The mask is familiar. It bears the likeness of an unstoppable alien warrior, a lethal killing machine who picked off his adversaries one by one. The mask belongs to a man who hopes his fists can destroy the competition in a similarly dominant fashion during the course of the Bellator season five middleweight tournament. The mask belongs to Brian “The Predator” Rogers.

Rogers, who has embraced the moniker of the classic sci-fi movie icon, joins seven other talented competitors in the latest middleweight bracket constructed by the Bellator organization. The quarterfinal round of the tournament begins this Saturday at Bellator 50 in Hollywood, Fla., and finds Rogers paired with Victor O’Donnell. The level of competition in the tournament is unlike any Rogers has faced, despite his appearances with Shine Fights and Strikeforce.

Brian Rogers sporting the "Predator" mask (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

“Everybody is dangerous in the tournament,” Rogers told The MMA Corner. “Anybody can ruin your day. My opponent, O’Donnell, is a submission specialist. Jared Hess and Sam Alvey are great wrestler/grinder type of guys. The other strikers in the tournament – (Alexander) Shlemenko is a tough striker, he’s won a tournament before; Zelg Galesic is a Pride veteran, and a tough striker, as well. Bryan Baker is a runner-up who’s got a lot to prove, as well. (Vitor Vianna) is a world jiu-jitsu champ.

“Anyone that can impose their will can ruin your day. They all pose threats.”

For Rogers, being in such company is a dramatic turnaround from a professional career that saw the Ohio native drop two of his first three fights.

“I’ve always been successful at pretty much everything I’ve done in my life, so I definitely didn’t want to be associated with losing or failure,” said Rogers. “So it just motivated me even more to keep training harder, working harder. Things have turned out well since.”

Before ever strapping on a set of four-ounce gloves, Rogers strapped on a set of shoulder pads, playing linebacker for Walsh University and earning All-Conference honors. He also participated in wrestling and track in his youth, while also training in Isshin-ryu karate. Once Rogers graduated from college, earning a degree in education, he needed something to replace football and quench his thirst for competition.

“I was really bored and looking for something to get back into competitively,” said Rogers. “Initially, I just was taking some jiu-jitsu classes and whatnot, but I fell in love with (MMA) from there.”

His first professional fight would come through a unique and somewhat high-profile, though far from ideal, setting. Rogers took part in the BET television network’s “Iron Ring” reality series, making his pro debut in 2008 at the show’s finals against Daniel Akinyemi.

“I went out initially for a tryout in August of 2007 for some, for just what I heard was a reality MMA show,” Rogers explained. “I didn’t really know a lot about it. When I got down there, it was actually a one-round fight to take to be able to get on the show. So they kind of sabotaged you in there, without really knowing or having a lot of information.

(Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“At the time, I was about 218, 220 (pounds), going there. I was still fighting (at) 205 and I was still an amateur. They happened to like me at the trials. They did some stories on me, then in February of 2008 they finally decided they were going to do these fights and film the show. So I got a call at about two weeks’ notice that I’m taking the fight at 185 (pounds).”

Rogers lost the short-notice bout to Akinyemi via unanimous decision and, after posting a submission win at a NAAFS event, would come up short once again in the judges’ eyes against Valter de Menezes at the first-ever Shine Fights event in May 2009. However, things soon started looking up for the young fighter. Five months after his second loss, Rogers returned to NAAFS to knock out Dan Bolden. The victory would kick off a six-fight stretch in which “The Predator” destroyed all of his foes in the first round via some form of knockout to move his career record to 7-2.

“I always had the ability, it was just being more focused,” the 27-year-old explained. “Focused in my training, just staying on it. My coaches and teammates at Strong Style just helping me to be better prepared all-around.”

With UFC veterans Forrest Petz and Jeff Cox, UFC newcomer Stipe Miocic and Bellator fighters Jessica Eye and Chris Lozano among the members of the Strong Style Fight Team, Rogers has been able to prepare alongside some talented training partners.

