Tonight, Bellator 90 begins the season's semifinal rounds with a loaded card. You've got a very interesting main event between Rad Martinez and Shahbulat Shamhalaev, plus the Bellator return of King Mo and both the Light Heavyweight and Welterweight semifinals. It should be a fantastic night of fights. Bellator airs live tonight on Spike TV starting at 10:00 p.m. ET with the prelims airing on Spike.com starting at 8:00 p.m. ET. Join us here at Bloody Elbow tonight for live Bellator coverage.
Here's the full Bellator 90 fight card, with weigh in results, followed by a fight by fight preview and predictions:
Bellator Featherweight Tournament Championship Fight: Shahbulat Shamhalaev (145.9) vs. Rad Martinez (145.9)
Light Heavyweight Semifinal Fight: King Mo (204.3) vs. Emanuel Newton (204.8)
Light Heavyweight Tournament Semifinal: Mikhail Zayats (204.9) vs. Jacob Noe (205.3)
Welterweight Tournament Semifinal: Douglas Lima (170.9) vs. Bryan Baker (170.5)
Welterweight Tournament Semifinal: Ben Saunders (170.3) vs. Raul Amaya (169.9)
Middleweight Feature Fight: Lionel Lanham (185.1) vs. Joe Rodriguez (184.3)
Welterweight Feature Fight: David Allred (155.9) vs. Sean Powers (154.6)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Jesse Juarez (170.7) vs. Jordan Smith (169.3)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Josh Tyler (145.8) vs. Shanon Slack (146.0)
Catchweight Feature Fight(137 lbs): Chase Beebe (137.4) vs. Travis Marx (135.9)
Rad Martinez (14-2 MMA; 4-0 Bellator) vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev (11-1-1 MMA; 2-0 Bellator) - Season 7 Featherweight Tournament Finals
Hollywood couldn't have scripted it any better. On one side of the cage, you have Rad Martinez, the real life inspirational fighter who splits his time between MMA and providing in-home, around the clock care to his ailing father, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when Rad was just 11. Martinez is one of those hard-working, all around fighters - the kind of fighter where you can't point to any one specific part of his game and say "right there, he's elite." But that doesn't matter, because he makes up for it with sheer will, heart, and a resolve that grinds his opponent down. Martinez got here by first breaking out with a barnburner victory over Nazareno Malegarie. After that, he was paired with veteran submission specialist Wagnney Fabiano, but he defied the odds and took home an impressive decision win, landing him this - the biggest fight of his career.
On the other side, you have Shahbulat Shamhalaev, a Russian fighter who grew up in the rough aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. Shamhalaev is a powerful striker, with great Muay Thai skills and KO power in his hands. He turned in a pair of scary performances to get here, first beating Cody Bollinger down with brutal ground and pound, then KO-ing Mike Richman with a perfectly timed counter right hand. Undefeated in his last 10 fights, Shamhalaev may very well be the best of the Russian prospects now plying their trade in Bellator.
Any good story has its twist, and for this story, that twist came on December 7, 2012. That's when these two men were originally set to meet for the season 7 Featherweight title. But shortly before fight time, Shamhalaev fell ill, and when New Jersey State Athletic Commission representatives saw him vomiting backstage, they cancelled the fight.
Now, it's back on, only with a new wrinkle. Instead of fighting in New Jersey, they'll be fighting in Utah, home state to none other than Rad Martinez. Like I said, Hollywood couldn't have scripted it any better.
Of course, there's still one piece missing - the ending. In a movie, Martinez would defy all odds, defeating the technically superior fighter in Shamhalaev, delivering the feel good ending of the year. But this isn't a movie, and Martinez is in for one hell of a fight as he tries to contend with the power and superior striking of Shamhalaev.
Make no mistake, when you break these two down, Shamhalaev is the superior fighter. But me, I chose to believe in the Hollywood ending, at least this time.
Prediction: Rad Martinez by decision
More Bellator coverage: The inspiring story of Rad Martinez
King Mo Muhammed Lawal (9-1(1) MMA; 1-0 Bellator) vs. Emanuel Newton (19-7-1 MMA; 2-1 Bellator) - Light Heavyweight Tournament Semifinal
No one competing in Bellator this season has the spotlight on him quite like King Mo. Long before the Spike debut, he was positioned as the clear star of the season - now he has to keep winning to make good on that promise. His quarterfinal win showed off a new side of Mo, as he defeated Przemyslaw Mysiala by KO in round 1. In that fight, Mo displayed a new boxing style, using the Mayweather style of defense quite nicely (though somewhat controversially). That new boxing game complements the wrestling skills the King has always brought to the table, making him a more well rounded fighter. Emanuel Newton comes here via a round 2 rear naked choke victory over Atanas Djambazov. His lone Bellator loss came as a split decision defeat against #1 contender Attila Vegh in a fight many felt Newton won. Newton likes to bring a variety of strikes to the game, but he's a very weird, awkward striker. His kicks in particular are quite odd, as he throws them with no torque or hips behind them. He's a slow starter, with very few round 1 finishes, though he will use that to his advantage by wearing down poorly conditioned opponents. Against Mo, he won't have that advantage. Newton has quality experience against good opponents, but he doesn't have the striking or wrestling to deal with Mo here.
