Alexander Shlemenko (49-7) will look to make the third successful defense of his Bellator middleweight title when he meets season nine tournament winner Brennan Ward (9-1) in the main event of Bellator 114, which takes place March 28, 2014 at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah.
In addition, season seven finalist Rad Martinez (14-3) will square off against featherweight veteran Edson Berto (17-11-1) on the night's main card, in what will be the final fight of Martinez's professional MMA career.
Bellator officials announced the match-ups on Wednesday.
Of late, Shlemenko's reign as Bellator middleweight champion has been as busy as it has exciting. After complaining about his inactive schedule midway through 2013, the Russian has been repeatedly thrust into action, defeating Brett Cooper in a rousing five-round war of attrition in September, then destroying Doug Marshall with a first-round body shot two months later.
Shlemenko, 29, initially defeated UFC veteran Maiquel Falcao via second-round knockout this past February to claim the vacant Bellator middleweight strap.
"I saw Brennan Ward in the last tournament, he was impressive," Shlemenko said of his new opponent. "But he is a young fighter, while I have experience on my side. My experience will be my strongest weapon in this fight."
A bruising American with Division III wrestling experience, Ward, 25, earned the right to face Shlemenko on the strength of a violent season nine tournament run. Over the course of three consecutive second-round finishes, Ward stopped Justin Torrey via TKO, submitted Joe Pacheco with a guillotine choke, then finished the job by TKO'ing Mikkel Parlo.
"Simply put, I'm looking forward to bringing the heat and taking the belt away, Cold War style," Ward said.
Meanwhile, Martinez, 35, who rose to national prominence in 2011 when he and his paraplegic father were featured in an ESPN's Outside the Lines feature, will attempt to walk off into the sunset with a win when he squares off against the 30-year-old Berto.
"I like to think I've had a pretty good career and as I'm getting older, I've got a beautiful wife and a daughter on the way, the time is right to walk away and focus on being a husband and a father," Martinez said in a statement. "The time was right to walk away while I still have my health, and to be a fantastic father and husband. It means so much to me that Bellator would give me my last fight in Utah so I can have a sendoff in front of all my friends and family. Bellator has treated me so well through my career, and I'm incredibly proud to have my last fight in the Bellator cage."