Every week, the staff here at BellatorMMA.spike.com will be providing their picks and insights into the evening's event.
THIS WEEK: We start heading into the home stretch with the Middleweight and Featherweight semi-finals.
And wouldn't you love to play along at home? Well, now you can with the all new Bellator MMA app, now available in the App Store for the iPhone and iPad
(Android coming soon!). There's a lot of cool stuff you can do with this thing: before the card, get a detailed breakdown of vital stats and make your fight picks for the main card. One of the coolest features is the ability to score the fight yourself as it's happening with the assistance of live real-time stats from CompuStrike. Oh, and it's free! What are you waiting for? Go get it already!
While you're waiting for it to download, check out our picks for this Thursday's Middleweight and Featherweight Tournament Semi-final bouts.
Once again, Producer and Senior Sports Writer Brian Dermody dominated the picks last week, going 4 for 4 on the week, and 16-4 overall. Kevin Marshall is in last place on the season right now but is still correct 60% of the time. You're dealing with experts here.
MIDDLEWEIGHT TOURNAMENT SEMI-FINALS
Doug Marshall vs. Sultan Aliev
Kevin Marshall (Writer)
: My namesake shook up the entire tournament when he dispatched of Andreas Spang in the quarterfinals. This one should be a slugfest with the early finish that we thought Sultan Aliev's quarterfinal fight would be. This time, it's going to be Doug Marshall, who is in the midst of a career resurgence, going into the tournament finals with an early walk-off KO.
Brian Dermody (Senior Sports Writer)
: I like Aliev's chances from the moment the referee starts this one, and the longer it goes, the more I like them. Marshall's fought twice since November and has less than four minutes of cage time to show for it. But he's also 37 and has been knocked out more than a couple times. He's going to come out swinging for the fences, and if Aliev can outlast that he'll handle his business, which is what I'm expecting him to do.
Michael Roberts (Social Media Editor)
: Marshall made the biggest statement in the opening round of the middleweight tournament, taking Andreas Spang out in brutal fashion. Aliev kept his perfect record intact, but his 3-rounder didn't exactly light the world on fire. While I agree with Kevin that Marshall (the other one) is riding an enormous wave of momentum, the road ends here. Marshall's uncompromising aggression leaves him exposed and Aliev capitalizes with a KO.
Fred Richani (Coordinating Producer):
Marshall showed fight fans he's ready to be taken seriously again last time out, but his overly aggressive style could leave an opening for the deceptively dangerous Aliev. Aliev's '0' will eventually have to go, but that won't happen Thursday night. Aliev stays undefeated and makes sure this fight doesn't go to the judges.
Brett Cooper vs. Dan Cramer
: Both of these guys grinded out decisions last time out, which was only a few weeks ago, and they're both tough to finish – Alexander Shlemenko couldn't put Brett Cooper away last year. Dan Cramer's only been stopped once in thirteen fights. So if it comes down to conditioning as I think that it will, I give Cooper the slight edge.
: Cooper made full use of his wrestling advantage over Norman Paraisy, abandoning his striking efforts even when he was having success on the feet. Cramer, meanwhile, put up a complete effort against Brian Rogers, eating the best shots "The Predator" dished out and using his wrestling with undeniable success. The well-roundedness of Cramer makes the difference here, as "Cosmo" takes a close decision.
: Cooper has relied on his wrestling lately, much to the dismay of many fans. In all honesty, it seems like he's played it a little too safe. Cramer has momentum after his hellacious win over heavily-favored Brian Rogers and proved that he could overcome adversity inside the Bellator MMA cage. Cramer may not finish Cooper, but he will give the veteran the most trouble he's had in quite some time. Cramer defeats Cooper and advances to the middleweight tournament finals.
: I made the mistake of underestimating Cramer in the quarterfinals. As much as I like Cooper, I won't make that mistake again. I'm going with the rapidly improving Cramer winning a Unanimous Decision.
FEATHERWEIGHT TOURNAMENT SEMI-FINALS
Marlon Sandro vs. Magomedrasul "Frodo" Khasbulaev
: If Marlon Sandro's quarterfinal performance is any indication, his incredible battles in both the Bellator cage and in Japan have officially taken their toll on "The Gladiator." All signs point to this tournament being the legendary Brazilian's last chance at gold and he certainly has his hands full in the semis. Frodo Khasbulaev's heavy and accurate hands certainly can finish Sandro if he carries his stiffness over from the quarterfinals. As much as I'd love to see Sandro dish out a trademark finish, the speed of Khasbulaev makes me lean towards the Russian here.
: If this were the Sandro of a couple years ago, my pick would be a no-brainer. Sadly, Sandro looked nothing short of old in his last fight. In fact, many say he was lucky to get the judges' decision, and honestly, I don't disagree with anyone who feels that way. Could it be possible Sandro just had a bad night? Sure, but at 36, the featherweight legend is on the downside of his decorated career. Khasbulaev scores the upset and moves one step closer to being $100,000 richer.
: I was as impressed with Khasbulaev back in early February as I was disappointed with Sandro, who looked aged and sluggish en route to a controversial majority decision. It could have been a bad weight cut, but I think more than anything it was indicative of a change in the featherweight pecking order. Khasbulaev has been knocking them down and taking home limbs throughout his current seven fight win streak. He'll continue here. Khasbulaev by KO.
: If you ever saw the piece "MMA Uncensored Live"
did on Marlon Sandro last year, you understand why it pains me to pick against him. But as my esteemed colleagues pointed out, Sandro looks like age is catching up with him rapidly. On the other side of the cage, Frodo has been fighting like a champion. Sandro's going to give him a good fight. I'm certainly not writing him off as a chump. But Khasbulaev is going to take this.
Alexandre "Popo" Bezerra vs. Mike Richman
: With only two losses in each of their respective professional records (Popo 15-2, Richman 14-2), this looks to be the most evenly-matched tournament fight this season. Popo Bezerra has been on an absolute tear since making his Bellator debut in June 2011. He has finished every opponent in his Bellator wins. The only time Bezerra went the distance in Bellator was against Sandro last April, which saw him lose a controversial split decision. Since then, Bezerra has won two straight fights, all in the first round via submission. He has not been finished since 2009. Richman is coming off of a devastating knockout win over Mitch Jackson, but his first-round TKO loss to current number one contender Shahbulat Shamhalaev last November is still fresh in many fans' minds. Both will want to end this fight quickly, but I have to go with the more experienced Bellator fighter here in Bezerra. Expect fireworks.
: Popo Bezerra and Mike Richman had tough draws in the semifinals of the Season Seven Featherweight Tournament (Sandro and Shamalaev respectively). Luckily for them, this time at least one is guaranteed a trip to the finals. Richman's stand-up will cause some headaches, but Popo's got a strong chin and I think a better overall game. Popo by submission.
: I can't wait for this fight, and unlike Cooper vs. Cramer, I'm definitely expecting to see a guy finished here. That guy is Popo Bezerra. Richman by TKO.
: It's darn near impossible for this one to be boring. Bezerra's well-rounded game could make the difference, as the Brazilian will certainly have an advantage on the mat. Richman's hands are some of the best at 145-pounds period and, as his highlight reel shows, his kicks aren't too shabby either. This one really comes down to who makes the first mistake, and I think "The Marine" learned his lesson against Shamhalaev. The quick and pinpoint strikes Richman brings to the table will eventually overwhelm his foe, as he downs Popo in the second.