Bellator MMA comes live with arguably its most intense card to date when it emanates from The Arena at Gwinnet Center in Duluth, Ga., for Bellator 88. The inaugural outing in the Peach State includes a serving of gold for the masses to enjoy live on Spike, with preliminary card action on Spike.com.

After Hector Lombard’s move to the UFC, Alexander “Storm” Shlemenko finally gets his chance to challenge for the Bellator middleweight title. His opposition comes in the form of season-six tourney winner and one-time UFC vet Maiquel Falcao, who remains one of the most solid and ferocious strikers in the division, as well as one of the most intense fighters to grace the scene. With the middleweight title vacant, the winner of this affair will emerge as the promotion’s second-ever middleweight champion.

Also, the season-eight Bellator featherweight tournament commences in equally intense fashion, as former Sengoku champion Marlon Sandro leads the field in a tournament bout against Akop Stepanyan, Mitch Jackson faces Mike Richman, and Fabricio Guerreiro meets Magomedrasul Khasbulaev on Spike TV. Alexandre Bezerra also combats Genair da Silva to round out the field, though “Popo” and da Silva headline the Spike.com portion of the event card.

As always, The MMA Corner thanks you for making us your home for your official Bellator 88 preview. As we look forward to crowning a new middleweight champion and coming a step closer in learning who could potentially face Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran down the line, we also thank you for letting us break down this action-packed card from top to bottom!

MW Championship: Alexander Shlemenko (46-7) vs. Maiquel Falcao (31-4)

Falcao (L) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Alexander Shlemenko looked poised to engage in a rematch with Hector Lombard after winning the season-five middleweight tourney, but when Lombard signed with the UFC, it left lingering questions. With Lombard out, would Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney crown Shlemenko as the new champion, or would Shlemenko only hold the gold after defeating the season-six Bellator tourney winner? As Bellator MMA always prides itself as the place where the best in the world earn title shots, Shlemenko exhibited no qualms in regards to facing the season-six winner.

Enter Maiquel Falcao. Arguably a middleweight prospect that never should’ve been released from the UFC, Falcao needed to prove that he could compete with the best in Bellator, which is a different animal from competing with the UFC’s best. Falcao not only fought the best in Bellator during the season-six middleweight tourney, but he emerged victorious with unanimous decision victories over Norman Paraisy, Vyacheslav Vasilevsky and Andreas Spang to take the tournament and the prizes that come with it.

If anything should stand out about this bout, it’s the stylistic match-up. Both men hunt for the knockout, and yet both can grapple if the fight goes to the ground. Shlemenko should hold the edge in versatility in the striking department, but Falcao’s size becomes a problem if the fight hits the ground. Expect this one to turn in a close contest, but if it goes to the judges, Shlemenko’s striking and cardio should help him take a unanimous decision and the middleweight belt.

FW Tourney Quarterfinal: Marlon Sandro (23-4) vs. Akop Stepanyan (12-4)

Sandro chokes out Roberto Vargas at Bellator 60 (Sherdog)

Marlon Sandro only owns two losses under Bellator’s banner, one of which came against the current champ, Pat Curran. Take away that loss, and Sandro’s only other defeat came at the hands of Daniel Straus, who gets the next crack at Curran’s belt. Needless to say, those two losses have not cooled off in Sandro’s mind, despite Sandro recently submitting Dustin Neace. So, Sandro carries a certain focus with him as he prepares for Akop Stepanyan.

A name like Stepanyan would normally not receive much attention, but few fighters do what Stepanyan did. After an abysmal 0-3 start to his career, Stepanyan tore through his next 12 fights, finishing all but four of those dozen. When he came to Bellator, however, he found a roadblock in the form of Wagnney Fabiano, who submitted him in impressive fashion after some time away from the cage.

Both men need the rebound, but Sandro’s veteran experience only enhances his drive to pay either Curran or Straus back. Add in Sandro’s BJJ and violent knockout power, and Stepanyan should find himself in for the fight of his life. That said, nobody ever found the KO against Stepanyan, and so Sandro will instead hunt for the submission and find his patented triangle choke before the end of the second round.

