Bellator 162: "Shlemenko vs. Grove" takes place tomorrow night (Fri., Oct. 21, 2016) at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., featuring a Middleweight battle between former 185-pound champion Alexander Shlemenko and former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 3 winner Kendall Grove. Shlemenko will look to re-establish himself after more than one year away from Bellator, while Grove would be in contention for a second title shot with his third straight win.
The four-fight Spike TV broadcast also features the return of Heavyweight wrestler Bobby Lashley, Middleweight knockout artist Hisaki Kato, and the son of an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) legend in his first fight since a "Pitbull" dropped him in January.
Let's break it down:
185 lbs.: Alexander Shlemenko (53-9, 1 NC) vs. Kendall Grove (23-15, 1 NC)
It has been a difficult process for "Storm" Shlemenko to get back to this point. The once-reigning king of Bellator's Middleweights lost a non-title fight to Tito Ortiz and, shortly after, dropped his title to "Bull" Brandon Halsey. And just when it seemed like he'd get back on track with a knockout win over Melvin Manhoef the result was overturned because of a staggeringly massive drug test failure that earned him a three-year suspension from the California State Athletic Commission. He appealed the decision, his sentence was reduced, and he's now cleared for his Bellator return.
Grove burst onto the scene in the third season of TUF, defeating Ed Herman to earn a "six-figure" contract. The Hawaiian then toiled away for the next 10 years of his career. He has always managed to stay above .500 in the win/loss column, but the only trophy in his case other than TUF 3 was a ShoFight Middleweight title in 2012. Going into his 40th professional fight at a relatively young 33 years old could mean there's time left to tap his true potential. And with three wins in his last four Bellator fights (two straight by knockout) it's arguably a peak time in his career.
Grove presents a size challenge for Shlemenko at 6'6" with an 80-inch reach (versus 5'11" and a 70 inch reach for the former champion). That's a bigger physical mismatch than either his loss to Halsey or Ortiz, but it certainly doesn't bode well if Shlemenko fights and tests clean. The flip side of that coin is that what Shlemenko lacks in stature he makes up for in technique and experience, packing guns in both arms and having accuracy when he pulls the trigger with 29 total knockouts. Grove has been knocked out as many times as he's won that way (seven each) so let's not assume a size advantage equals a striking advantage. Shlemenko should be able to return to form, but Grove won't make it easy.
Final prediction: "Storm" Shlemenko wins via second round knockout
265 lbs.: Bobby Lashley (14-2) vs. Josh Appelt (12-5)
Every time someone has tried to tag Lashley with the "you're a pro wrestler, not a full-time fighter" label, he has answered his critics and opponents at the same time. With seven straight wins and four straight finishes (two submissions followed by two technical knockouts) there's little doubt at this point that he's capable of doing both simultaneously and succeeding in either arena. In fact, the only reason he's not a Heavyweight champion in Bellator at this point is that nobody has offered him a shot at the vacant title.
Appelt has been there and done that in two stints outside Bellator, winning the Gladiator Challenge title before his debut and West Coast Fighting title after. He'll presumably vacate that title for his Bellator return as he seeks a bigger prize -- knocking off "Dominator" Lashley and putting his name on the short list right next to Cheick Kongo. Furthermore, 66 percent of his wins (eight of 12) come by knockout, while half of Lashley's wins come by submission (seven of 14), but if Appelt wants the upset he needs to land first and/or stuff Lashley's takedown. If Lashley gets you off your feet it's a wrap.
Final prediction: Bobby Lashley wins via rear-naked choke in the first round
185 lbs.: Hisaki Kato (6-2) vs. A.J. Matthews (8-5)
A.J. Matthews is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. For the last five years since his Bellator debut, he has either won two or lost two fights in a row. "The Mercenary" definitely has the size (6'0" with a 75" reach) and striking (six of eight wins by knockout) to be a force in the promotion, but fights that go the distance tend to go against him and his jaw doesn't hold up to a well-executed strike. None may execute better than Kato, a fighter who owes 100 percent of his victories (and both of his losses) to striking exchanges. Fortune favors the bold and Kato will not be scared to exchange here.
Final prediction: Hisaki Kato wins via first round knockout
155 lbs.: Goiti Yamauchi (19-3) vs. Ryan Couture (10-4)
Both men come into this fight off losses with something to prove, though it's hard to say who needs it more. Yamauchi had a three-fight win streak at Featherweight snapped by Bubba Jenkins, which has perhaps prompted him to try his fortunes one class up. Couture had an even longer and more impressive streak snapped -- four wins with four straight rear-naked chokes -- come to an end with a knockout punch from Patricky "Pitbull" Freire. Both are 5'10" with only a one-inch reach difference between them, so they are tailor made to fight each other, particularly given both rely heavily on submissions (15 for Yamauchi, six for Couture). In a fight so evenly matched I can only see one outcome.
Final prediction: Goiti Yamauchi wins via split decision
That's a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver live coverage of Bellator 162: "Shlemenko vs. Grove" tomorrow night, with real-time results throughout the evening followed by Spike TV fights at 9 p.m. ET. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.