Bellator 95 preview and predictions: Pat Curran vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev plus two finals

Pat Curran lands a punch on Patricky Pitbull - Bellator.com

Bloody Elbow presents a preview of Bellator 95, featuring Pat Curran vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev in a big title fight, plus Mike Richman vs. Frodo Khasbulaev and Doug Marshall vs. Brett Cooper in a pair of tournament finals.

Bellator's debut season on Spike has been a real success, with some fantastic fights, upset finishes, and new names established. This week, the season comes to an end with the stacked Bellator 95. Bellator airs live tonight on Spike TV starting at 10:00 p.m. ET with the prelims airing on Bloody Elbow and Spike.com starting at 7:15 p.m. ET. Join us here at Bloody Elbow tonight for live Bellator coverage.

Like I said, this is a stacked show as the company looks to end the season with a bang. In the main event, Bellator Featherweight champion Pat Curran makes his second title defense of the season. He takes on the tough season 7 tournament winner Shahbulat Shamhalaev. That should be a fantastic fight, and well worth tuning in on its own, but you also have a pair of tournament finals, and an interesting judo battle. Add in some notable fights in the prelims and this is a card not to miss.

Here's the full Bellator 95 fight card, with weigh in results, followed by preview and predictions:

MAIN CARD:
Featherweight World Title Fight: Pat Curran (144.7) vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev (144.7)
Featherweight Tournament Final Fight: Frodo Khasbulaev (145.4) vs. Mike Richman (145.1)
Middleweight Tournament Final Fight: Brett Cooper (185.2) vs. Doug Marshall (185.4)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Karo Parisyan (171) vs. Rick Hawn (170.7)

PRELIMINARY CARD:
Light Heavyweight Feature Fight: Anton Talamantes (205) vs. Liam McGeary (204)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Kevin Roddy (146) vs. Brylan Van Artsdalen (145.2)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Michael Brent Hess (145.9) vs. Will Martinez (144.9)
Catchweight Feature Fight (140 lbs.): Jimmie Rivera (139.3) vs. Brian Kelleher (139.5)
Lightweight Feature Fight: Phillipe Nover (156) vs. Darrell Horcher (156)
Catchweight Feature Fight(188 lbs): Carlos Brooks (188) vs. Tom DeBlass (185.9)
Catchweight Feature Fight (173 lbs): Shedrick Goodridge (172.8) vs. Sam Oropeza (170.5)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Lyman Good (170.8) vs. Dante Rivera (170.9)

Pat Curran (18-4 MMA; 8-1 Bellator) vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev (12-1-1 MMA; 3-0 Bellator) - Featherweight World Title

Featherweight champion Pat Curran opened the season on Spike, now he closes the season, which should tell you something about his status in Bellator. That status is well earned, as Curran has established himself as one of the best Featherweights in the world and one of the very top fighters in Bellator. He's undefeated since his drop down to Featherweight, and his title victory over Joe Warren last year was a thing of brutal beauty. Curran is a thinking fighter with tremendous stand-up skills that utilizes movement and defense like few others. He combines that with top level ground skills as well, making him a serious threat.

Complete Bellator 95 coverage

And yet, I'm not confident that he has this fight won. Shahbulat Shamhalaev is no joke. The dangerous Russian fighter ripped through the season 7 Bellator tournament, ending every fight via vicious KO. His last fight was the finals against Rad Martinez, and was a truly terrifying performance. There was simply nothing Martinez could do in that fight, as Shamhalaev used his superior Muay Thai skills to just pick him apart. In that fight, Shamhalaev showed his tendency to step back and fight from outside range, forcing his opponent to come inside where he can launch a counter that puts them down and out. That's how he beat Martinez, it's how he beat Richman, and if Curran is not very careful, it's how he'll become the Bellator Featherweight champion.

Honestly, this is a pick 'em fight and I'm having a very tough time making the call. In the end, I'll say Curran solves the riddle and gets by the Russian, but this is really, really close, and a fantastic way to cap off the season.

For much more technical analysis of this fight, check out this stellar Judo Chop from Connor Ruebusch.

