Believe it or not, there is more MMA this weekend. After three UFC events in the span of one week, Bellator kicks off its 9th season this evening from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. While this card is on a Saturday night, all other Spike TV shows for this season will air on a Friday.
Tonight features Joe Warren's 2nd fight since his KO loss to Pat Curran, Alexander Shlemenko's latest middleweight title defense, and the start of the season 9 middleweight tournament quarterfinals. Unfortunately this card has been affected significantly by injuries, and as a result there are a few changes from the original lineup and a postponed Fight Master finale between Joe Riggs and Mike Bronzoulis. Alas, the show must go on, and here's a preview of what's on tap for tomorrow night:
Alexander Shlemenko (47-7) vs. Brett Cooper (19-8) - Middleweight Championship
Shlemenko has been one of Bellator's most consistent performers since he joined in 2010. His only loss in the organization is against former middleweight champion Hector Lombard, and once he left for the UFC it was all up to Shlemenko to take advantage of the belt vacancy. While the 29-year-old Russian had already won the season 5 tournament, he had to wait for a season 6 tournament winner to compete against for the championship. Shlemenko struck gold in emphatic fashion with a 2nd round KO of Maiquel Falcao earlier this February, and showed how powerful his hands can be.
Cooper had previously fought Shlemenko in a non-tournament fight in 2011, losing by unanimous decision. After winning several other non-tournament bouts, the Californian entered the season 8 tournament and advanced to the final after beating Norman Paraisy and rallying to finish Dan Cramer with a dramatic 3rd round KO (having lost the first two rounds). A devastating first round KO loss to the heavy-handed Doug Marshall seemingly dashed his hopes of fighting for the Bellator title, but opportunity has come knocking with Marshall out with an injury.
I don't think it would be far fetched to say that Shlemenko is a class above the rest of the Bellator 185 lbs division. He has very good cardio, a diverse and creative striking game, a heavy use of knees, and a penchant for effectively switching from orthodox to southpaw during fights. He does have a good ground game but there's no question that he prefers to keep it on the feet. Cooper isn't afraid to stand and trade, and he definitely has some vicious knockout power, but he leaves himself open on the defensive, and it cost him against Marshall. Perhaps the best path to an upset for Cooper is to go for the takedown and try and "grind out" at least 2-3 rounds, but that's easier said than done against the overwhelming favorite.
Joe Warren (8-3) vs. Nick Kirk (10-2) - Bantamweight Co-Main Event
"The Baddest Man on the Planet" is back in the cage after spending much of his time as a coach on Fight Master. Warren has unfortunately been on the wrong end of two highlight reel KO losses to Alexis Vila and Pat Curran, the latter resulted in the loss of his featherweight belt. He ended the losing run with a decision win over Owen Evinger, who was quite obviously booked solely to be Warren's "bounce back" patsy. In addition to his time with Bellator, Warren competed in DREAM (where he defeated Kid Yamamoto and Chase Beebe) and is a highly successful Greco-Roman wrestler dating back to his collegiate days at the University of Michigan.
Kirk's background is also in wrestling, and he was on the same University of Minnesota squad as former UFC lightweight Jacob Volkmann. His MMA career didn't begin until 2010, 8 years after his sole year as a Golden Gophers wrestler, but by 2011 he had amassed a 7-0 record. He's since alternated wins and losses, and both defeats came under the Bellator banner.
It's really all down to Warren being the better fighter. Kirk hasn't had any success in Bellator and his quality of victory pales in comparison to Joe's. Kirk also has just one career win by KO/TKO, which significantly favors Warren. We know who the better wrestler and striker is in this one so this looks like another mismatch on paper and it will likely play out as such come fight time.
UPDATE: Joe Warren has been ruled medically unfit to compete tomorrow, so this fight has been scrapped.
