Tonight, Bellator MMA presents their final show of their ninth season, at the Sands Casino Event Center in Bethlehem, PA and broadcast on Spike TV at 9 pm EST/PST. The show is predictably stacked, with a title fight in the middleweight division, and the season 9 lightweight and welterweight tournament finals besides.
Let’s have a look:
Return of the Badass Russian
I’ve made it no secret that I’m a big fan of Bellator Middleweight Champion Alexander “Storm” Shlemenko. Yesterday in offering the Bellator season 9 report card, I remembered one of his great bouts, the back-and-forth brawl with Brett Cooper, as among Bellator’s fight of the year candidates. He’s all action and pure aggressiveness, currently riding an 11 fight winning streak — with his only recent loss to the resurgent Hector Lombard.
Tonight he faces Doug Marshall, an unsophisticated brawler who is probably a bit over-matched, but look for fireworks as long as this one lasts.
Return of the Other Badass Russian?
Shlemenko protege Alexander “Tiger” Sarnavskiy has been looking scary good in Bellator competition, winning both his season 9 lightweight tournament bouts by first round choke submission. He’s 25-1 overall and at 24 years old, his well-rounded and aggressive attack is only going to get better. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Bellator’s excellent Unrivaled special featuring both Sarnavskiy and Shlemenko.
His opponent for tonight’s final, Will Brooks, is only 27 and also has one loss — which he avenged in his last bout. Then, Brooks dominated old foe Saad Awad with takedowns, solid groundwork, and the occasional strike.
“Tiger” will enter as my favorite, but not by much: Brooks is quick, firing leg kicks and initiating takedowns well out of a deep, open stance. Expect him to have his moments in an entertaining bout.
170 lb Sleeper?
The welterweight final may be the least hyped of the three feature bouts of Bellator 109. With Ben Askren controversially and famously on his way out of Bellator MMA, both the former Olympian’s career and the division in general are something of a mess. In addition, both 170 lb finalists actually entered the tournament as injury replacements. Both are interesting talents, though. Maybe this one will exceed expectations.
The first finalist is Ron Keslar, an American Kickboxing Academy product who may be familiar with viewers of NuVo TV’s series “Fight Factory.” If you haven’t checked it out, give it a look and weep with me that it looks like we won’t get a second season.
Keslar was hailed by Team AKA trainer Bob Cook as a killer in the gym, but prone to freezing up under the lights. Having rattled off six wins in a row, maybe now is when he fulfills that potential. At 33, the time is now. He’s a big, and typically good “wrestle-box” North American MMA fighter, but also showed a nice submission in a standing rear naked choke in his last bout — getting the upset finish against War Machine.
Tonight, Keslar will enter the underdog again as he faces former Olympic judoka and Bellator mainstay Rick Hawn. 37 year old Hawn has tournament experience, having cut to lightweight to win Bellator’s season 6 tournament. He’ll be at a size disadvantage here, but he’s also more skilled and seasoned fighter and should find a way to win.
As always, enjoy the fights. We will have play-by-play coverage tonight!