Bellator 109 Preview for ‘Shlemenko vs Marshall’ Main Card on Spike TV

Bellator 109Bethlehem, Pennsylvania plays host to the final Bellator event of season nine with a stacked card featuring the defense of the middleweight championship as well as the conclusion of the welterweight and lightweight tournaments. Let’s take a look. The best Russian MMA fighter since Fedor, Alexander Shlemenko (48-7) will defend his Bellator middleweight strap for the second time against Doug Marshall (18-6). Marshall won the season eight middleweight tournament with a brutal knockout over Brett Cooper, but was injured in August and couldn’t fight for the title. Cooper fought in his place using the Bellator clause that can put in a finalist if the tournament winner can’t fight for the title, but he ended up falling to Shlemenko in a really fun action-packed fight. Shlemenko has awesomely unorthodox stand-up, throwing spinning back fists at will, and has a sambo background that really fills in his cracks well. Shlemenko is on an 11-fight winning streak since losing to Hector Lombard back at Bellator 34, and he’s joined Reign Training with Mark Munoz to help sharpen his wrestling and takedown defense. In short, he’s become a monster, while Doug Marshall has looked good as well. This should be a fantastic brawl, as Marshall wings heavy punches with reckless abandon. Shlemenko has a good chin, and he may take some needless shots, but this is somewhat even on the feet. On the ground, Shlemenko has the edge, and has better subs. I could see Shlemenko even pulling off a nice guillotine early. We’ll see. This has fight of the night written all over it and will be damn exciting, but Shlemenko is the better overall talent. The season nine lightweight tournament final is next, with 27-year-old Will Brooks (13-1) is taking on another one of Bellator’s scary Russians in Alexander Sarnavskiy (25-1). Sarnavskiy came into Bellator with loads of hype, but was quickly derailed by journeyman Rich Clementi, falling to a split decision in the season seven lightweight tournament quarterfinals. Since then, Sarnavskiy has been on a veritable rampage, winning five fights in a row, only one by decision and his last four fights via submission. His last three in under two minutes. Now, Will Brooks has the wrestling and gas tank to nullify Sarnavskiy if he can can turn this into a typical midwestern grindfest, but Sarnavsky can finish from the bottom, and he’s extremely explosive in the first round with his stand up and submissions. That said, he fades late, as we saw with Clementi. Brooks avenged his Bellator 91 KO loss to Saad Awad by getting a tough decision over him at Bellator 105, and has a good mix of some developing striking and ring awareness. On paper, this is all Sarnavskiy, but Brooks can play spoiler no doubt if it goes past the first round. The welterweight tournament final features season four welterweight tournament runner-up and season six lightweight tournament winner Rick Hawn (17-2) taking on late replacement Ron Keslar (11-3). Keslar came into the tournament on just a few weeks’ notice, grabbed the split-decision of Luis Melo at Bellator 100, then “shocked the world” in a brilliant rear naked choke win over War Machine. Rick Hawn is a judo Olympian, he has developed some amazing power in his hands, knocking out Karo Parisyan, Ricardo Tirloni and Lloyd Woodard over the last year or so. Keslar is a Jon Fitch protege’ who loves to grind his opponents into making a mistake, but that will be an uphill battle against judoka Hawn. Granted, Michael Chandler absolutely dominated Hawn with his wrestling, but the difference between Chandler and Keslar is heavy hands. This should be Hawn’s fight, but Keslar has a heart that won’t quit. This could be interesting if it goes to the ground. On the feet, it’s all Hawn, who will be looking for another spectacular knockout. Rounding out the main card is UFC vet Terry Etim (15-5) against 24-year-old knockout artist Patrick Cenoble (9-2-1). Etim is best remembered from his four submission of the night awards in the UFC, as well as being a pretty exciting fighter, while I don’t know much about Cenoble other than a knockout highlight reel and his draw against Tony Fryklund at Bellator 94. He hasn’t had much experience against good competition, but he does have power in those fists. When it comes down to it, Etim is on the downslope and Cenoble is on the somewhat up slope, but Etim should still be the massive favorite here.

Written by Jason Nawara

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