Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Garden State" this Thursday night (April 4, 2013) at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The main card will air live on Spike TV on fight night, beginning at 10 p.m. ET.
Headlining the main event will be a Bellator featherweight title fight between champion Pat Curran and challenger Shahbulat Shamhalaev. Curran is coming off his first successful title defense, defeating Patricio Freire this past January in the first event of the promotion's eighth season. Shamhalaev stepped up on short notice to fight for the belt just six weeks after earning his title shot after becoming the season seven featherweight tournament winner.
Also on tap is a featherweight tournament final between Frodo Khasbulaev and Mike Richman. Both men have looked impressive but it's been Khasbulaev who's dropped some jaws in the tournament and is coming off a tremendous victory over Marlon Sandro in the semifinals. The winner will potentially get a shot at the Curran-Shamhalaev winner down the road depending on the nature of Daniel Straus' injury and legal situation.
The other final will be a middleweight battle between brawlers Doug Marshall and Brett Cooper, who both overcame adversity to potentially earn a shot at Alexander Shlemenko.
Last but not least, two judo experts will throw down as recent title challenger Rick Hawn moves up in weight to take on UFC veteran Karo Parisyan in a serious grudge match.
Our complete Bellator 95 preview and predictions are posted below:
145 lb. title: Pat Curran (18-4) vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev (12-1-1)
Curran is one of the only Bellator fighters to win multiple tournaments and he's the only man who won a tournament in two different weight classes. The latter of which was the featherweight tournament which he cashed in on Joe Warren to become the champion. Curran was out for much of 2012 with an injury but returned against top challenger Patricio Freire and outlasted the Brazilian to retain his belt this past January.
Shamhalaev has been a wrecking ball in his brief Bellator career, crushing everyone he's faced after debuting in the season seven featherweight tournament. He smashed Cody Bollinger with ground and pound, caught Mike Richman with a heavy counter shot and then finished gritty wrestler Rad Martinez with a nasty second round flurry six weeks ago to earn his title shot. He stepped up on short notice when Daniel Straus went down with an injury.
On the feet, this will be a battle between two solid counter strikers. Curran has tremendous defense, but Shamhalaev is so quick, his hand speed is so tremendous and he has such power on the feet that he could put the champion in trouble if this fight stays standing for the full duration. Look for Curran to try to mix it up in the clinch and particularly on the ground where he's got solid wrestling and a very strong submission game. The longer this fight goes, the better off Curran will be as Shamhalaev's conditioning is a huge question mark. If he can drag this fight into the later rounds, he's got a good shot of pulling it out.
Final Prediction: Pat Curran via submission in round four
145 lbs.: Frodo Khasbulaev (20-5) vs. Mike Richman (15-2)
Khasbulaev has had a remarkable run in Bellator, finishing two opponents quickly during season seven on the preliminary card and then bursting onto the scene in the season eight featherweight tournament. "Frodo" crushed elite Brazilian prospect Fabricio Guerreiro and then put a huge stamp on his tournament run by finishing top veteran Marlon Sandro in the third round of the semifinals. Now he's looking to potentially earn that title shot.
Richman has some of the best boxing in Bellator's featherweight division and he showcased it in the quarterfinals, destroying Mitch Jackson via violent first round knockout. He showcased tremendous heart against Alexandre Bezerra in the semifinals, surviving a horrible situation on the ground to bounce back and win the final two rounds and take a close decision victory and earn his final spot.
Richman on the feet is incredibly dangerous, but his defense still needs some work. He manages to get hit hard even when he's finding success with his strikes and it's going to be very difficult for him to be fully comfortable on the feet with the threat of the takedown from Khasbulaev. The Russian has tremendous sambo, solid ground and pound, submissions and even competent enough striking to hold his own with anyone. He also gets stronger the longer a fight goes on so I think the well-roundedness of his game is going to be too much for Richman here.
Final Prediction: Frodo Khasbulaev via TKO in round two
185 lbs.: Brett Cooper (19-7) vs. Doug Marshall (17-6)
Cooper has a reputation for being very durable and he showcased that in his first two fights, outwrestling Norman Paraisy in the quarterfinals and then showcasing incredible heart against Dan Cramer, pulling out a victory from the brink of defeat by catching Cramer with a huge uppercut and finishing his opponent in the third round to earn his shot in the finals.
Marshall exploded into the Bellator tournament with a huge first round knockout of tournament favorite Andreas Spang. In his last bout, he took on Russian prospect Sultan Aliev and was taken down repeatedly, but made the best of every opportunity he was able to bring the fight to its feet. It was very controversial, but he pulled out a split decision against the Russian after closing very strong in the third round as his opponent played it too safe.
Marshall is very dangerous, but Cooper has a tremendous chin. Look for Marshall to try to knock his head off early on but if that doesn't work, it will play right into Cooper's game. Cooper has showcased some pretty solid wrestling (although he hasn't been able to do much with it once he's taken the fight to the canvas) and he's just as capable of finishing a fight in the end of the third round as he is in the first. I think he takes Marshall's best shot and then dishes it out after handling the first round.
Final Prediction: Brett Cooper via TKO in round two
170 lbs.: Karo Parisyan (22-9) 1 NC vs. Rick Hawn (14-2)
Parisyan was once considered one of the best welterweight prospects in the world with his killer judo attack but a combination of painkiller addiction and horrible mental problems have left him a shell of his former self. It's crazy to think that four years ago he beat Dong Hyun Kim (with the fight later being reverted to a no contest). He's won two straight fights, but they were over dreadful competition and the opponents were likely hand selected to help him get his confidence back.
Hawn, on the other hand, is a judo practitioner who has realized his potential. He got a bit of a late start to his MMA career but he's made the of it and a drop down to lightweight brought out the best in him with two vicious knockouts and a decision win to earn a title shot against Michael Chandler. In his title shot at the beginning of this season, he came up short to Chandler via second round submission and is hoping that a quick turnaround will do well for him.
Parisyan may have given Hawn a good fight about five or six years ago, but not today. Hawn is in better shape physically, mentally and technically at this point and even though this bout is taking place at 170 pounds, Hawn is likely going to be able to have his way with Parisyan until he finishes the fight. His power is substantial and it's unlikely Parisyan is going to be able to handle it once that huge right hand connects.
Final Prediction: Rick Hawn via knockout in round one