Prediction: Pat Curran by decision

Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (20-5 MMA; 4-0 Bellator) vs. Mike Richman (15-2 MMA; 4-1 Bellator) - Featherweight Tournament Final

Mike Richman has been very vocal about what he wants to happen tonight. Not only does he want to win this and claim the Featherweight tournament crown, he also wants Shamhalaev to win in the main event so that he can avenge his loss and become champion at the same time. It's a good story for sure, but both Pat Curran and Frodo Khasbulaev stand in the way. Richman is a skilled striker with KO power. He's had a great Bellator run, with 3 of his wins coming via round 1 KO. His last fight showed that he can go the distance and still get the win as he engaged in an all out war with Alexandre Bezerra - probably my pick for fight of the season so far. Richman picked up the split decision win in that fantastic back and forth fight. He has powerful hands, he has wrestling, and against Bezerra, he showed that he has heart. Richman is a tough fighter to deal with.

The begrudgingly nicknamed Frodo Khasbulaev is another of the powerful Russians Bellator has imported. Undefeated in the past two years, Frodo has won all four of his Bellator fights via stoppage, and is coming off an impressive TKO win over Marlon Sandro where he simply dominated the veteran. Frodo is a tough grinding fighter who beats his opponents down, and he'll try to break Richman in another war here. I like what I have seen from Frodo quite a bit, and feel like he may be too strong for The Marine on the mat. But on the feet, Richman is superior technically and has better power. If Richman can keep it standing, I think he can end this.

Prediction: Mike Richman by KO

Brett Cooper (19-7 MMA; 6-2 Bellator) vs. Doug Marshall (17-6 MMA; 3-0 Bellator) - Middleweight Tournament Final

This is an unlikely final after two surprising semifinal results. Cooper was one of the early tournament favorites but had a very tough time against Dan Cramer in the semis. Cramer controlled the majority of the fight until Cooper blasted back with a tremendous rally in the 3rd round, pulling off the come from behind win in a great moment. Though he won that fight with his hands, and though he often talks about his desire to stand and exchange, Cooper is at his core a wrestler who takes his opponents down and controls them to victory.

And that spells trouble for Doug Marshall. Marshall is all about the power punching - get in an exchange with Doug Marshall and there is a good chance someone's lights are going out. Since 2010, Marshall went 3 years with every single fight ending in round 1, but it wasn't until his Bellator run that they were consistently ending in Marshall's favor. His semifinal was a split decision win over Sultan Aliev that, frankly, I thought Aliev should have won and only lost because of a hideously stupid tactical decision in the fight's closing seconds. Still, Marshall is here, and it's hard not to root for the guy. At 36 years old, he feels like a throwback to a bygone era of MMA, and I love him for that.

To me, this fight is pretty straightforward. If Cooper stands and trades, he's a fool playing right into Marshall's hands. If he gets the fight to the mat, he can exploit the same weakness in the ground game Aliev showed. And Brett Cooper is no fool.

Prediction: Brett Cooper by decision

Rick Hawn (14-2 MMA; 6-2 Bellator) vs. Karo Parisyan (22-9(1) MMA; Bellator Debut)

Judo vs. Judo here. On one side, you have Bellator veteran Rick Hawn. Hawn is coming off a submission loss to Michael Chandler in the season opener and trying to get another win streak going for himself. On the other side, the decorated Karo Parisyan, a UFC veteran who was, at one time, one of the top Welterweights in the world. But Parisyan has had to deal with a lot of issues in recent years, both mental and physical. He had a real rough time from 2008-2011 where he won just 1 of 6 fights, but he has righted the ship somewhat lately, winning 3 of his last 4. But none of those wins have come against a level of competition remotely close to Hawn (in fact, his last 2 opponents have never won a single fight between them). I appreciate Parisyan for his UFC days, but those days are past.

Prediction: Rick Hawn by KO

Prelims:

Lots of good stuff on the prelims this week - be sure to tune in early at Spike.com:

  • Former Bellator Welterweight champion Lyman Good (14-3) faces Renzo Graciue student Dante Rivera (15-6). Good is coming off the season 7 loss to Andrey Koreshkov, while Rivera comes off a win to Dan Cramer and makes his Bellator debut here. This is a great fight that would be on the main card most often.
  • Jimmie Rivera (11-1) makes his second Bellator appearance here. A teammate of Lyman Good and Uriah Hall, Rivera has a solid record and has faced a decent level of competition. He's one to watch. He takes on Brian Kelleher (8-3).
  • Finally, two more UFC veterans take part in the prelim fights: Tom DeBlass (7-2) takes on Carlos Brooks (4-2), while "The Next Anderson Silva" Phillipe Nover (7-5-1) faces Darrell Horcher (7-0).

Join us tonight for live coverage of Bellator 93, live on Spike TV.


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