Summer's over, school's back in session, and the middleweights are about to get violent on each other. Bellator MMA returns to the Mohegan Sun Arena for the inaugural event of Season 9, and the 185 lb division gets the spotlight this night. While 8 fighters will begin their quest for a shot at the Middleweight Championship on Sept. 7, two others will fight for the right to be called the very best right now.
It has been just over two years since Brett Cooper and the battle beard faced off against Alexander Shlemenko for the first time, but the fight is still fresh in the memories of a lot of Bellator fans. Cooper came in with a record of 13-6, fresh off a TKO victory over Matt Major, and Shlemenko was looking to shake off his lone Bellator loss (to Hector Lombard) and start another trek towards middleweight gold. Though he had been in the hospital with the flu earlier in the week, Cooper battled through 3 tough rounds and likely even won the 2nd round on a lot of judge's score cards, but Shlemenko left no doubt as to who the winner was. Alex threw everything he had at Brett, and half the time, he was spinning when he did it. Back fists, back kicks, elbows, knees, forearms, Brett ate all of them, and somehow always managed to come back for more, even managing to land some serious uppercuts at a time when many fighters would have already turtled up and tapped out to the relentless Shlemenko. Alexander won by unanimous decision, with a few 10-8 rounds thrown in for good measure, and has been destroying Bellator middleweights ever since. Brett Cooper went back to the drawing board, and has posted an impressive 6-1 record since the fight.
After their battle at Bellator 44, Cooper and Shlemenko soon became even more familiar with each other. They both set up camp at Reign Training Center, the Mark Munoz-led Orange County outfit that has grown by leaps and bounds in just under four years of its existence. During a recent interview on the Verbal Submission podcast, Alex downplayed their time training together as only for about a total of two months total, but he also admitted they became very friendly towards each other during that time. If Alexander's original opponent for this fight didn't have a broken hand, it is entirely possible (even likely) that Cooper could have been one of Shlemenko's main training partners for this very fight. Doug Marshall did indeed break his hand, however, so the partner once again becomes the opponent. (Cooper stayed at Reign for this training camp, while Shlemenko spent time at HB Ultimate and the legendary Black House.)
Now, all of this history is fine and good, but how does this Saturday's match play out in the cage? Assuming both guys are relatively healthy, what type of chance does Cooper have in this rematch? Other than the always-present puncher's chance, I fear that Brett will have very little new to offer The Storm. Cooper has the heart of a lion, and the will to persevere through great adversity, but the Russian champion has those attributes as well, in spades. Sure, Cooper has knockout power, but doesn't almost everyone at the top levels of this division? Shlemenko has been touched by a lot heavier hands than Cooper's, and its been years since ANYONE stopped him early, so I look for this pattern to continue on Saturday. Unless Saturday night happens to be the night we see Alex get old in front of our very eyes (which I highly doubt, but with so many fights under his belt, it is entirely possible), Shlemenko will cruise to a late round stoppage or a dominating unanimous decision.