“I think we’re one of the best teams people are starting to talk about,” said Rogers, who is not yet a full-time fighter. He also holds down a job as a special education teacher in the Leap program, working with children who suffer from emotional or behavioral disorders. Much like his teammates and coaches, his fellow staff members at the school have been there to support him in his fight career, attending his bouts and cheering him on.

The most significant of those contests to date came with a win over Ian Rammel in Rogers’ Strikeforce debut. Following the victory, he signed on to take part in Bellator’s season five middleweight tournament. His first fight in the tourney is also the first time he’ll compete outside of his native Ohio since the 2008 Iron Ring Finale, which took place in Louisiana. Oddly enough, despite fighting more than 1,000 miles from home, he’ll face another prospect hailing from the Buckeye State.

(Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)

“When two guys are in a close enough area, you’re gonna fight anyway,” Rogers said. “It might as well be on one of the biggest stages in the world.”

The 10-2 O’Donnell brings quite a different style to the ring in contrast to Rogers. Whereas “The Predator” has posted just one submission against six knockouts, O’Donnell has eight submissions to his credit versus only one knockout. That fact definitely frames their match-up as a classic striker-versus-grappler affair.

“His submissions are good,” Rogers admitted. “He’s a solid wrestler, as well. I can’t sit here and say I’m not worried about it whatsoever, but really I need to worry about implementing my game plan.”

Rogers started training casually for the tournament in May, and began a more focused camp in June. He feels the work he’s done has prepared him for whatever O’Donnell might throw his way.

“I definitely believe I can beat him,” Rogers said. “I think he’s a good grappler and a good striker, but I think I have the grappling defense to hold him off and I think I’m the superior striker. I just got to not let him settle in any good positions on the ground and I think I’ll be okay.

“I believe I’m a better, more explosive athlete. Faster and stronger.”

One of Rogers’ teammates, Forrest Petz, has fought O’Donnell before. While the UFC veteran has shared as much insight as he can on O’Donnell, Petz did lose their meeting via submission.

“Victor straight up beat Forrest, so I can’t say anything about that,” Rogers said. “But if anybody has seen Forrest fight, and then watched that fight – I don’t think Forrest brought his best effort to the cage that particular night. It was the fight after he had been recently cut from the UFC.

(Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“Not to make any excuses, I mean stuff happens, but I don’t think he fought the best Forrest Petz. But I think he’s going to fight the best Brian Rogers there is this Saturday.”

Rogers is out to make a big impression in his promotional debut. He won’t be completely satisfied to just get the win.

“I’ll be disappointed if it goes to a decision,” Rogers admitted. “Even if it’s a unanimous decision and it’s just me beating him up for three rounds, I’ll be disappointed in myself. I want to kick off the tournament with a finish. It’ll be something big and explosive. It’ll be a big strike to finish the game, followed by a flurry. It might not be a clean knockout, but it will hopefully be a stoppage of some kind.”

Awaiting the winner of the middleweight tournament is a shot with Bellator 185-pound kingpin Hector Lombard. Lombard has dominated his competition in Bellator, but Rogers would love a chance to change that.

“I’ll worry about him when the time comes,” Rogers said. “I got three fights to go. But it’s probably the two faster, explosive fighters in the tournament, so I think it’ll be a head-on collision, regardless.”

Before Rogers can think about that, however, he must begin the hunt in the eight-man bracket. He’ll have to pick off his foes one by one, proving that he truly is an unstoppable predator.

Brian Rogers would like to thank everyone at Strong Style Fight Team, as well as his sponsors: Intimidation Clothing, VXRSI Clothing, Defiance Tattoos, Jaco Clothing, Jose’s Landing, Crow’s Auto Body, Fast Graphics, Zarrixstraps and SPC CrossFit.

Top Photo: Brian Rogers (r) battles Ian Rammel (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)