UnderGround Blogger Evan Boulware recaps Bellator's 8th season
Bellator’s 8th season came to a close last week after its 95th event. This season was a crucial one for Bellator, as it was their first season televised on Spike TV, giving the organization more exposure than it had ever received before. Spike took a gamble airing Bellator as it was not at all well known by anyone outside of MMA’s hardcore fan base, but this gamble paid off. Every week Bellator delivered tremendous action, showcasing the talent and drive of their fighters, who consistently gave the fans great fights, finishes and tournaments. Every single card delivered not just in action, but in ratings, with multiple cards peaking over one million viewers. No one will disagree that this season was a huge success for both Bellator and Spike.
Now let’s break down the season!
Season 8 of Bellator held five tournaments featuring the featherweights, lightweights, welterweights, middleweights and light heavyweights.
Featherweights: One of the biggest stories surrounding the featherweight tournament was the decline of Marlon Sandro. Once a feared knockout artist in Japan, entering this tournament it was clear Sandro had lost a step, recording no finishes by way of strikes in his eight previous Bellator fights. However, he was still considered a dangerous fighter and a top seed of the tournament due to his aggressiveness, power and Nova Uniao refined grappling. In the first tournament fight Sandro faced Akop Stepanyan, an almost unknown Russian prospect, who almost defeated Sandro using a variety of creative kicks and strong takedown defense. Sandro won the decision, but the win came with controversy as many fans and commentator Jimmy Smith scored the fight for Stepanyan. In the semifinals Sandro fought another Russian prospect, Frodo Khasbulaev, who made it to the semi finals by submitting the highly touted prospect Fabricio Guerrero. In a high-paced grappling match that one UGer described as the “Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann of submission attempts,” Frodo outlasted Sandro and delivered a ground and pound beating to force a stoppage in the third.
In the finals Frodo fought Mike Richman, who won his first fight in the tourney by headkick knockout, which he followed up with a close decision win over Alexandre Bezzerra in one of the better fights of the season. The tournament finals saw Frodo land wild hooks in the stand up, while mixing in takedowns when he could. Richman, who most believed would have the stand up advantage in the fight, could never quite find his range, and was out struck and out grappled to a unanimous decision defeat. Frodo will face off with the winner of Pat Curran vs. Daniel Strauss after their bout in the Summer Series.
Lightweights: Saad Awad kicked off the Season 8 lightweight tournament with an upset knockout over Canadian prospect Guillaume DeLorenzi, after replacing the injured Patricky Pitbull. Awad took the fight on short notice, but surprised DeLorenzi early, finishing him just 31 seconds into the first round. In the semi finals he took on blue chip prospect Will Brooks and once again pulled off the upset in just 43 seconds, again via knockout. On the other side of the bracket David Rickels defeated Lloyd Woodard in an all out war, where it was Rickels’ gas tank that eventually earned him a decision in a tremendous fight. In the semis, Rickels faced tournament alternate Jason Fischer, who was tough, but ultimately could not handle Rickels’ pace, as Rickels won another decision. In the finals it seemed as though Awad was going to pull off a third upset. His wrestling was working well for nearly two rounds, but with just seconds left in the round Rickels got to his feet and let his hands go, knocking Awad out just as the bell rang. Rickels will fight the winner of Michael Chandler vs. Dave Jansen.
Welterweights: This season’s welterweight tournament is yet to conclude. Finalist Douglas Lima broke his hand, and the final fight was postponed. To get to the finals Lima displayed top notch striking, using devastating leg kicks until Michail Tsarev could no longer stand up, finishing by him by TKO in the second. In the semifinals he fought alternate Bryan Baker, whom he knocked out brutally with a punch in the first round. In the finals he will meet Ben Saunders in a rematch. Saunders won a dominant decision in the quarterfinals, and went on to finish Raul Amaya with a brutal head kick knockout. Lima won their first bout by way of knockout, but Saunders has clearly improved his striking and grappling since then. Both Saunders and Lima are fan favorites because of the excitement that they always bring to their fights, making this a can’t miss bout that will likely take place in the summer series.
Middleweights: In what was a bit of a trend this season, the tournament favorite Brian Rogers was eliminated early. He fought hard against Dan Cramer, arguably giving the fans the fight of the season, and an early contender for fight of the year. Both fighters were taken down and rocked more than once, but a big knee in the third dropped Rogers and sealed the fight for Cramer, who won a decision. In the semi finals Cramer faced off with Bellator vet Brett Cooper, who used his wrestling to win a decision against Norman Paraisy in the quarterfinals. Cooper attempted to do the same against Cramer but was largely unsuccessful. Likely two minutes away from losing a decision, Cooper landed a dramatic come from behind knockout after rocking Cramer with a huge uppercut, then relentlessly following up with big right hands until the ref called the fight.
On the other side of the bracket, WEC veteran Doug Marshall proved he is still as dangerous as ever. In the quarterfinals he brutally knocked out Andreas Spang in the first round with a huge right hand. In the semi finals Marshall didn’t have much of a chance to put his knockout power on display, as his opponent Sultan Aliev refused to engage on the feet. However it was Aliev’s passivity on the feet and the floor that got Marshall the judges nod in a controversial split decision. Although no one would call Aliev’s performance exciting, many felt his control on the floor and against the cage successfully stifled Marshall’s game, but others argued that a fighter shouldn’t be rewarded for fighting the way that Aliev did.