Middleweight Tournament Quarterfinals
If you look at Torrey's record, you'll see he's undefeated with 6 of his 7 wins coming by way of KO or TKO. But the US Marine hasn't competed in professional competition since 2010, so what's the cause of his absence? Unfortunately his long hiatus came as a result of a serious car accident, and the long recuperative process in addition to personal life issues has put him on the MMA sidelines. When Brett Cooper was bumped to the main event, Torrey took this fight on short notice having fully recovered from his injuries.
Spang has competed in the last two Bellator MW tournaments, losing the season 6 final to Maiquel Falcao and a season 8 quarterfinal to Doug Marshall. The 34-year-old Swede has won just once in Bellator, knocking out Brian Rogers in the 2nd round back in 2012. He's a dangerous striker with solid technical ability, so it's reasonable to expect a stand-up war.
Kimball is a late addition to the tournament after Dan Cramer withdrew. The Colorado fighter rides a 6 fight winning streak which includes wins over Drew McFedries, Tommy Speer, and Chidi Njokuani. He successfully debuted at Bellator 97 at the end of July by stopping former Strikeforce middleweight Keith Berry.
"Filthy" Filkins has won his last 5 fights, and put on an entertaining performance in his decision win over Germany's Jonas Billstein. His style is tailored towards gaining dominant positions on the ground and pounding his opponents out with strikes.
Mikkel Parlo (9-1) vs. Brian Rogers (10-5)
Parlo is a Danish fighter with 7 victories coming by way of knockout. He made his tournament debut in February but was eliminated in the quarterfinals by unanimous decision against Sultan AlievThe bout also doubled as the first loss of his professional career. The 23-year-old has prepared for this fight by training both in Amsterdam and at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.
Rogers is undoubtedly an "action fighter". Eight of his ten victories are by KO or TKO, the most memorable of which came by flying knee against Vitor Vianna in 2011. The Ohio native was favored to beat Dan Cramer in the last middleweight tournament, but Cramer was able to come away with a unanimous decision and send Rogers packing early. Rogers is a bit of a mess defensively, but he possesses enormous punching power and heavy knee strikes.
Butcher's inclusion in the eight-man field is well deserved. The Ohioan has submitted all 3 of his Bellator opponents inside 2.5 minutes. The 28-year-old is a BJJ brown belt under Jorge Gurgel, and he's won all but one professional fight by submission.
This may surprise you, but Santana's nickname "The Arm Collector" comes from his ability to collect arms. An incredible 14 of his 16 submission wins have come via armbar, but the 41-year-old Brazilian wasn't able to collect Bruno Santos' arm in the season 6 quarterfinals. The BJJ black belt lost a unanimous decision, but returned to action by collecting Brandon Sequin's knee and forcing him to verbally submit.
Other preliminary card notables
- Lightweight striker Patricky Freire (10-4) returns to the Bellator cage for the first time since October of last year. The Brazilian hasn't won since 2011 when he TKO'd Kurt Pellegrino. He was last seen in the main event of Bellator 76, where he was knocked out via brutal head kick against Eddie Alvarez. His opponent for tomorrow night's event is Derek Anderson (9-0, 1 NC), an undefeated California prospect who is making his Bellator debut.
- Undefeated light heavyweight Mike Mucitelli (5-0) looks for his 4th win in Bellator as he faces Jeff Nader (5-5), whose record is unimpressive on the surface, but one of his wins is a knockout of Dan Cramer. Mucitelli has yet to go the distance and he's won 4 of his fights by submission.
Full Card (With Warren/Kirk canceled)
Main Card (Spike TV)
Preliminary Card (Spike.com)
The three-hour main card begins live on Spike TV on Saturday, September 7th at 8 PM ET/PT. You can catch the preliminary card stream on Spike.com at 6 PM ET/3 PM PT beforehand. Bloody Elbow will have complete coverage of Bellator 98, including live play-by-play and a results recap complete with all the night's highlights (in GIF form).
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- UFC 166 fight card: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos 3
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