Bellator MMA returned for the debut of season nine on Spike TV last night (Sept. 4, 2013) in Uncasville with a middleweight title fight and the middleweight tournament quarterfinals.
Headlining the main event was a Bellator Middleweight title fight between champion Alexander Shlemenko and injury clause replacement Brett Cooper. Both men had fought a back-and-forth brawl previously in 2011 and they picked up right where they left off.
Cooper came out swinging, mixing up takedown attempts and heavy punches, landing several blows clean during key exchanges with the champion. Despite not having won the season eight tournament, he came out incredibly motivated to try to take the title.
The second round was Cooper's best performance, actually rocking Shlemenko during a big trade with a right hand and nearly dropping the Russian stalwart. Somehow, the Rusfighter remained on his feet, even beckoning Cooper to bring it on.
After round two, the tides began to turn in Shlemenko's favor as his superior conditioning and aggression began to pay dividends. He landed significantly more strikes in the third round, but it was his opening in the fourth that really put him in prime position, dropping Cooper with a huge left hand.
With many fans and media alike having both men tied after four rounds, Shlemenko's conditioning and grappling sealed the deal for him as he was able to outstrike Cooper in the final frame while taking him down three times for good measure. When it was all said and done, the judges unanimously sided with Shlemenko to help the champion retain his belt for the first time in what was likely Bellator's most entertaining fight of the year thus far.
The middleweight tournament was full of surprises as Mikkel Parlo was able to take Brian Rogers' best shot and not only hurt "The Predator" on multiple occasions, but also take him down and do damage from top position on the canvas.
Despite likely being on his way to winning a decision, Parlo landed a massive knee to the face with less than 10 seconds remaining and likely should have earned a TKO finish in the closing moments, but the ref allowed Rogers to hang on by the skin of his teeth. Regardless of whether he earned a finish or not, Parlo was awarded a big victory to advance to the semifinals.
Also advancing was unbeaten Jorge Gurgel-protege Jason Butcher, who took veteran Giva Santana's best shot in the first round. "The Arm Collector" took Butcher down and worked him over from top position for the majority of the opening frame, but Butcher came out smart in the second round, taking advantage of Santana's conditioning and catching him with some big shots to earn a TKO victory.
Afterwards, the 41 year old Santana announced his official retirement from mixed martial arts. He'll go back to his side job as the jiu-jitsu instructor of Team Oyama in California, not a bad gig.
In a battle of two men making their tournament debuts, short notice injury replacement Brennan Ward made the most of his opportunity against Justin Torrey by surviving a rough first round and coming back strong in the second, hurting Torrey badly and focusing his efforts on his opponent's injured left eye.
Ward exploded the huge mouse on Torrey's eye and kept the pressure on him, attacking him with punches and hammer fists until he wilted and the ref was forced to put a stop to it.
Last but not least, Perry Filkins put major pressure on Jeremy Kimball and dominated him from top position, with strikes and eventually forced him to tap out to a rear naked choke after completely wearing him out for nearly three full rounds in one of the night's biggest upsets.
Filkins will battle Ward while Butcher will face Parlo in the middleweight tournament semifinals. Do you think any of these fighters could give champion Shlemenko a run for his money? There are several new faces.