and will be looking to add another title defense to his resume.

“I’m really looking forward to getting back into that cage and putting on a show,” Askren said. “I feel like I’ve continued to mature and get better in every one of my fights, and July 31st should be no different.

“I don’t think Andrey has any ability to stop my wrestling and ground attack, so this will be another successful title defense.”

Only 22, Koreshkov had a 2012 to remember as the Russian knockout artist was 5-0 last year, including a tournament run that featured victories over Jordan Smith, Marius Zaromskis and Lyman Good.

“I’ll be 110 percent ready for this fight,” Koreshkov said. “I’ll make sure that Askren’s tactics to put everybody in the audience to sleep won’t work this time. Instead, I’ll keep everybody entertained by putting him to sleep.”

The night will also feature the return of fan favorite and top featherweight Patrico Pitbull, as the Brazilian striker will battle California native Rob “The Saint” Emerson. After suffering just the second loss in his dominating career to the hands of reigning Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran, Pitbull is eager to get back to his winning ways.

“I’m very motivated to get back in the cage, and I feel that I haven’t left. I have totally removed myself from my fight with Curran — a lot of me is still in the fight,” Pitbull said. “But it’s gone now and I have a tough opponent ahead. I’ll be going stronger for this next challenge and doesn’t matter how tough my opponents will be. I will be stronger than I was. It’s great to know I’m back.”

The preliminary card is stacked with local talent, including six of Albuquerque’s premiere athletes.

The event has a special early start time and will broadcast live at 5 p.m. on Spike. The preliminary card will be streamed live and free on starting at 4. Tickets for the event are on sale now and can be purchased at or by visiting the Star Center box office; tickets start at $25.

Bellator MMA is the world’s largest tournament-based Mixed Martial Arts organization and is televised in nearly 500 million homes and worldwide in over 110 countries.

Look for the ‘Mean Machine’

Steve “Mean Machine” Garcia Jr., a 2010 Rio Rancho High School graduate, recently signed a three-fight, one year contract with Bellator Promotions.

His first fight takes place on the 31st at the Star Center, where Garcia will battle Shawn Bunch, a two-time Olympic alternate and three-time NCAA division 1 wrestling runner-up.

Garcia, 21, will battle Bunch in a bantamweight bout at 135 pounds.

Garcia logged a 13-0 record as an amateur and then he won his first pro fight, beating Allen Lerma in a recent Orthrus MMA promotion at EXPO New Mexico in Albuquerque, which earned him a deal with Bellator.

Garcia trains out of both Mean 1 MMA in Rio Rancho and Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque; his trainers are Chris Lutrell, Chris Avila and three-time world champion boxer Danny Romero Jr.

This matchup could produce fireworks: Garcia with a strong stand-up and jujitsu background and Bunch with a pedigree in wrestling — two fighters with two very different styles.

“We are asking support from everyone in Rio Rancho,” said Garcia’s father, Steve Sr. “It is rare to have such a big promotion right here in our backyard.”