Bellator Fighting Championships will head to "The Constitution State" this Saturday night (Sept. 7, 2013) at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The special two hour main card will air live on Spike TV on fight night, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
Headlining the main event will be a Middleweight title fight between champion Alexander Shlemenko and challenger Brett Cooper. Cooper was recently a runner-up in the Bellator season eight middleweight tournament but is stepping up as the first fighter to cash in on the new Bellator injury replacement clause as Doug Marshall was unable to compete.
Also on tap will be a feature bantamweight attraction between former Bellator featherweight champion Joe Warren and Nick Kirk. This will be Warren's first fight since coaching on "Fight Master" and he'll be looking to make one last run towards a title as his fighting career begins to wane down.
Last but not least, the season nine middleweight tournament will be kicking off with the quarterfinals as top contenders Andreas Spang, Jeremy Kimball, Brian Rogers, Jason Butcher, Giva Santana and more all vie for a shot at the title.
Our Bellator 98 preview and predictions are posted below:
185 lb. title: Alexander Shlemenko (47-7) vs. Brett Cooper (19-8)
Shlemenko has been one of the most active fighters on the planet in the modern era, thus fighting in Bellator suited him perfectly. "Storm" won two separate middleweight tournaments and on his second try, he claimed the promotion's title, viciously knocking out Maiquel Falcao to claim the vacant belt.
Cooper has been a staple of Bellator's welterweight and middleweight divisions throughout his run with the promotion, advancing through multiple tournaments and putting on gutsy performances throughout, but it was his most recent run that put him in position to vie for the title. He ground out a decision in the quarterfinals but scored a fantastic knockout over Dan Cramer to advance to the finals, where he was stopped by Doug Marshall. When Marshall got injured, he became the first fighter to cash in on the injury replacement clause.
These men have fought before and last time, it was an all out war where Shlemenko managed to win a unanimous decision. Both men have worked and trained together during stints at Reign Training Center, but that shouldn't affect how this fight plays out. Cooper has a good uppercut and has potential to grind this fight out, but it's much more likely that Shlemenko is able to work in the pocket and score with heavy punches, kicks and knees. If he can connect solidly, there's a very good chance he wears Cooper down and finishes him.
Final Prediction: Alexander Shlemenko via TKO in round three
135 lbs. Joe Warren (8-3) vs. Nick Kirk (10-2)
Warren has done his best to become one of the staples of the Bellator roster. The brash bantamweight fought undersized in the season two featherweight tournament and managed to not only win it, but dethrone champion Joe Soto in the process. He would get knocked out by Alexis Vila and Pat Curran in consecutive bouts to lose his title, but he bounced back with a decision victory over Owen Evinger.
Kirk has had significant success outside of the Bellator cage, winning all 10 bouts, but for some reason or another, he hasn't been able to put it all together with the number two promotion. "The Big Hurt" lost a pair of decisions to David Harris and Tony Zelinski respectively, but bounced back each time. The 30-year old is hoping to shock the work with a big upset victory on Saturday night.
Obviously, Warren's plan of attack revolved around his wrestling. He was a world champion in Greco Roman and he hasn't had the knee or shoulder injuries that have slowed down other top athletes. "The Baddest Man on the Planet" will be looking to get inside and beat down Kirk with punches or even potentially take a risk and go for a submission if he can gain a dominant position on the canvas. Kirk needs to keep his distance and try to clip Warren with big strikes, but it won't be easy. His best chance is to take advantage if Warren gets overzealous or sloppy, which isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Final Prediction: Joe Warren via decision
185 lbs.: Justin Torrey (7-0) vs. Andreas Spang (8-3)
Believe it or not, Torrey's MMA career spans 10 years despite only having fought seven times. He made his mark on the local Massachusetts circuit and gained an opportunity to fight for Bellator back when the promotion was first getting started. He fought at a pair of Bellator events in 2009 and 2010, winning both bouts and has not seen combat since. He's hoping to make a triumphant return against Spang.
Spang has long been considered a terrific striker, but he proved it with his vicious knockout of hometown favorite Brian Rogers in his Bellator debut, which advanced him to the tournament finals as an injury replacement. He was outgrappled by Maiquel Falcao to lose a decision, but entered the most recent eighth season as a heavy favorite. That didn't happen as he was scorched by Doug Marshall in the quarterfinals. He'll be given another chance to prove himself this time around.
Torrey is going to have some insane cage rust, and I just don't think his overall skill-set is enough to overcome Spang's excellent technical striking. If Spang gets into a groove before Torrey snaps out of it, this one could be over quickly.
Final Prediction: Andreas Spang via TKO in round two
185 lbs.: Mikkel Parlo (9-1) vs. Brian Rogers (10-5)
Parlo made a name for himself on the European circuit, showcasing violent knockout ability against a wide array of opposition. He caught the eye of Bellator and made his debut with the promotion last October, scoring a first round TKO of Jared Combs to earn a berth in the season eight tournament. He was matched up against top grappler Sultan Aliev in the quarterfinals and could not get anything going, being stifled over the course of three rounds en route to losing a decision. He's hoping to get back to his finishing ways against Rogers.
Rogers has become one of Bellator's most popular fighters primarily due to his unique look and his incredible first round finishing ability. He entered the promotion on an incredible six fight first round knockout streak and kept it alive by crushing Victor O'Donnel. Despite not winning two straight fights for the promotion yet, he's still considered one of the most exciting middleweights around.
Both Parlo and Rogers are going to be looking to stand and bang, but Rogers' excellent hip tosses and unique takedowns could be what puts him over the edge. If Parlo is getting the better end of the striking, Rogers can likely take him down and drop some heavy strikes on the canvas. Parlo does not have that edge, so if he's losing the stand-up, he just has to take it.
Final Prediction: Brian Rogers via knockout in round one