This is it, the final event of Bellator's eighth season. On the docket is a featherweight title defense between champion Pat Curran and surging striker Shahbulat Shamhalaev. The evening also offers two more tournament finals as 'Frodo' Khasbulaev and Mike 'The Marine' Richman vie for the featherweight tournament championship. Doug Marshall vs. Brett Cooper is the other tournament final, this time for the middleweight division. The card also offers a clash of judokas with UFC veteran Karo Parisyan and former Olympian Rick Hawn opening the show on Spike TV.
Can Curran continue his run of dominance? Will 'Frodo' finally earn the respect he's been looking for? I answer these questions and more with my predictions for Thursday's event.
What: Bellator 95
When: Thursday, the Spike TV-televised card begins at 10 p.m. Eastern on Friday. However, Spike.com will carry the preliminary fight card beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Where: Revel Resort and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey
If Curran wants to keep his title, he's going to have to employ the other dimensions of his game beyond his crisp, technical boxing. That's ironic since Curran's boxing is the most potent weapon he has. The problem is the speed differential and well as the power favors the striker from Daegestan. That said, Curran's wrestling and top control game should overwhelm Shamhalaev. He struggles to make weight and has had real cardio issues in previous fights. It won't be easy, but if the champion can secure the takedown and make use of his time on top to land damaging shots, he can retain his title. Stand with Shamhalaev at your own risk, however.
This is my favorite fight on the card mostly because Khasbulaev has been the little engine that could this entire tournament. A fighter who virtually no one knew about came out of obscurity to not just win, but to fight as if he had a chip on his shoulder. I like him to win tomorrow by mixing up his game. Richman's boxing is too good to not score points and cause a few range problems for Khasbulaev, but I don't see that being enough to keep Khasbulaev away. Besides, 'Frodo' isn't really a range shooter, but a clinch or body lock takedown kind of guy. From there I suspect he'll do what he normally does: mix in guard passes with strikes to either set up submission attempts or more striking opportunities.
I don't want to pick Marshall, but I kind of have to, right? He should've lost his bout in the semifinals, but somehow made it through. Still, he's looked a lot better than I remember him. He's still a brawler, for sure, but his cardio is very reliable, his offense is a little more strategic, and hey, he's proactive. I like Cooper and was happy to see him get past Dan Cramer, but he is up and down all the time. Cooper might be a better 'fighter', but Marshall's aggression is likely to be a big problem to handle early.
At his peak, Parisyan was a better submission grappler than Hawn. He was also a better MMA fighter. He was never a better judoka. Now? I don't know what to make of him. Hawn isn't a spring chicken, but doesn't have the mileage or issues the Armenian does. Moreover, Parisyan's ability to take punishment seems to slowly wane and Hawn has a corker of a right hand. Parisyan also looked soft on the scales weighing-in for this event. If he can get Hawn on his back, there might be a hope for him. Otherwise, this is Hawn's fight to lose.