Bellator will crown a new middleweight champion and kick off the start of its season eight featherweight tournament during Bellator 88 this evening from Duluth, Georgia.
Alexander Shlemenko and Maiquel Falcao meet for the vacant Bellator 185 pound title and Marlon Sandro and Mike Richman will headline an eight-man field vying for a shot at the belt at 145 pounds. The show's main card will air live on Spike starting at 10 PM. You can also catch the preliminary bouts right here on MMA on Tap starting at 8 PM ET.
My predictions are after the jump.
This one promises to be an absolute slugfest. No one goes for the kill on the feet in Bellator quite like Shlemenko, but history shows us that Falcao is more than willing to take one to give one right back. I would give Falcao an advantage on the ground, even though he is partial to using advantageous positions to dish out punishment rather than go for submissions. The longer the fight goes, the more I tend to favor Shlemenko. I think he'll finish Falcao off with strikes late in round three.
While this could easily turn out to be a war on the feet, I would also expect a more seasoned fighter in Sandro to take things to the ground. Stepanyan is dangerous on the feet but has shown a weakness on the mat. Three out of his four career losses have come via submission, and he looked out of place on the canvas during a first-round submission loss to Wagnney Fabiano in his Bellator debut this past October. Sandro should take advantage and submit Stepanyan, likely in the first frame.
In a clash of styles, each fighter's mission is simple here. Richman would love to keep the fight standing and look for his third KO win under the Bellator banner, while Jackson will look to get things to the ground as soon as possible with his grappling. Jackson's smothering style may end up giving Richman fits, but I believe the former marine will be able to hang on the mat long enough to return to his feet. I'll take Richman by TKO in the second.
Victorious in two prior Bellator appearances already, Khasbulaev made his tournament debut against newcomer Guerreiro, a savvy prospect with an active ground game. Khasbulaev has made his bones with quick wins in Bellator, but he will certainly be tested by Guerreiro, who has finished all but two of his opponents. Khasbulaev is no slouch in the grappling department either. However, I think he'll weather Guerreiro's initial submission attempts but ultimately get caught by the young Brazilian. Guerreiro by submission in the second.
The fourth featherweight quarterfinal bout features Bezerra and da Silva, two fighters that have shown a lot of promise but have both come up short in their meetings with Marlon Sandro. I expect a tightly contested affair and one that goes the distance. Ultimately, I think that Bezerra has more experience against seasoned fighters and will escape with a win. Bezerra by split decision.