From the Maverik Center in West Valley, Utah, Bellator 114 kicks off tonight with stone-faced middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko looking to fend off last season's tournament winner Brennan Ward in the main event. One half of this season's Middleweight Tournament semifinals is set to open the Spike TV broadcast (9:00 p.m. ET), as Brett Cooper draws violent Hawaiian Kendall Grove in what should be a firecracker. Both Featherweight Tournament semifinals make up the meat of the sandwich as Desmond Green meets Will Martinez and Matt Bessette faces Germany's Daniel Weichel.
October of 2010 marked the last time that emotionless Russian Alexander Shlemenko left the cage in defeat. Since that decision loss to former Bellator middleweight champ and current UFC welterweight contender Hector Lombard, "Storm" has reeled off twelve straight wins. In his last three turns, he knocked out Maiquel Falcao for the vacant championship, made his first successful defense in a grueling battle with Brett Cooper and bombed Doug Marshall with a liver shot (1st-round KO) in his second defense.
Division 3 All-American wrestler and national tournament runner-up Brennan Ward entered the Season 9 Tournament as a complete unknown, yet proceeded to wreck all comers with three consecutive finishes in the 2nd round (Justin Torrey and Mikkel Parlo by TKO, Joe Pacheco by guillotine choke). The once-beaten 25-year-old flaunts a natural grasp of technical boxing and explosive wrestling, and has basically engaged his opponent on the feet with well-balanced flurries or, if the finish didn't come that way, reverted to powerful throws in the clinch to dominate things on the mat.
Ward is the understandable underdog and taking, by far, his most momentous leap in competition, but don't sleep on the kid.Though he's shown a risky tendency to start sluggish in the first round, his well-tuned wrestle-boxing has been hell on wheels in the second frame.
Brett Cooper, who went into the final round of his rematch with Shlemenko on even terms, proved to be a daunting handful for the dominant champion. While Shlemenko sealed the competitive contest and retained his title with a strong fifth round, Cooper earned a lot of respect for his valiant performance despite the outcome. His tenacious pressure and penchant for close-range brawling will be an interesting contrast to Kendall Grove's noodle-like frame (6'6") and Muay Thai acumen. Since his departure from the UFC in May of 2011, the TUF 3 winner has posted eight wins in twelve outings, though respectable opposition accounts for his shortcomings (Jay Silva, Jesse Taylor, Mamed Khalidov, Michal Materla).
The upset-laden featherweight tournament rolls on with the semifinal round: Matt Bessette, who earned a decision over heavy favorite Diego Nunes, meets one of Germany's finest in Daniel Weichel. Weichel, a talented and diverse product, is typically overshadowed by countryman Dennis Siver despite choking him out in an early confrontation circa 2006. Weichel has faced the likes of Paul Daley, Dan Hardy (welterweights) and Thiago Tavares in the past, and is easily the big sleeper in this season's featherweight brackets.
The remaining featherweight semifinal consists of stalwart wrestler Desmond Green, who took out another tournament favorite in Mike Richman in the quarterfinals, versus Jiu-Jitsu specialist Will Martinez, who upset Goiti Yamauchi in the opening round. Justin Wilcox, Ron Keslar (Season 9 welterweight tournament finalist), Edson Berto, Rad Martinez and Bubba Jenkins all punctuate the Bellator 114 preliminary card, which will stream right here on Bloody Elbow (approx. 6:45 p.m. ET start time).
Bellator 114 (Spike TV at 9:00 p.m. ET)