Bellator 88 Featherweight Tournament Preview

Bellator 88 comes to us from The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia with the vacant middleweight title on the line between Alexander Shlemenko and Maiquel Falcao in the main event. But the rest of the card is filled by the season 8 Bellator featherweight tournament quarterfinals which will determine the next challenger for the featherweight title, currently held by Pat Curran with Daniel Straus waiting in the wings. Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra (14-2) has seen the Bellator tournament before, losing in season six to eventual finalist Marlon Sandro. He’s gone 5-1 in Bellator, and meets his opponent Genair da Silva (13-4) with open arms. This is a fight a long time in the making, as Silva failed to make weight the last two visits to the Bellator cage, already once removing himself from the season 6 featherweight tournament where he and “Popo” were set to fight. Although da Silva is a game 28-year-old with well-rounded skills, at this point, the real battle seems to be whther or not he can make the cut, and if he can, how will it effect his performance? He won his two catchweight fights, but that means little when you are required to come in at a certain weight — this is a the 145 lb division, after all. And while da Silva’s knockout power is something to be wary of, Bezerra is a BJJ brown belt and can handle himself anywhere in the cage. He has decent hands but his real skills come from his ground game, as evidenced by his nine submissions. Next up, season 7 fetherweight semifinalist Mike Richman (13-2) takes on journeyman and Bellator newcomer Mitch Jackson (19-2) in the next bracket. Richman trains out of The Academy in Minnesotta and has extremely well-rounded skills. In his thirteen professional fights, he has twelve finishes — five knockouts and seven submissions. He is the type of fighter that is pushing the pace and going for the kill at all time, and that may be why his two Bellator wins — both massive KO’s — came in a combined total of one minute and forty-six seconds. His opponent, Jackson, is more of a plodder. Jackson has decent takedowns and when he has you on the ground is actively looking to pass into a more advantageous position. He has a good record and is on a seven-fight winning streak, but he hasn’t faced the best opponents. Richman will be a tough test for him. The third season 8 featherweight quarterfinal matchup is between Russian Sambo World Champion Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (18-5) and former lightweight turned featherweight Fabricio Guerrero (16-1). Guerrero has been on the tip of every scout’s tongue for a while now, with a stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil going unsuccessfully besides his cut to featherweight, and so now he looks to Bellator to make his young dreams come true. Standing in his way is an absolute killer in Khasbulaev. The Russian has scary knockout power, can grapple with the best of the best and is comfortable anywhere in the cage. Khasbulaev is already 2-0 in Bellator with two quick first-round finishes of his opponents, so Guerrero has his capable 22-year-old hands full. This is one of the most interesting battles on the card, and it looks like Bellator has two great prospects here. Finally, former King of Pancrase, Sengoukou featherweight champion and two-time Bellator featherweight tournament runner-up, Marlon Sandro (23-4) makes his return to the cage for another go at a featherweight title shot. His opponent is Akop Stepanyan (12-4) a Russian kickboxing national champion who lost his Bellator debut last year via first round armbar to Wagnney Fabiano. This is another tough matchup, but on paper, Sandro’s veteran skills may be enough to keep the 26-year-old Russian at bay with his formidable strikes. Specifically, Sandro’s BJJ black belt could come into some great use considering Stepanyan’s weakness comes on the ground. Three of his four losses have come via submission, and Sandro is notoriously difficult to KO. Sandro himself has six submission victories mixed in with seven knockouts and ten decisions. The featherweight tournament is filled with unknowns, vets, up-and-comers, and hot prospects. It should be another very interesting season of fights with these eight talented fighters all trying to get to the featherweight belt.

Written by Jason Nawara

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