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By: Alvin Benjmain Carter III, MMATorch Specialist
Bellator's Season opener took place at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. on Saturday night, and the non-televised fights laid the groundwork for a night of exciting fights.
Bellator 98 saw a great deal of line-up changes, but the card proved to be exciting from the start with the first four preliminary fights ending in the first round. Regional favorites Rico Disciullo, Matt Bessette, Ryan Quinn, and Josh Diekman all came out victorious in these with (T)KO or submission stoppages in front of the 5500 fans in attendance.
The production quality of Bellator's live show is excellent. The turnaround of these fights was relatively quick and seamless. This might not be that important to fans at home, but it is an excellent thing for fans in attendance. Sometimes live fight events are so focused on the television broadcast that fans on site lose out. That was not the case.
The main card opened up with Bellator mainstay Patricky Pitbull vs. Derek Anderson. This fight showcased Anderson routing a lackluster Pitbull in a unanimous decision. The four middleweight tournament bouts were next, where we saw Brennan Ward (who stepped in on late notice), Perry Filkins, Mikkel Parlo, and Jason Butcher advance to the next round. Butcher's win stood out as an exciting comeback TKO win against veteran Giva Santana. Santana retired after losing the fight that he controlled in the first round. He said his mind is young and his jiu-jitsu gets updated every day in the gym, but his body is telling him to close the curtain.
At the post-fight press conference Butcher joked that he still thinks that he has the best guard in MMA, but he just didn't get to use it because Santana passed him immediately. Santana responded in-kind saying he did not pass a guard because he did not see one.
The crowd on hand and the fans at home had an exciting card to watch all evening, through, and it was capped off by the Middleweight Championship bout between Alexander Shlemenko and Brett Cooper. Most of the evening's fights did not feature the most technical displays of striking, but they were fun to watch. This title fight magnified that sentiment with one of the most exciting wars I have seen in a while.
Shlemenko and Cooper's five round back and forth war rival's the Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler classic. It seemed as if the tide changed every thirty seconds of this fight, with Cooper displaying improved efficacy in the striking department. Shlemenko was even rocked at times, but he rallied and taunted Cooper to keep coming. It seemed as if this fight could have ended at any moment during the championship rounds, but it slowly became clear in the fifth round that these two were going to the end in their second meeting.
Shlemenko retained his title and both athletes put forth an amazing performance that had the crowd standing in the final minute of the final frame. Brett Cooper did not win the bout, but he surely earned more fans in what is to be considered a classic Bellator battle. The outcome of the bout, and even Cooper replacing Doug Marshall, was not the story of the fight. It was seeing Shlemenko in trouble for the first time. He proved he is beyond durable, and looked like he is light years ahead of those in the tournament. His next fight against Doug Marshall will probably be a war.
I asked Shlemenko if he was surprised by Cooper's ability to bounce from being in danger so many times in the fight, and about being visibly in trouble for the first time in Bellator. He said that he was not surprised at all and that he thought the fight was going to be tough. He has trained with Cooper in the past and were formerly sparring partners, so they both knew what the other one had. He said that his being rocked was "his fault" as he got tagged. He was glad to put on an exciting fight for the fans.
"I was not surprised at all that the fight would not be that tough at all," Shlemenko said after the fight. "I was a sparring partner with him, and we know about each other. It was my fault that we got tagged."
The card had great energy from front to back at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Bellator has the live experience down. The show moves at the right pace giving fans back to back fights with just enough time to get to the merchandise and concession stands. This is impressive with the night's first half of fights ending in the first round. Bellator also incorporates fighters from the area in which each the event is held. This brings in a knowledgeable local MMA community making the fights even more exciting if you are close to the sport.
Bellator's MMA ninth season started off with an instant classic and a lot of excitement. Spike TV is a great way to watch Bellator, but anyone who has an opportunity to see the show live should definitely do so.
Main Card Results:
Middleweight World Championship: Alexander Shlemenko defeats Brett Cooper by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)
Bellator Middleweight Tournament Opening Round: Mikkel Parlo defeats Brian Rogers by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26)
Bellator Middleweight Tournament Opening Round: Jason Butcher defeats Giva Santana via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 1:12
Bellator Middleweight Tournament Opening Round: Brennan Ward defeats Justin Torrey via TKO (strikes) – Round 2, 3:28
Bellator Middleweight Tournament Opening Round: Perry Filkins defeats Jeremy Kimball via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round, 4:18.
Lightweight Feature Fight: Derek Anderson defeats Patricky Pitbull by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
[Photo by Alvin Carter, MMATorch]
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