Bellator preview and predictions: Shlemenko vs. Falcao and the Featherweight quarterfinals

Maiquel Falcao celebrates his Bellator tournament win. - Bellator.com

Bellator's 8th season continues tonight with some excellent fights, including Alexander Shlemenko vs. Maiquel Falcao for the vacant Middleweight title, and the quarterfinal round of a strong Featherweight tournament. Get a preview of all the action, plus predictions, here at Bloody Elbow.

Bellator season 8 continues tonight with more tournament quarterfinal action, plus a world title fight. In the night's main event, tournament winners Alexander Shlemenko and Maiquel Falcao meet for the vacant Bellator Middleweight title. Expect a stand-up war in this one. Also on the card is the querterfinal round of the season 8 Featherweight tournament, with tournament veteran Marlon Sandro, Mike Richman, and more. This is probably the tournament I am most looking forward to this season - we'll see how it starts to play out tonight.

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 a preview of the main event and tournament:

Alexander Shlemenko (46-7 MMA; 7-1 Bellator) vs. Maiquel Falcao (31-4(1) MMA; 3-0 Bellator) - Middleweight Championship

This is a battle between the last two Bellator Middleweight tournament champions, with the winner to earn the title left vacant when Hector Lombard jumped to the UFC. And it has the potential to be a fantastic striking match-up.

Russia's Alexander "Storm" Shlemenko is a 9 year pro who has been in Bellator since 2010. He's an incredibly busy fighter, with over 50 pro fights to his credit - that includes 7 fights in 2011. Last year was pretty slow by his standards, with just 2 fights. His 2010 Bellator title fight loss to Hector Lombard is his only loss in his past 16 fights. Shlemenko has often talked about how he fights to represent pure strikers. However he has also added a more complete game in recent years, including decent grappling. He showed off this more well rounded game in Bellator against Zelg Galesic, submitting Galesic with a standing guillotine. Still, striking is definitely his primary tool.

The same is true of Maiquel Falcao. The Chute Boxe fighter is an excellent technical striker who uses his Brazilian style of Muay Thai to great effect. He had a notorious UFC debut in 2010, defeating Gerald Harris in a weird fight that saw Falcao alternate between incredible explosions of Muay Thai violence and complete passivity. He was later released by the UFC, ostensibly due to a 2002 assault charge, but his weird performance seemed to play a part. He's 5-1 since that lone UFC fight, including 3 straight decision wins in Bellator.

In theory, this should be decided almost entirely on the feet. There, both men are very talented, but in different ways. Shlemenko is more of an aggressive, go for broke fighter. He likes to go for the KO, coming at his opponent with all manner of strikes, but still maintaining his technique. He loves the spinning back fist, and while I'm tempted to say he overuses that strike, he uses it so well that it has not really cost him. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Falcao has shown that he is more than ready to hang back and force his opponent to come to him, then explode with counter striking. He uses a more simple approach with punches and kicks, but executes them all flawlessly with both good speed and power.

Head to head, expect Shelemnko to push the pace, Falcao to hang back. One interesting factor in this is the 5 rounds. Shlemenko went the full 5 with Lombard, while Falcao has never been in the championship rounds. If Storm keeps pushing the pace into those later rounds, I see it ultimately being too much for Falcao to handle. This is a tough fight to call for sure (and the ground advantage in Falcao's favor adds an extra wrinkle as well), but I think Shlemenko will be able to pressure his way to a win.

Prediction: Alexander Shlemenko by decision

More Bellator coverage: News on the upcoming Bellator reality show

Marlon Sandro (23-4 MMA; 6-2 Bellator) vs. Akop Stepanyan (12-4 MMA; 0-1 Bellator) - Featherweight Tournament Quarterfinal

When Marlon Sandro made his Bellator debut in 2011, it was a big deal. In fact, there was talk of him getting an immediate Featherweight title shot, though Bellator quickly shot that down. And at the time, there was good reason for that hype. Sandro was a former Sengoku and Pancrase champion with a 17-2 record and some very impressive highlights. He made the finals of his first Bellator tournament, where he was KO'd by a Pat Curran head kick. Since then, Sandro has gone 4-1 with another trip to the finals (a loss to Daniel Straus). That's not a bad record by any means, but it's not what was expected of Sandro.

