Shahbulat Shamhalaev will enter the cage on a six-fight winning streak. | File Photo: Sherdog.com
Have we truly come to the end of Bellator MMA’s eighth season?
“Say it isn’t so!” cries everyone who is not a Bellator employee and who therefore does not keep the most insane travel schedule in the history of the human race. Apologies, friends, but we must give those poor devils a break. Besides, now we can all gear up for reruns of “Bar Rescue” instead.
Season 8 concludes with Bellator 95, arguably the finest card Bellator has put forth so far this year. The show goes down from the Revel Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., and airs live on Spike TV. Here is what to watch for:
Shamhalaev the Killer
There are a couple of particularly amusing quotes floating around the World Wide Web that I would like to share. Ahead of his title defense against Shahbulat Shamhalaev, Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran spoke to MMAWeekly.com about putting his belt on the line in the Bellator 95 main event.
“I worked really hard to get where I’m at,” he said. “I put a lot of hours in the gym and a lot of time into things, and I’m definitely not going to let go of things easily. You’re going to have to pretty much kill me to take that away from me.”
Shamhalaev was apparently asked by Mixfight.ru to respond to the comment. Granted, this English interpretation was formulated by the sometimes idiotic Google Translate, but I think the gist comes through pretty clearly.
“If he knew how often killed in Dagestan,” he said, “then I would not say such a thing.”
What is the comeback there? What could one possibly say to intimidate a guy who has literally lived in a warzone? That is checkmate, friends.
Shamhalaev has carried with him that grim seriousness into the cage for each of his Bellator bouts, most recently separating powerful wrestler Rad Martinez from his consciousness in the delayed Season 7 tournament final last month. In Curran, Shamhalaev will again face a larger opponent, though this time the man from Dagestan could have his hands full with Curran’s much improved striking.
Shamhalaev’s unflappable demeanor aside, the 29-year-old’s ability speaks for itself. With that said, so does Curran’s.
First off, the champion is enormous for a featherweight, and he does not waste his size, strength and reach advantages when he steps into the cage. Should we count the number of guys who have gone toe-to-toe with Patricio Freire and lived to tell about it? Curran not only survived but persevered, using pinpoint counter punching to edge the hard-hitting Brazilian in a split verdict on Jan. 17.
Emerging from the fight relatively unscathed, Curran accepted another title defense in short order against former foe Daniel Straus. However, after Straus broke his hand and was then arrested in Florida for possession of … um, party supplies, let’s say … Curran was instead paired with the Dagestani dominator.
Can Curran use his ever-improving boxing to keep Shamhalaev on the end of his jab and make his opponent pay if he misses with a wild shot? If Curran manages to close the distance and take down Shamhalaev, can he hold him there? Will Shamhalaev fade over the course of a five-round fight or will his power punching keep him in it, despite Curran’s likely athletic superiority? If you are not excited about those questions being answered, then you need to follow a different sport.
No surprises here, folks. If Richman can keep this fight at range, he is going to put a million dents in the Dagestani’s mug and may just turn out Khasbulaev’s lights. Perhaps more than anyone else under contract with Bellator, Richman has consistently put forth a beautiful combination of power, speed and technique with his standup attack.
The problem here is that Khasbulaev can walk through punches like the T1000 walks through bullets and bazooka shells and pretty much whatever the heck else you want to throw at him. If “Frodo” puts Richman on his back, you can take the win to the bank because that little dude’s ground-and-pound is simply on another level.
The middleweight final will go like this: Doug Marshall is going to swing really, really hard at Brett Cooper for as long as he can muster it, and Cooper will see if he can take it.
If Cooper did not earn himself a whole mess of fans with his first two tournament performances, then there is no justice in the world. Especially impressive was his third-round comeback win over Dan Cramer in the semifinals, a performance Marshall would be wise to study.
Marshall needs to land early and often in this one. If he allows Cooper to hang around or score an early takedown, I think it will be a long night for “The Rhino.” Yes, the 36-year-old former World Extreme Cagefighting champion survived Sultan Aliev’s takedown-heavy attack in the semis, but Marshall will find himself in a world of hurt if he allows Cooper to follow that blueprint.
Sizzle vs. Fizzle
Anyone for judo?
When I first saw that Karo Parisyan was making his Bellator debut against Rick Hawn, I will admit that I executed a double-take. This is a fight full of uncertainty.
How will “The Heat” look against a razor-sharp competitor and former Olympian like Hawn? Parisyan has not been the same since tearing his hamstring in 2005 -- an injury that cost him a title shot against Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight king Matt Hughes. Painkiller abuse and anxiety issues would follow for the talented judoka, though he has nevertheless posted a winning record since the injury in spite of those problems.
In facing Hawn, Parisyan will have little room for error. In addition to Hawn’s ample skills in the clinch and on the floor, the former Olympic judoka carries a keg of dynamite in his right hand. He is also coming off a shellacking at the hands of lightweight champion Michael Chandler. Will Hawn rebound with a convincing victory over Parisyan, or does “The Heat” still have a little sizzle left in his game?