It has been more than two full years since Bellator last had a middleweight title fight. In that bout at Bellator 34, then champion Hector Lombard topped Alexander Shlemenko by decision after five rounds.

Since that time, Lombard has vacated the belt to compete in the UFC, Shlemenko has captured yet another 185-pound tournament crown and UFC veteran Maiquel Falcao has also claimed a middleweight tournament of his own.

Now, when Bellator ventures into Georgia on Feb. 7 for Bellator 88, Shlemenko and Falcao will lock horns to find out who will be the next fighter to stake their claim to Bellator gold.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Shlemenko – 10, Falcao – 9

Shlemenko (R) delivers a spinning back kick (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

This fight is going to be decided on the feet. Yes, it’s really that straightforward. In a combined 89 fights, Shlemenko and Falcao have 52 total stoppages due to strikes. No, that’s not a typo.

The Russian Shlemenko has found success on the feet with a variety of spinning attacks and an iron chin. In his 53 career contests, 27 have ended on the feet and he’s only been knocked out once. Although his propensity to throw spinning attacks is not the most efficient way of striking, he went a full five rounds with Lombard, albeit in defeat.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian Falcao is a wrecking machine on the feet. He holds an even higher percentage of knockouts to wins, with 25 of 31 wins coming by strikes. However, almost all of them have come in the first round as he overwhelmed his opponents with big looping punches. His training with the famed Chute Boxe camp is evident in his aggressive attack. But once the fight goes past the opening frame, Falcao’s output tends to decrease. That leaves him open for counter strikes, and that could spell trouble in a 25-minute fight with Shlemenko, as the three losses by strikes on his record show.

Ground Game: Shlemenko – 9, Falcao – 10

Falcao (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

If, by chance, this fight were to hit the ground, Shlemenko could be in trouble. With a background that is full of mostly striking arts, the Russian’s submission game has been a work in progress. After being submitted by Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in 2006, the fighter admitted that he was barely training in the grappling arts. Since then, his game has evolved quite a bit, but he does not have the credentials of his opponent.

Like so many fighters from the country of Brazil, Falcao possesses a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, there’s very little evidence of him putting it to use outside of his UFC debut against Gerald Harris in which he nearly ended the fight by rear-naked choke in the first round. He has just one win by tapout on his record, and even more concerning, he was submitted by kimura less than two years ago. That said, you don’t earn the rank of black belt overnight, and that should be more than enough to give him the edge if the fight does find its way to the mat.

Wrestling: Shlemenko – 10, Falcao – 9

Falcao (L) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Despite his lack of submission prowess, Shlemenko does have experience in Greco-Roman wrestling. That background has helped him in the clinch game over the course of his career and allowed him to best anyone that Bellator has put in front of him, save for Lombard. It’s unlikely he’ll try to take the fight down, but he may look to hold Falcao against the fence the tire him out.

Falcao hasn’t exhibited a strong offensive wrestling game, as he prefers to stand and trade. But, in his lone UFC appearance, Falcao was able to stifle the takedown game of the aforementioned Harris. When he does look to take the fight to the ground, he tends to manhandle his opponents with pure strength, rather than technique. Expect Falcao to want to keep this fight upright like his opponent.

X-Factor

The longer this fight goes, the more it favors Shlemenko. While he has plenty of first-round finishes on his resume, he’s gone the distance 16 times, including the five-round affair with Lombard. Meanwhile, Falcao has seen the scorecards just five times, but three of those came in the last Bellator tournament. What is concerning for the Brazilian is that he faded badly as those fights progressed. With an additional two rounds on the docket, can his conditioning hold up?

Scorecard: Shlemenko – 29, Falcao – 28

Verdict: Unless Falcao has changed tremendously in the last eight months away from the Bellator cage, he’ll need to end this fight as quickly as possible if he wants to be champion. But he’s facing a more experienced fighter with a more technical stand-up arsenal. That adds up to Shlemenko leaving the cage with the Bellator belt around his waist with a fourth-round TKO win after Falcao runs out of gas.

Top Photo: Alexander Shlemenko (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

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