A Brazilian fighter from Nova Uniao, Sandro has a lot going for him - good transitions, nice takedown defense, powerful punches, and underrated wrestling. But in recent years, he's seen his style change from a more technical approach to a more wild aggression. At the same time, he's developed more and more of a bad habit of letting his hands drop down when striking. That's a bad combination, and it's what got him knocked out by Curran.

Akop Stepanyan made his Bellator debut last fall, losing to Wagnney Fabiano. Fabiano was a big step up in competition for the Russian fighter, and it showed, as Stepanyan was quickly outgrappled and submitted by the ground specialist. That result was not a surprise, as Stepanyan is more of a striker. He trains with the RusFighters Sports Club, and while he has improved his ground game over the years, striking remains his style of choice. On the feet, he loves a flashy spinning wheel kick (a la Edson Barboza) and a charging overhand right. That right hand is his best weapon - Stepanyan throws it with bad intentions and serious power, and he's scored a few one punch KO's with that shot. It's a bit telegraphed at times, but if it lands, it's bad news.

This really should be Sandro's fight, but I've yet to see him fully fight up to his best in Bellator. He's 35 years old, slowing down, and using less of a technical style as time goes on. There's also that low right hand and tendency to get tagged. Add that to Stepanyan's nasty right hand KO shot, and I'm sorry to say, but I see an upset here.

Prediction: Akop Stepanyan by KO

Mike Richman (13-2 MMA; 2-1 Bellator) vs. Mitch Jackson (19-2 MMA; Bellator Debut) - Featherweight Tournament Quarterfinal

A bit of backstory behind this one, as Richman and Jackson both started their careers in the regional Minnesota scene. They never fought there, but had some sort of rivalry which has now carried over to Bellator. So expect this one to be a bit more heated than your average quarterfinal. That story adds something to what seems like a pretty lopsided fight.

Mike Richman made his Bellator debut in style last year, knocking out Chris Horodecki and then Jeremy Spoon, both with single shot KO's in under 2 minutes. Then, in the season 7 Featherweight semifinals, he got a taste of his own medicine, suffering a 2 minute KO at the hands of Shahbulat Shamhalaev. Despite that KO loss, Richman is a very good striker. He has fast hands, big power, and nice footwork. He is a very technical striker, who remains calm and composed at all times. I also like his ability to roll with punches. That said, he was definitively outstruck by Shamhalaev, who timed Richman perfectly and landed a counter shot for the KO. The Russian fighter was fishing for that punch all night, and Richman's inability to adjust and avoid it is something of a warning flag.

Where Richman is primarily a striker, Mitch Jackson is primarily a grappler. Of his 19 wins, 13 come via submission. He's a solid grappler who does a very good job patiently using control on the mat. He's not overly aggressive, and will wait for his opening before going for the submission. Once he goes for it, he's good at closing the show. On the feet, he's less impressive, with awkward kicks and a slower pace than is normally seen at 145. The biggest issue with Jackson is his level of competition. He has a defeat at the hands of Pablo Garza, but outside of that fight, he really has not faced anyone impressive. His last fight was against Bruce Johnson, who has an appalling 8-43 (!) record, and who Jackson has defeated three times now.

On the feet, this is all Richman by a mile. He's faster, more technical, and has better power. On the mat, Jackson may have the edge, though Richman is a good grappler himself, even if he is yet to show it in Bellator. In short, Jackson needs to fight the fight of his life to get a win here, and I don't see it happening.

