On a Thursday night when the semifinals of the season 8 middleweight and featherweight tournaments were being staged, the Brazilians on the main card would face a disappointing night while the Russians and Americans would find reasons to smile.
Headlining the Bellator 92 card from the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., was one half of the featherweight semis, pitting former Sengoku featherweight champion Marlon Sandro against Magomedrasul 'Frodo' Khasbulaev. While Sandro entered the bout the fan favorite, he left forcing many to wonder if his days in mixed martial arts were numbered.
Aside from an inadvertent groin kick that temporarily halted the action in the first round, the entire bout belonged to Frodo. Be it aggression, pressuring Sandro backwards, winning scrambles or landing hard strikes from superior positions, the Russian never gave Sandro an opportunity rest or create real offensive momentum for any sustained period of time.
The Nova Uniao product did enjoy a brief moment in the second round where he nearly scored a head an arm triangle choke after Frodo found himself undernearth Sandro from a modified fireman's carry. Yet, the Russian rolled belly down then to his back to create enough space and open angles to escape. Once he was free, he returned to business, doing what he had done for nearly all of round one and most of round two: take Sandro down, pass to a superior position and score with ground and pound or very close submission attempts. Despite Sandro's jiu-jitsu pedigree, Khasbulaev came extremely close with a kimura submission attempt. Where he failed there, he scored with a kimura sweep.
By the start of the third, Sandro looked winded and emotionally deflated. Frodo, recognizing opportunity and seemingly angry, immediately scored a takedown and soon after moved to partial side control. Within just a few moments, he forced a referee stoppage with a steady stream of hard hammerfists to a cowering Sandro who was leaning on his left hip and only holding a hand up to cover his face.
The end came officially at 2:38 of the third round. Khasbulaev will now face Mike Richman in the tournament finals for a chance to earn a title shot against the winner of Pat Curran vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev.
"I feel great. Tired, but thank you to all my fans," said Khasbulaev post fight. "Thank you to Russia and to my native Dagestan. And to my promotion, club Champion."
Both middleweight semifinals for season 8 were contested Thursday evening. In the co-main event, WEC veteran Doug Marshall took on Sultan Aliev. Per his reputation and stated intentions, Marshall spent much of the bout trying to score a knockdown with heavy single-shot attempts, but it was his porous takedown defense that seemingly did him in.
In all three rounds, Marshall hunted Aliev, walking him down and doing his best to land winging hooks are knees up the middle. In the second frame, Marhsall came close, landing a partial head kick with his foot, partially off balancing the Russian. But it didn't seem like enough and Aliev was able to time Marshall by level changing as he swung wildly.
In a surprising decision, however, the judges awarded Marshall a split decision victory, taking 29-28 on two of their scorecards. Aliev took a 30-27 nod on the third.
In the other season 8 middleweight tournament semifinals, Dan Cramer . In the first frame, Cramer managed to score an early takedown and used it to eventually score back control. Late in the first, Cooper was able to reverse to side control from top position after briefly being mounted, but the first round belonged squarely to the American Top Team product.
The second round was slightly better for the Kings MMA product, but he wasn't able to score on much of anything. While he was the aggressor in pressing Cramer into the fence for a takedown, virtually all of his efforts were thwarted. Worse, Cramer was able to score in short bursts from the Thai clinch or at boxing range, albeit in limited volume.
By the third frame, Cramer scored on several hard strikes before Cooper scored a brief takedown. Still, the American Top Team product and former The Ultmate Fighter cast member was able to quickly stand. But that would spell the beginning of the end for Cramer. As Cramer walked forward, Cooper was able to score his patented uppercut flush in Cramer's chin. Cooper, sensing he'd clearly wobbled Cramer, threw a barrage of punches. A right hand landed flush, but as Cramer slumped forward he landed on Cooper, which kept him propped up. Cooper reset, measured distance and landed another right hand that sent Cramer crashing to the mat face first. Referee John McCarthy stepped in to call a halt to the bout at 3:19 of round 3.
Cooper will now face Marshall in the finals of the season 8 tournament where the winner will face Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko in a title bout.
In the opening bout of the main card, Mike Richman and Alexdre Bezerra fought in the other of the night's season 8 featherweight tournament semifinals. Bezerra used his superior wrestling and grappling to not achieve mount before taking Richman's back in the opening frame, where he spent nearly three minutes of the round and easily took it on the judges scorecards.
In the second frame, Richman turned the tables, however, stuffing all of Bezerra's takedowns and landing precise jabs, counter hooks and straight punches. The third round was the closest, though, with Richman scoring cleanly with his boxing both early and late while Bezerra managed to earn a takedown and backtake in the middle portion of the frame. Ultimately, the judges gave it to Richman in a spit decision victory where he took home 29-28 scorecards according to two judges. A third scored the bout 29-28 for Bezerra.
"He's got a granite face," Richman said of impending opponent and fellow season 8 featherweight tournament finalist Khasbulaev. "He looks extremely strong. There's gonna be a lot of jabs, a lot of one-twos, sticking and moving and just another exciting fight."
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