Alexander Shlemenko sports 34 finishes among his 46 victories. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
After producing strong showings in its first three efforts on Spike TV, Bellator Fighting Championships on Thursday offers up its fourth Season 8 event from The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. This card contains just about everything a growing boy or girl needs to grow into an irresponsible adult, unable to distinguish violence on television from violence in their real lives.
Seriously though, this card has it going on in spades. Fans will be treated to a middleweight title attraction between Alexander Shlemenko and Maiquel Jose Falcao Goncalves, as well as the featherweight tournament quarterfinals. As always, the Spike TV-broadcast main draw airs immediately following the show’s preliminary stream on Spike.com.
Here is what to watch for at Bellator 88:
Chance of Showers
I think Alexander Shlemenko might be my favorite fighter in all of Bellator.
Can you really fault me for taking such a stance? The dude is a never-ending violence geyser, after all. Also keep in mind that the 28-year-old leader of the RusFighters Sport Club has not lost since his failed 2010 title bid against Hector Lombard, rattling off nine straight wins and becoming the second man to win two Bellator tournaments.
“Storm” was struck by a bolt of bad luck in April, however. Just six days after demolishing Ikuhisa Minowa under India’s Super Fight League banner, the Russian was hit by a drunk driver while taking a ride in his homeland. Sitting in the passenger’s seat of the vehicle, Shlemenko suffered a broken collarbone and a dislocated thumb in the accident and saw his active schedule stifled as a result.
Nevertheless, the striker returned to competition just four months later, taking a unanimous decision over Strikeforce veteran Anthony Ruiz at a League S-70 event on home soil. Now a full nine months removed from the car crash, will “Storm” succeed where he previously failed and finally take Bellator’s middleweight title back to Omsk?
Standing in Shlemenko’s way will be Falcao, one of the few men on the Bellator middleweight roster who can match the Russian’s power in the standup.
A onetime Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran, Falcao has won 13 of his last 14 and holds 23 of his 31 career wins via form of knockout, despite posting a trio of unanimous decisions in the Season 6 tournament to earn his crack at the gold.
If Falcao is to become Bellator’s new 185-pound pacesetter, I think he will have to gain the upper hand early against Shlemenko, who is known for his durability, as well as his striking prowess. “Big Rig” is at his best in the first five minutes of a bout, before the lactic acid takes effect and his opponent is given the opportunity to hit him back. When Falcao is in charge, he is a tough man to beat.
If Shlemenko can drag the Brazilian into the championship rounds, I see him scoring a late finish. Conversely, if Falcao turns the bout into a firefight in the first 10 minutes, I figure this one is a coin flip.
Last Stop for Sandro
Made a bridesmaid in two previous tournaments, the former Sengoku champion can nary afford another runner-up finish. Though the stone-fisted veteran has clearly proven himself as one of Bellator’s best featherweights, he is not getting any younger. One must also factor in the 27 professional battles waged by the 35-year-old. Still, Sandro has been fortunate to suffer just a single knockout in his eight-year career.
Sandro will face Akop Stepanyan in the 145-pound quarterfinals. Submitted with a straight armbar courtesy of former International Fight League champion Wagnney Fabiano in the Season 7 quarterfinals, Stepanyan saw a 14-fight winning streak come to an end when he tapped out to the painful technique. If Sandro wants to duke it out, which he usually does, it would seem the hard-hitting Russian will serve as a near-perfect dance partner.
I will not lie. I am high on Mike Richman.
He may never win Bellator’s featherweight title, but I can guarantee that, more often than not, he will probably tear down the house with this willingness to stand in the pocket and bang. Like Sandro, Richman hits like a truck. Unlike Sandro, Richman, 27, still has time on his side -- a good thing, considering how his last fight transpired.
After scoring a devastating knockout victory in his Bellator debut over IFL and World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Chris Horodecki, “The Marine” did the same to the once-beaten Jeremy Spoon in the Season 7 featherweight draw, relieving the Oklahoman of his consciousness in just 23 seconds.
Unfortunately for Richman, the tables were turned on him in his next outing, as he ran into a crushing overhand right from Shahbulat Shamhalaev in the Round of 4. Look for the Minnesotan to tighten up his defense in Season 8, though he will likely be more concerned with protecting his neck instead of his chin against submission specialist Mitch Jackson in the quarterfinals.