Prediction: Mike Richman by KO

Fabricio Guerreiro (17-1(1) MMA; Bellator Debut) vs. Frodo Khasbulaev (18-5 MMA; 2-0 Bellator) - Featherweight Tournament Quarterfinal

Fabricio Guerreiro is not particularly well known, but I'm very interested to see how his Bellator debut goes. The 22 year old Brazilian fighter was ranked #1 in the 2012 Bloody Elbow Scouting Report (at Lightweight), and for good reason. He's an extremely well rounded fighter, who is dangerous in many areas. Not surprisingly, he has a strong jiu jitsu base, but he has also added to that base with good judo and striking skills. That's made him a skilled finisher, winning 15 of his 17 fights by stoppage. One thing I particularly like about his style is his ability to mix his disciplines together. While he's definitely inclined to go for the submission once the fight hits the mat (and he's quite good at putting the fight on the mat), he also has a strong ground and pound game he uses, forcing his opponent to defend many areas at once. Guerreiro trains at a very small camp in rural Brazil, and while that has not hindered him yet, it will be interesting to see how that impacts his career moving forward.

Russia's Khasbulaev is, sad to report, not actually named Frodo. That's the nickname given to Magomedrasul Khasbulaev, a tough fighter who made his Bellator debut last October. He's won his two fights for the company in a grand total of just under 4 minutes, which is an impressive entry into Bellator. Frodo is primarily a wrestler, who likes to control his opponents on the mat and set up submissions or ground and pound. That said, his Bellator debut win came from a punch KO on the feet, so he definitely has striking skills. Khasbulaev is listed at 5'7", but fights much shorter, bringing his base low. That gives him troubles with takedowns at times, as taller fighters have been able to defend his takedowns well.

Khasbulaev is an interesting prospect, but I am all about Guerreiro here. It's possible I am overrating the Brazilian, as he has not fought the hardest international competition yet, but I love his skill set. Against Frodo, Guerreiro should be able to win the striking battle, avoid the takedown, and eventually get the submission win.

Prediction: Fabricio Guerreiro by submission

Genair da Silva (13-4 MMA; 2-1 Bellator) vs. Alexandre Bezerra (14-2 MMA; 6-1 Bellator) - Featherweight Tournament Quarterfinal

This quarterfinal fight is on the Spike.com prelims, which is a shame as this should be a fantastic fight with an interesting story behind it. These two were originally scheduled to fight in the season 6 quarterfinals. However da Silva failed to make weight for the fight and was pulled from the tournament. Bezerra ultimately made the semifinals, losing a split decision to Marlon Sandro.

That Sandro fight was a solid, yet atypical performance from Bezerra, who looked tentative against the veteran. Normally, Bezerra is an aggressive attacker, with good jiu jitsu and nice takedowns. He's a fast fighter who uses movements and feints very well in his striking - that movement is what gave him success against Sandro. Bezerra trains with Wilson Reis, and his only career losses come against Sandro and UFC fighter Charles Oliveira.

Genair da Silva, also known as Junior PQD, is a similarly aggressive fighter, though he favors the striking game. Like Bezerra, he is very light on his feet and employs a lot of movement when striking, using nice angles to set up a wide range of kicks. Those kicks are very good, delivered in a Muay Thai style with a lot of impact. In contrast to Bezerra, da Silva tends to get more wild with his strikes. This causes him to be off balance at times, and to drop his hands often. He represents the old school style of Luta Livre and holds a win over Rony Jason. One big note about da Silva is that in his last two Bellator fights he has missed weight.

This should be an excellent, fast paced striking battle. Both men are talented, but I see Bezerra with the edge. He just has better technique on the feet, plus a big advantage on the mat, which should help him get the job done.

Prediction: Alexandre Bezerra by submission

Prelim Fights

The big prelim fight is obviously the da Silva vs. Bezerra quarterfinal, but there are some other interesting stories to watch:

  • George Hickman (3-1) and Stephen Upchurch (2-1) already fought last February (not in Bellator) with Upchurch earning a 7 second one punch KO win (which you can watch here). Neither man has fought since. Why a rematch is needed I can not say, but that adds an interesting dimension to the fight.
  • UFC veteran Clay Harvison (9-5) tries to snap a 3 fight losing streak here. He faces Ururahy Rodrigues (5-4) who holds a win over Diego Brandao.
  • Kelvin Tiller (5-0) is undefeated, including 3 wins in Bellator. He tries to keep that run alive when he takes on Dave Vitkay, a 10 year veteran with an 11-12-1 record.

Join us tonight for live coverage of Bellator live on Spike TV.


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