Most young mixed-martial-arts athletes experience their evolution in the sport in their mid-20s.
Bellator Fighting Championships middleweight Bryan Baker is no different from most in many respects. The 26-year-old's skills are constantly improving, and he is just two fights away from challenging for the middleweight championship.
The difference, however, lies in Baker's recent past. Early last year, Baker was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. He fought in Bellator's second season and reached the middleweight-tournament finale, where he lost to Alexander Shlemenko.
Since then, Baker defeated two veterans of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Jeremy Horn and Joe Riggs. He also defeated Jared Hess last month in the quarterfinals of Bellator's season-five middleweight tournament.
Saturday night, Baker will compete against Brazilian Vitor Vianna in the semifinals, with Shlemenko scheduled to fight Brian Rogers in the other semifinal. The event, "Bellator 54," can be seen live on MTV2 and EPIX HD at 9 p.m. EDT from the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
"My confidence level is definitely back," Baker said. "It's still a challenge every day. I was a little more dehydrated (against Hess) than what I would have liked. My body tensed up a little faster than what I would have liked. I have to really understand it and be more prepared next time."
Baker, who declared himself the tournament favorite, hopes to advance to face Shlemenko in next month's finale. A victory there would earn him a shot against Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard.
"That's confidence and what I expect out of myself," said Baker, who fights out of West Covina, Calif. "The high level I put on myself, knowing what I can do and accomplish when me and my trainer put the game plan together, I don't think anybody can beat me. I'm looking to get my title and reign as champion."
The remainder of the televised card includes bantamweight champion Zack Makovsky vs. Ryan Roberts in a non-title fight and lightweights Jacob Kirwan vs. Rene Nazare.
The preliminaries, which will air on spike.com at 7 p.m., include: (middleweights) Daniel Gracie vs. Duane Bastress; (light heavyweights) Tim Carpenter vs. Ryan Contaldi; (welterweights) Karl Amoussou vs. Joey Kirwan; (bantamweights) Brian Kelleher vs. Claudio Ledesma; and women's 145-pounders Andria Caplan and Adrienne Seiber.
A thumb injury caused Rashad Evans to withdraw from his long-desired bout against UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones in December. Lyoto Machida will replace Evans in the main event of "UFC 140."
"After my last fight against Tito Ortiz, I dislocated my right thumb, which required it to be set back in place and held with pins," Evans said in a statement. "(Last week), my physician removed the pins. At that time, I learned that it would require another three weeks of rehabilitation before engaging in any exercise or training that would require the use of my hand."
Chael Sonnen defeated Brian Stann last weekend at "UFC 136" and immediately issued a challenge for UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who sat cageside.
"Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck," Sonnen said. "Super Bowl weekend, the biggest rematch in the history of the business. I'm calling you out, Silva, but we're upping the stakes. I beat you, you leave the division. You beat me, I will leave the UFC forever."
Sonnen seemingly was in control of his title bout with Silva last year before Silva secured the victory via submission in the fifth round.
Warrior-One, a Canadian MMA company that held several events last year, returns Saturday night with a pair of bouts between former UFC welterweight Marcus Davis and The Ultimate Fighter season 13 performer Chuck O'Neil as the main events at the Bank United Center in Miami.
The entire "W-1: Reloaded" event can be seen live at 8:15 p.m. on Go Fight Live (www.gfl.tv). The main card is expected to begin at 9:30.
The rest of the main card includes: (lightweights) Luis Palomino vs. Edson Berto; (welterweights) John Manley vs. Sabah Homasi, Nathan Coy vs. Patrick Mikesz and Bruno Reis vs. Kenny Moss; (lightweights) Tom Waters vs. Alan Arzeno; and (180-pounders; catchweight) Joe Watson vs. Frank Carillo. The undercard includes (featherweights) Gio Brugnoni vs. James Wynn, (welterweights) Mike Trujillio vs. Eric Raposo and Anthony Garavito vs. Davaun McCoy; and women's 135-pounders Kim Couture vs. Suzie Montero.