Bellator MMA concludes its ninth season this Friday night (Nov. 22, 2013) live from Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Bellator 109 "Prelims" under card mixed martial arts (MMA) matches will stream online at SpikeTV.com, beginning at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the televised main card starting at 9 p.m. ET on Spike TV.
In the main event, Doug Marshall challenges for Bellator Middleweight Champion Alexander Shlemenko's title. With a win over "The Rhino," the Russian would notch his third successful defense of the belt, making him the winningest current Bellator champ.
The explosive Marshall is coming into this fight riding a wave of momentum that has seen him stack up four wins in a row, with three of those bouts ending by first round knockout. He's doubtlessly looking to connect with Shlemenko's chin early tonight and bring the belt back to California.
In the co-main event "Ill" Will Brooks takes on Alexander Sarnavskiy in the finals of the lightweight tournament. Brooks fell short in the season eight lightweight tournament, but has a chance to atone for his past shortcomings and punch his ticket to a title shot with a victory over Sarnavskiy.
It won't be an easy task though, as "Tiger" is currently the owner of a superlative 25-1 record, and recorded first-round submission stoppages in the quarter and semifinal rounds of the tournament.
Elsewhere on the card, the finals of the welterweight tournament will be decided when Ron Keslar takes on Rick Hawn. The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) fighter Keslar entered the tournament as a late replacement, but has looked impressive so far in Bellator, racking up a decision win over -- deep breath here -- Luis Sergio Teotonio da Fonseca Melo Jr. and a first round submission victory over The (Mixed) Artist Former Known as Jon Koppenhaver, now legally named War Machine.
To get to the finals of the welterweight tournament he will need to get past Bellator vet Rick Hawn, who has one Bellator tournament final victory to his credit already.
Check out our full preview and predictions below:
185-pound title fight: Doug Marshall vs. Alexander Shlemenko
Marshall is one of those fighters who can justly be described as "a character." Before fights he cuts expletive laden pro-wrestling style promos that borrow heavily from the Phil Baroni school of testosterone-laden braggadocio. Not only that, he has the one punch knockout power to back up his big mouth once the cage door shuts.
Plus, lately he's taken to wearing this goofy leather skirt thing to the cage that, as near as I can tell at least, is meant to resemble an ancient Roman gladiator's outfit. Too bad it looks more like something out of a Dungeons and Dragons-inspired cosplay get-up some LARPer rigged up for "goth night" at a local dance club catering to leather fetishists born before the first Reagan administration.
Shlemenko is the exact opposite of Marshall. For one, you'll never catch him in a leather LARP skirt. For another, it's hard to discern much of a personality in him. Although, as it does with all Russian fighters, Bellator's production team is fond of showing video packages before Schlemenko's fights that feature goofy voice overs with lines like, "The blood of Peter the Great, Rasputin, Ivan Drago, and Zangief flows through my icy veins. I crush men's souls inside the Bellator cage like a pubescent Cossack boy crushing a potato with his bare hands," judging from his inexpressive countenance I have a feeling what he's really saying is some cliche dreck about his upcoming fight "being a war" and "fighting whoever Bellator puts in front of me."
The thing is, Shlemenko's flat personality tends to translate to his fighting style. While there's nothing technically wrong with what Schlemenko does inside the cage, it's seldom exciting. He tends to plod after his opponents while looking to land big punches.
In Marshall he's about to face an opponent who won't let him get away with coming in flat footed and attempting to headhunt. Shlemenko is a lot slower than Marshall and I see that being a big difference maker here. Couple that with Marshall's natural knockout power and it''s a bad recipe for the Russian.
The one X-factor here is Marshall's gastank. If the Russian can wall and stall "The Rhino" in the early rounds and tire him out, he may be easy pickings for Schlemenko in the later rounds.
Still, I think Marshall follows Larry the Cable Guy's advice and "gets 'er done" early in either the first or second round with his big mace of a right hand.