Prediction: King Mo by KO
Russia's Mikhail Zayats arrives in the semifinals thanks to something of an upset win - a round 1 TKO victory over Babalu Sobral. That victory was impressive, showing off the striking skills of Zayats, and yet it was not exactly a typical performance from him. A Russian Sambo champion out of the Red Devil team (and a training partner of Fedor Emelianenko), Zayats does have good stand-up, using a lot of movement to attack. But he often favors the ground game where he rides his opponents to control them and look for the finish. It's the rare ground game that is not as based on either wrestling or jiu jitsu, but more of a sambo/catch wrestling style. He made a wise tactical decision to abandon the ground game against Babalu, but I expect to see it back here. Jacob Noe scored less of an upset, defeating Seth Petruzelli by 1st round TKO. In that fight, he outstruck Petruzelli and was able to close the show with punches when Petruzelli was in a compromising position on the mat. There's not a ton of footage on Noe out there, but what there is shows him to be a tall striker with a bad habit of leaving his chin way up. I see the more technically sound Zayats having his way here.
Prediction: Mikhail Zayats by TKO
This was originally set to be Lima vs. Brent Weedman, but with Weedman out due to injury, season 6 finalist Baker steps in. A former Middleweight, Baker dropped down to 170 last year, making it to the tournament finals (scoring a win over Ben Saunders along the way) where he was submitted in under a minute by Karl Amoussou. This is his first fight since that loss in July. Baker is a strong, wild boxer with good power and a nice ability to mix in his wrestling. There were concerns that the cut to 170 would be a lot for him, but he's handled it just fine and it seems like a good home for him. His biggest issue is his striking defense, as he loves to throw heavy shots, but tends to leave himself open when he does. That's bad news for this fight, as Douglas Lima is a very good striker. The season 5 tournament champion, Lima's lone Bellator loss comes against champ Ben Askren. He comes here thanks to a nasty leg kick TKO stoppage of Michail Tsarev. Lima has sort of reinvented himself in recent years, as the skilled grappler has become more of a striker - and quite a striker at that. He combines solid technique with power for a very dangerous striking game. He's also developed good takedown defense, allowing him to dictate where the fight takes place. I see him avoiding Baker's takedowns, surviving the striking assault, and finding the gaps in the defense.
Prediction: Douglas Lima by KO
Ben Saunders (15-5-2 MMA; 6-2 Bellator) vs. Raul Amaya (11-1 MMA; 2-1 Bellator) - Welterweight Tournament Semifinal
Sorry fans of Killa B, but this one is on the Spike.com prelims. Bloody Elbow fan favorite Saunders returns here after his decision victory over Koffi Adzitso in the quarterfinals. Saunders is a dynamic fighter with skills on the ground and the feet, though his bread and butter of course remains his vicious knees from the clinch. Amaya comes in off a round 1 TKO defeat of Jose Gomes. Amaya looked quite good in that fight, showing finishing power and solid striking. He made his Bellator debut last year in a losing effort to... Ben Saunders. That loss remains the sole blemish on Amaya's career, so I am sure he is focused on revenge here. Their first fight was a good one, with the less experienced Amaya putting in a game effort against Saunders. Still, Killa B's knees were too much, as he overwhelmed Amaya en route to a unanimous decision victory. That fight showed a lot from Amaya, and he did look good against Gomes, but I still think the gap between these two is too wide. Expect another fun fight this time around though.
Prediction: Ben Saunders by decision
In addition to Saunders vs. Amaya, veteran Chase Beebe (24-8-1) is on the prelims. The former WEC Bantamweight champion had a terrible 5 fight losing streak in 2008-2009, but now only has 1 loss in his last 13 fights (a Bellator loss to Marcos Galvao). Can he become a relevant player in the division once again? He faces Travis Marx (19-4(1)) in what should be a pretty good fight.
Join us tonight for live coverage of Bellator live on Spike TV.