FW Tourney Quarterfinal: Mitch Jackson (19-2) vs. Mike Richman (13-2)

Richman (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Mike Richman always finishes fights. But before running into Shahbulat Shamalhaev, he enjoyed a small streak of knockout wins. After an impressive finish of Chris Horodecki, Richman finished Jeremy Spoon in the first round of their quarterfinal tilt. Now, Richman comes off the first KO loss of his career to face prospect Mitch Jackson.

Jackson loves submissions. Thirteen of his wins comes by way of submission, and even his current seven-fight winning streak is comprised of submission wins. It tells us that the kid can grapple, but can he stand and bang with Richman?

The better question asks not if he can, but if he should. Richman owns his own heavy set of hands and he will fire them off at will if he gets the chance. In Richman fashion, he will find his range and blast Jackson early, getting yet another first-round knockout and handing Jackson the first KO loss of his career.

FW Tourney Quarterfinal: Fabricio Guerreiro (17-1) vs. Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (18-5)

At 22 years of age, Fabricio Guerreiro stands as the youngest of this field, and this kid holds promise on all cylinders. He has only lost one bout during his career, and he possesses a deadly submission game. He owns a knockout win in his last outing. He will likely develop into a well-rounded phenom by the time he hits his prime.

He faces Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev, who is a Master of Sports in Sambo. In other words, he knows something about takedowns and submissions, and he owns the brunt of his wins by submission. However, if Guerreiro does stand with him, he will need to expect a hard-hitting Russian who can put lights out with his fists as well.

The winner of this becomes the dark horse of the tournament. Neither man gets the same credit as some of the more veteran entrants in the tournament, but they will prove that they deserve that respect. When this one ends, we will have a close unanimous decision, and while it will look like a split, the fight will go the way of the younger Guerreiro, with two close rounds going in his favor on all three cards.

Preliminary Card

FW Tourney Quarterfinal: Alexandre Bezerra (14-2) vs. Genair da Silva (13-4)

Genair da Silva missed weight for two of his more recent Bellator bouts, yet he still rides a three-fight winning streak. Alexandre Bezerra very much enjoys a finish whenever he wins and will always look for it. Expect the same from him here, as he chops da Silva down and finishes in round two by TKO.

FW: George Hickman (3-1) vs. Stephen Upchurch (2-1)

These two fought almost exactly a year ago, with Stephen Upchurch scoring a seven-second knockout of George Hickman. Hickman will make the second outing more difficult, and it will end in a close decision. Hickman takes the split verdict.

LW: Clay Harvison (9-5) vs. Ururahy Rodrigues (5-4)

Clay Harvison, of TUF 13 fame, meets Ururahy Rodrigues, who stands just one loss shy of batting .500. Harvison holds the veteran edge and should use his skills to outwork Rodrigues. Harvison will display his striking, get it to the ground and finish by rear-naked choke

MW: Kelvin Tiller (5-0) vs. Dave Vitkay (11-12-1)

Dave Vitkay holds veteran experience over Bellator vet Kelvin Tiller, but sports a less-than-stellar record. His submission defense should hold up if Tiller looks for submissions, but if the fight stays standing, look for Tiller to pressure Vitkay early. Tiller by first-round KO.

FW: Shane Crenshaw (5-1) vs. Ronnie Rogers (13-10)

Neither Shane Crenshaw nor Ronnie Rogers owns a knockout loss, but Crenshaw also has never seen the judges’ scorecards.  Rogers, the veteran here, is 3-6 in bouts that go the distance, so look for him to find the finish. Rogers by second-round submission.

LW: Jerrid Burke (5-2) vs. Joe Elmore (6-5)

Jerrid Burke is coming off the second KO loss of his career to face Joe Elmore, who lost a unanimous decision recently. Both men will kick off the show displaying all they can offer. Although it won’t steal the show, Elmore’s output will get stifled once Burke takes him to the ground. Burke by third-round submission.

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

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.