By Ryan Young
If it seems like there’s been a Bellator card every week for the past two months, it’s probably because there has been.
Don’t worry, after Bellator 92 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., airs on Spike TV at 10 p.m. ET on Thursday, the promotion lets us take a quick breather when it takes a one-week hiatus.
Before the break there’s still the matter of determining finalists in both Season 8’s middleweight and featherweight tournament brackets.
Here’s what to expect from the four semifinal fights making up Thursday’s televised main card…
Season 8 Middleweight Tournament Semifinal bout (185-pounds)
Brett “Fudoshin” Cooper (18-7, 5-2 Bellator) vs. Dan “Cosmo” Cramer (10-3, 7-1 Bellator)
It hasn’t been pretty but with five straight wins, the last three all smothering decision victories inside the Bellator cage, Cooper is just one win away from tying his career best streak and punching a ticket into his first tournament final. The 25-year-old’s grind-it-out style isn’t the most pleasing on the eyes, but it’s brought him a great deal of success recently and it would be smart to stick with.
He’ll have to try to employ his constant grappling attack against one of the few fighters who has been in Bellator as long as him. In fact, 27-year-old Dan Cramer made his Bellator debut on the same night as Cooper, Bellator 15 on Apr. 22, 2010.
Despite working his way to a 6-1 record in Bellator, Cosmo wasn’t granted a shot in a tournament until this season. He entered his quarter-final matchup with Brian Rogers an underdog but managed to outwork and outlast the fan favourite en route to earning the unanimous decision nod.
Both fighters have a similar high pressure, plenty of grappling mindset. While Cooper is likely the more technically sound of the two, I can see Cramer’s strength advantage being the difference maker. There will be lots of takedowns, battles for position, and maybe even a couple of boos, but Cramer should muscle himself to victory.
Winner: Cramer via unanimous decision.
Sultan Aliev (9-0, 1-0 Bellator) vs. Doug “The Rhino” Marshall (16-6, 2-0 Bellator)
The Rhino has charged into the spotlight.
Former WEC light-heavyweight champion Doug Marshall exploded onto the Bellator scene by following a 22-second knockout of Kala Hose in his promotional debut in November with another KO of Andreas Spang in his opening round tournament quarter-final. It makes one wonder if the 37-year-old will even need a second round in his quest for $100,000 and a shot at middleweight kingpin Alexander Shlemenko. Before meeting that Russian he must take on another one in the form of undefeated and little known Sultan Aliev.
Aliev, 28, weathered some early shots from youngster Mikkel Parlo during his North American and Bellator debut last month eventually winning a unanimous decision and semifinal slot. He’ll want to avoid the early bombs thrown by Marshall if he wishes to keep his perfect record intact, no easy task considering the aggressiveness and ferocity with which The Rhino attacks. If he survives the early storm there’s no reason Aliev can’t grapple to a decision victory over aging veteran…IF he survives early.
Winner: Marshall via first round knockout.
Season 8 Featherweight Tournament Semifinal bout (145-pounds)
Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra (15-2, 7-1 Bellator) vs. Mike “The Marine” Richman (14-2, 3-1 Bellator)
Popo Bezerra does not like judges.
In the Brazilian’s seven Bellator victories not one has made it past the second round, while his lone loss came via controversial split decision to idol Marlon Sandro in the semifinals of the Season 6 featherweight tournament. After defeating Genair da Silva with a beautiful armbar in his quarter-final fight Bezerra, 25, now looks to earn entry into his first tourney final and a possible rematch with Sandro.
Richman, 27, is also on the path to redemption. The Marine earned consecutive first-round knockouts over Chris Horodecki and Jeremy Spoon to kick-start his Bellator career before coming up on the wrong end of a Shahbulat Shamhalaev left hand in the Season 7 semis. He answered with a devastating head-kick knockout of Mitch Jackson and hopes to continue to build off that momentum.
This should be a very tightly contested bout. If you were to have to decide who holds the advantage in the stand-up I think most would tend to lean towards Richman, but mostly only for his power. When it comes to the ground game, however, that’s all Bezerra. If “Popo” can use his kicks to stay out of danger on the feet expect him to eventually get the fight to the mat and work for submissions.
Winner: Bezerra via second round submission.
Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev (19-5, 3-0 Bellator) vs. Marlon “The Gladiator” Sandro (24-4, 7-2 Bellator)
Marlon Sandro has been here before.
With his 36th birthday on Friday, Sandro is on the cusp of his third featherweight tournament final in less than two years. The Brazilian has had a sterling nine-year career in the sport with his only losses coming against Michihiro Omigawa, Hatsu Hioki, Pat Curran, and Daniel Straus, a testament to the level of competition he deserves to hang with. While he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down inside the cage, for all intents and purposes we’ll assume this will be The Gladiator’s last crack in the brackets based solely on his age and number of tournament entries. Plus it adds intrigue to his journey.
Speaking of journeys, rumour has it this Frodo guy has been on a good one. Wait, what? Different Frodo?
Well the Frodo I’m referring to is Khasbulaev, a 26-year-old Russian riding a seven fight winning streak. He’s stopped all three of his opponents inside the Bellator cage since debuting in October including an arm-triangle submission over Fabricio Guerriero in what was a fun quarter-final fight for the fans.
Expect the fun to continue into this fight, just more so for the fans than Khasbulaev himself. Frodo showed in his bout with Guerreiro that he won’t fold when put in tough situations, a trait that I feel will be put into good use when facing the savvy veteran Sandro. The Gladiator will use his experience to outclass the Russian but I don’t see him putting the scrappy Khasbulaev away.
Winner: Sandro via unanimous decision.
Bellator 91 Results: Another shocking Saad Awad first-round knockout cost us a perfect card as we fell to 2-for-3 last week. That makes us 26-7 overall this year.
Ryan Young is a regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s MMA section. Follow him on Twitter @YoungRyan4.
Full Bellator 92 weigh-in results:
Featherweight Tournament Semifinal Fight: Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev (145.8) vs. Marlon Sandro (145.8)
Featherweight Tournament Semifinal Fight: Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra (146.0) vs. Mike Richman (145.4)
Middleweight Tournament Semifinal Fight: Dan Cramer (185.6) vs. Brett Cooper (185.1)
Middleweight Tournament Semifinal Fight: Sultan Aliev (185.8) vs. Doug “Rhino” Marshall (185.1)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Nick Piedmont (146.0) vs. Cleber Luciano (144.6)
Welterweight Feature Fight: Sabah Homasi (170.6) vs. Ricky Legere (173)*
Lightweight Feature Fight: Akop Stepanyan (156.0) vs. Chris Saunders (154.5)
Middleweight Feature Fight: Richard Rigmaden (178.6) vs. Keith Berry (186.0)
Heavyweight Feature Fight: Josh Appelt (247.0) vs. Manny Lara (254.2)
Featherweight Feature Fight: Shad Smith (146.0) vs. Aaron Miller (146.0)
Light Heavyweight Feature Fight: Rocky Ramierz (204.8) vs. Brandon Halsey (205.0)
* Legere had two hours to make 171 pounds