Bellator's ninth season comes to close Friday night when MMA's number two organization puts their middleweight title up for grabs between champion Alexander Shlemenko and season eight middleweight tournament winner Doug Marshall. There are also two season nine tournaments finals at lightweight and welterweight.
Can Shlemenko continue his quiet rise as MMA's most underrated middleweight or will Marshall capture the title? Is Will Brooks the next big thing in MMA? Can Rick Hawn do it again back at welterweight? I answer these questions and more for Friday's fights.
What: Bellator 109
Where: Sands Event Center, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
When: Friday, the six-fight preliminary card starts at 7 p.m. ET on Spike.com. The five-fight main card starts on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.
I'm not sure how the rest of you are feeling, but I wouldn't be so quick to write off Marshall's chances. His style is always going to be flawed against superior strikers or good grapplers with strong takedowns, but he'll also have his moments in there as well. He certainly dispatched Brett Cooper with a great deal more ease than Shlemenko did himself. In the end, though, I'm having a hard time seeing Marshall putting Shlemenko away when Hector Lombard couldn't. Look for the Russian to outlast the WEC veteran en route to a late stoppage.
Will Brooks vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy
I'm not at all convinced about this pick, but I'm going to gamble on it. I'm going to assume Brooks has enough sense to avoid any action even remotely prolonged on the feet for a smothering game plan in transition and on the ground. Tiger's ground game is good enough to give Brooks problems there, but is far less lethal than his standing prowess. If Rich Clementi can do it, Brooks should be able to...'should' being the operative word. I know there's a decent chance I may regret this by the time this event is over.
Ron Keslar vs. Rick Hawn
It's not really obvious what threat Keslar uniquely poses to Hawn outside of the general danger that comes with a professional MMA bout. This isn't to say Keslar doesn't have skills. He does, but the question is what does he do well that Hawn doesn't have a seemingly obvious answer for? Not much really stands out.
After being bounced from the UFC after what were some fairly one-sided stoppages, there's probably an inclination to write off Etim a bit. It's not a terribly unjustified feeling, but he still has enough to look good in his Bellator debut. Cenoble will have issues with Etim's range as long as it stays standing and doesn't seem to have much to indicate he can deal with the Brit's guard either. This is Etim's fight to lose.