April 4 Preview and Predictions
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Bellator's ending its season finale with not one but TWO tournament finals and a Featherweight championship bout. Should be a hell of a card, so let's get right down to it.
FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT
Pat Curran (c) vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev
Note: Shamhalaev, who just won the Season 7 tournament last February, is a replacement for the injured Daniel Straus.
Kevin Marshall (Writer): Shahbulat Shamhalaev has looked like a total beast, and as great as Pat Curran's been, I would normally say that we could see the title change hands. I won't this time around, though, because I think the short notice and quick turnaround might be too much. Pat Curran retains, but this definitely won't be the last time we see Shah fighting for the belt.
Fred Richani (Coordinating Producer): If Shamhalaev wasn't fighting on such short notice, I might be inclined to pick him. Not this time though. I stopped counting Curran out since he stunned Marlon Sandro a couple of years back. I don't think Curran will stop Shamhalaev, who is still a formidable challenge, but he will break him down over five rounds to retain his title via Unanimous Decision. It's not the wisest move to keep heavy-handed Shamhalaev around for 25 minutes, but Curran can take a shot and dish out many more.
Michael Roberts (Social Media Edior): Shamhalaev rolled through the Season 7 tournament, knocking out all three of his opponents with only Rad Martinez surviving the first round. "The Assassin" has looked impressive, but there are still questions surrounding the challenger. How Shah responds to getting hit and being in deep water is a mystery. Curran answered those in his last outing, as he took some shots courtesy of Patricio Pitbull before finding his groove en route to a decision win. If Curran's footwork, head movement and jab are on point, they'll give Shamhalaev fits. Regardless, Curran just seems like he's on another level right now and I'm going with him by decision.
Brian Dermody (Sr. Sports Writer): Nobody's been more impressed with Shamhalaev as I have, but Curran is just going to outlast him. He's used to longer fights and comfortable with getting hit. I think as the fight goes on, Shah fades and Curran starts picking him apart. It won't be enough to put him away, but he'll get the cards. Curran by decision.
MIDDLEWEIGHT TOURNAMENT FINAL
Doug Marshall vs. Brett Cooper
Richani: Horrendous judging won't save Doug Marshall this time around. His wild, unorthodox style will leave him prone to takedowns or Brett Cooper's vicious, trademark uppercut. Marshall is a tough guy to put away, but I can see him getting tired as the fight progresses, allowing Cooper to finish him and not get Sultan Aliev'd.
Roberts: This is just an awful matchup for Marshall. Cooper has the more well-rounded game, a big wrestling advantage and has the kind of unsuspecting power you can't underestimate. As much hype as there is around Marshall's power, Cooper's KO percentage is just as high and his chin typically holds up better against incoming fire. Three rounds won't be needed and Cooper takes the tournament.
Dermody: I like any fight that looks like it could take place in a prison yard, and the sloppier Marshall can make this, the better his chances are. If he can get Cooper to abandon any semblance of a gameplan he can end this one quick. But I think Cooper controls the pacing and capitalizes on opportunties, winning the tournament and keeping his Red Carpet Ready good looks intact.
Marshall: Cooper escaped his war with Dan Cramer by the skin of his teeth. This time around he's dealing with someone that isn't as technically proficient, but is a lot more dangerous. I think Marshall's controlled chaos will overwhelm and he'll win with a second round knockout.
FEATHERWEIGHT TOURNAMENT FINAL
Frodo Khasbulaev vs. Mike Richman
Roberts: The hands and feet of Richman were all the rage ahead of his bout with Popo Bezerra, but after seeing his composure on the ground it's difficult for me to go against him. "The Marine" has the more accurate and diverse striking, important factors when both guys pack the power these two do. While "Frodo" without question has the advantage on the ground, I think Richman's knowledge of distance helps him stay on the feet as he scores another decision win.
Dermody: This one is hard as hell to call, but that's why we're here, so I'm going to stop stalling and pick Richman for exactly the same reasons as Mr. Roberts, but I think Richman's striking accuracy is the difference maker, as I'm going to predict Richman is the first to find Frodo's off button. Richman by KO.
Marshall: I think Richman is still improving and could surprise everyone with a tournament win, but Frodo's got a deeper toolbox. I'm calling a first round knockout.
Richani: Richman has looked damn good almost his entire Bellator MMA career, but he's still not that far removed from a stunning knockout loss to Shamhalaev. I'm not saying Richman is underestimating Khasbulaev, but it's easy to overlook the skills of a low-key fighter with the nickname "Frodo." Khasbulaev caps off his unlikely Season 8 success with a knockout to earn a featherweight title shot.
NON-TOURNAMENT WELTERWEIGHT BOUT
Karo Parisyan vs. Rick Hawn
Dermody: The trouble with Karo Parisyan is he's fighting two guys in there. He's got to deal with Rick Hawn, and he has to keep his own thing in line too. I really hope he's got his well-publicized anxiety issues under control, regardless of how he fights Thursday. To that point, I think he does what he can do against Hawn, which won't amount to much. I like Hawn to get a finish here.
Marshall: I'm intrigued to see this in terms of a battle of judoka, but I have a hard time believing that Karo is still at Hawn's level. Hawn is as underrated a fighter as you'll find. He's won a Lightweight tournament and got to the finals of the Welterweight tournament. Karo, in the same time span, has gone 4-5 and his only gains are against far lesser competition. This is Hawn's fight to lose.
Richani: I loved watching Parisyan back in the day. While he has overcome demons and been on the comeback trail, his recent success is against competition that is frankly no where near Hawn's level. As Marshall said, Hawn is as underrated as they come and this is his chance to make a statement against a star of the past. I sincerely hope Parisyan's road to redemption continues, but his immediate future looks grim inside the Bellator MMA cage. Hawn ends this one rather quickly.
Roberts: For as much as this is being hyped judoka vs. judoka, my take on this fight is Rick Hawn's right hand vs. Karo Parisyan's chin. I'm not optimistic that "The Heat" can take Hawn's power at this point in his career. Sean Wheelock should be able to say the trunk colors, but Hawn finishes this one before the stools come out.