Starting this week, the spike.com editorial staff will be providing their picks and insights into the evening's event.
This Thursday is the fourth installment of Season Eight, and we've got another packed show headlined by a Middleweight Title Fight and the quarterfinals of the Featherweight Tournament.
MAIN EVENT: MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT
Alexander Shlemenko vs. Maiquel Falcão
The man they call the #1 Russian fighter faces off against one of the toughest middleweights in the world for the vacant Bellator MMA Middleweight Championship. Who ya got?
I'm going to go with Shlemenko. Falcão is a legitimate contender and coming off that big win against Andreas Spang, but where he used to be a killer he's now developed a more tentative style and a habit of not ending fights. That might not be such a great idea against an experienced fighter with twenty-seven(!) knockouts of his own under his belt.
I don't think it's as cut-and-dried as a lot of people seem to. I think Falcão has been facing tougher guys, so he hasn't been racking up the finishes the way he might like to. I'm still going with Shlemenko, but I think Falcão is going to make it closer than oddsmakers are expecting.
Falcão put his usual berserker style on the back burner and opted for a more methodical approach throughout his successful Season 6 tournament run. He'll certainly need to up his aggression against Shlemenko, a two-time tournament winner. The Russian's unpredictable and up-tempo style makes the difference here, as Shlemenko lands the bigger and more frequent blows to capture middleweight gold.
: Since Shlemenko arrived in Bellator, he has always shown a killer instinct. At this stage of the game, Falcão lacks that killer instinct that brought him to the big show—unless you count that shoving match with Andreas Spang. Make way for the best Russian fighter in MMA today. I've got Shlemenko with the win and that elusive Middleweight World Championship in his grasp.
FEATHERWEIGHT TOURNAMENT QUARTER-FINALS
Along with the Middleweight Title Fight, we're also getting the quarterfinals of the Featherweight Tournament. Three will air on Spike, with one airing as a preliminary bout that will be streamed live at BellatorMMA.spike.com
Marlon Sandro vs. Akop Stepanyan
I'm going with Sandro, my pick to win the whole thing. Stepanyan is a promising and dangerous fighter, but I don't think he's at Sandro's level quite yet and his last fight showed it.
Sandro's got a more complete game. More importantly, the only other time Stepanyan fought a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert, Wagnney Fabiano was kind enough to leave his arm at the lost and found. Sandro might have to snap Stepanyan's arm clean in half get the submission, but he'll walk away with the win.
He didn't have much time to display it in his Bellator debut, but the one-shot KO power Stepanyan possesses can't be ignored. This is a dangerous fight for Sandro on the feet, but he should have a sizable advantage on the ground. I'm guessing that's the game plan for the Nova União black belt and I'll go with Sandro by submission.
Despite being a top featherweight, Sandro's not getting any younger. He knows this could be his last chance to earn that elusive World Championship shot. I expect Sandro to edge out the promising, young Stepanyan.Mitch Jackson vs. Mike Richman
Mitch Jackson for the upset. Richman was looking very impressive until he ran afoul of Shahbulat Shamhalaev in last season's semi-finals. He's drawn a relative unknown here in Mitch Jackson, a submission ace making his Bellator debut. Richman's never been submitted in his career, but there's a first time for everything.
This looks like it has the potential to be a really exciting grappling match, but I expect Richman to keep it standing and rough up Jackson on the feet.
: I agree with Kevin that there's a first time for everything, but in this case it's Mitch Jackson getting stopped with punches. Mike Richman's hands – and feet, as we found out in the Jeremy Spoon fight – are powerful, fast and, most importantly, deadly accurate. "The Marine" picks up another impressive finish.
Jackson with the submission upset win. He has seven straight wins, all via submission and that won't bode well for former tournament semi-finalist Richman."Popo" Bezerra vs. Genair Da Silva
A tough call and a true clash of styles, but I'm going with Bezerra by submission. Da Silva's a great fighter, but he's had trouble making weight and if that's not completely behind him, he could be in trouble.Brian:
I know it's weird to think of a guy who's 14-2 as underrated, but that's Bezerra to me. Oddly enough both of these guys have a split decision loss to Sandro. As much as they'd both love to get revenge in the tournament finals, Bezerra is the one who's going to get closer to that chance.Michael:
Bezerra's rare and dangerous combo of wrestling and jiu-jitsu makes him a tough matchup for anyone. Da Silva has solid striking, especially leg kicks, but I expect Bezerra to overpower him and score a late finish.Fred:
Popo believes he was robbed in his fight with Sandro, so he's coming into this tournament with a vengeance. Da Silva has missed weight twice in his last two Bellator fights. He better get serious, but even that might not help him in this one. Bezerra takes this fight.
(Prelim) Fabricio Guerreiro vs. Frodo Khasbulaev
Khasbulaev, just based on the fact that he's faced Bellator level competition. Either way, though, this might be the most exciting fight of the night. In their combined 35 wins, these two guys have only allowed it to go to the judges 4 times.
: Guerreiro is young and he's been making short work of any Brazilian who can hit 145. He's an exciting prospect and I think he's going to going to give Khasbulaev a really bad night.
Here's a reliable formula: Brazilian + Russian = fireworks. "Guerreiro" brings a 17-1 record into his promotional debut but takes a step up in competition against "Frodo", who sports a 2-0 record under the Bellator banner. Big show experience can make the difference, but I'll go with Guerreiro here.
As Kevin said, these guys don't like going to the scorecards. Khasbulaev has the edge in Bellator experience and when your nickname is "Frodo," you gotta be a bad dude.