In the finals Cooper started the fight off strong, successfully taking Marshall down and keeping him there for a couple of minutes. When Marshall got up though, he landed a big elbow that hurt Cooper, and followed up by winging huge right hooks which connected flush and put Cooper out cold. Marshall will now face Alexander Schlemenko in what is guaranteed to be a stand up war that will likely end in a knock out.
Light Heavyweights: Bellator had big plans for their Light Heavyweight division, having both King Mo Lawal and Babalu Sobral making their debuts for the promotion in this tournament. Both fighters were on opposite sides of the bracket, setting up what seemed like the inevitable final of Lawal vs. Babalu. This did not work out. In the opening round a spinning back fist and follow up punches from (yet another) Russian prospect Mikhail Zayats ended the tournament hopes of Babalu in the first round.
Zayats earned a spot in the finals with a first round armbar over Jacob Noe. King Mo had a successful opening round, effortlessly knocking out Przemyslaw Mysiala in the first. In the semi finals though, Emmanuel “The Hardcore Kid” Newton pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory, knocking out an overconfident King Mo with a perfectly placed spinning backfist.
The finals featured a razor close battle between Newton and Zayats, where neither man had a clear edge on the feet or the ground. A late flurry from Newton earned him the third round and the fight, netting him a unanimous decision win, 29-28 on all cards. Newton will have a chance at revenge for his latest loss, he will next face off with Attila Veigh in a rematch for Bellator’s Light Heavyweight Championship.
THE TITLE FIGHTS
At bantamweight, title holder Eduardo Dantas faced off with teammate and mentor Marcos Galvao. Galvao came into the bout with a ton of momentum after a dominant tournament run in season 6. This was a crucial bout for Dantas who was coming off the first loss of his career since joining Bellator. The fight was closely matched, but it was Dantas who eventually got the better of Galvao, landing a big uppercut and knocking him out. It was a very impressive performance by Dantas who proved he is still a top bantamweight, and improving every time out.
Featherweight Champion Pat Curran fought twice in Season 8, beating Patricio Freire and Shahbulat Shamhalaev.
The fight with Freire started off slow with an extended feeling out process, but eventually evolved into an extremely technical boxing match where both fighters had big moments throughout. Freire took control early, but a huge combination to the body clearly took a lot out of “Pitbull” and from there Curran began to take over. Freire fought hard to the end but it was Curran who got his hand raised in a very close decision in a fight that will likely be considered for fight of the year.
Shamhalaev entered the bout with Curran after a dominant run through the featherweight tournament where only one of his opponents made it out of the first round (all three were finished by KO). The title fight did not last long. Curran got a takedown before either fighter got much going on the feet and quickly sunk in a guillotine as Shamhalaev scrambled to his feet. With both of these wins Curran proved he is one of, if not the best fighter outside of the UFC.
Lightweight champ Michael Chandler showed off his skill set, dominating former Olympian Rick Hawn. Chandler out struck and even out grappled Hawn, winning every aspect of the fight. In the second round Chandler sunk in a rear naked choke to retain his belt. This was Chandler’s first title defense since he took it from Eddie Alvarez, and he proved his hype is very real.
Welterweight Champion Ben Askren got his first finish since his Bellator debut, and he did so against the dangerous Karl “Psycho” Ammoussou. Ammoussou threatened once with a leg lock, but outside of that he had no answer for the relentless pressure and top control of Askren, who finally let loose with ground and pound, forcing a doctor stoppage after the third.
Like him or not, Askren is a dominant champion and is here to stay. It is was refreshing to see Askren so tenaciously pursue a finish, when it seemed in his previous fights that he was happy to out position his opponents.
Bellator’s Middleweight championship was up for grabs after being vacated by now UFC fighter Hector Lombard. The two challengers were Alexander Schlemenko and Maiquel Falcao. The first round was slow paced but it seemed Falcao got the better of it. The second round was better, both fighters landed strikes, and it seemed like Falcao was beginning to take a lead. This was until Schlemenko began to batter the body of Falcao, who eventually fell to the mat. Schlemenko followed up by dropping some bombs and he put Falcao out cold.
Just like that Schlemenko became Bellator’s middleweight champion. In his post fight interview Alexander announced to the rest of the division, “I am beat you!”
Christian M’Pumbu attempted to defend his belt against ATT fighter Attila Vegh in what turned out to be a dull affair. Both fighters were hesitant to engage, but when they did it was Vegh who landed the more significant strikes. Most of the fight saw Vegh following M’Pumbu around the cage, but neither man went out of their way to find a finish. Vegh won a clear cut decision in an uncharacteristically slow fight.
Heavyweight Champion Alexander Volkov was the lone champion who did not compete in season 8.
You can check out the fights for free here!
And what's next?
In a quest to keep champions more active, Bellator has announced four-man tournaments for its upcoming summer series, in the heavyweight, light-heavyweight and bantamweight divisions!