Final prediction: Doug Marshall via second round KO
155-pound tournament final: Will Brooks vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy
Brooks is a promising, 27 year old up and comer with a 13-1 record. His lone loss was in the semifinal round of season eight lightweight tournament against Saad Awad. He's got good wrestling and his stand-up skills are developing nicely.
Sarnavskiy has looked like a beast so far. He's 25-1 as a professional, and is undefeated in his past five fights. The only thing that calls for pause on his record is that his lone loss came at the hands of career journeyman Rich Clementi back at Bellator 77 in October of last year.
If this were a battle of nicknames, I'd have to go with the fairly witty moniker "Ill" that Brooks goes by over the decidedly generic "Tiger." With a nickname like that, one wonder's what's next for Sarnavskiy? Perhaps walking to the cage to the mellifluous strains of Survivor's 1982 hit from the Rocky III soundtrack?
But, as of yet at any rate, state athletic commissions haven't made "coolest nickname" part of the judging criteria in the unified rules of mixed martial arts. So it looks like these two are going to have to decide this old fashioned way.
Sarnavskiy has what it takes to beat Brooks wherever the fight takes place, and with four submission victories in his past five fights, it's only a matter of time before he ends up grabbing a limb or taking Brooks' back en route to giving the American his first submission loss. I'll try to refrain from making any thirty years too late "Eye of the Tiger" jokes when it happens, but no promises.
Final prediction: Sarnavskiy via first round submission
170-pound tournament final: Ron Keslar vs. Rick Hawn
When Keslar made his promotional debut as a shot-notice replacement at Bellator 100 against Luis Sergio Teotonio da Fonseca Melo Jr. -- whose parents evidently didn't believe brevity to be the soul of wit -- he was something of an unknown to the majority of MMA fans.
After two fights in Bellator it's become apparent what the AKA-trained Keslar is all about: imagine a prime, but less talented, Jon Fitch and you have Keslar's style in a nutshell. Please, don't all go racing for your blood pressure medication all at once.
Like Fitch, Keslar goes out and grinds on opponents with a smothering grappling game and, if a submission opportunity presents itself -- like it did against War Machine -- he takes it.
Hawn is a former Olympic judoka who for some reason has preferred to stand and strike for his last few fights, despite his standup skills not being anywhere near at the level of his world-class judo.
Given Hawn's judo pedigree, I don't see Keslar being able to do his typical baby koala bear impression on the judoka. This is going to make it a striking affair, and although it won't be pretty, Hawn should be able to control the standup enough to get a unanimous decision.
Final prediction: Rick Hawn via unanimous decision
170-pound feature fight: Patrick Cenoble vs. Terry Etim
I'm going to drop all dramatic pretense of parity here and hit you with some real talk: if Etim doesn't smoke Cenoble quicker than Nick Diaz's first bowl of the morning, then I will eat Donald Cerrone's Muscle Pharm brand cowboy hat.
Etim is a much better stand-up fighter than Cenoble, and he's light years beyond him on the ground. How good are the Brit's jiu-jitsu skills you ask? Well, during his long Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) tenure he stacked up four submission of the night bonuses, which if you believe Wikipedia, is tied for the most in UFC history.
As for Cenoble? From what I've seen of him he has a tendency to leave himself open to submissions and his standup is competent at best. Not only that, but he's coming off a 1-2-1 stretch in his last four fights, which doesn't exactly paint the picture of a young up and comer on the rise.
Sure, Etim may be 1-3 in his past four at bats in the cage, but I'll take a guy who struck out in the big leagues of UFC over a dude who is having trouble getting it done on the Double-A circuit any day of the week.
Expect a quick slaughter here. Etim takes this by first round whatever the fuck he wants. Let's just say submission.
Final prediction: Terry Etim via first round submission
That's a wrap,
Be sure to check back with us this Friday night (Nov. 22) for Bellator 109 results, play-by-play and LIVE fight coverage for "Shlemenko vs. Marshall" right here on MMAmania.com.
Se you then!