On Thursday, Feb. 7, Bellator made its first appearance in the state of Georgia, landing at The Arena at Gwinnet Center in Duluth. The event, the promotion’s 88th, featured a middleweight title bout between Maiquel Falcao and Alexander Shlemenko, as well as the beginning of the Season 8 featherweight tournament.

Falcao and Shlemenko battled for the middleweight belt, which was vacated by former champion Hector Lombard last summer when he joined the UFC.

The featherweight tournament kicked off with with eight, hungry fighters looking for a $100,000 prize and a shot at the 145-pound championship currently held by Pat Curran.

Main card action was shown on Spike beginning at 10 p.m. ET, with the night’s undercard streaming live on Spike.com starting at 8 p.m. ET.

Shlemenko stops Falcao to claim belt

After going more than two years without a middleweight title fight, Bellator crowned a new champion as two-time tournament winner Alexander Shlemenko bested Maiquel Falcao by second-round stoppage.

The Brazilian Falcao scored with heavy shots in the opening frame as a he pressured his Russian opponent. Shlemenko missed with a spinning back fist which allowed Falcao to secure a body lock, but he could not bring Shlemenko to the mat. Shlemenko scored with an outside trip takedown of his own, but after little action, was quickly brought back to the feet.

It was more of the same early in round two, but Shlemenko started to score with shots to the body of Falcao. The flashy Russian pinned Falcao along the cage and delivered a vicious shot to Falcao’s liver and followed with a combination that sent Falcao to the canvas. Shlemenko realized Falcao was hurt and dropped heavy shots that turned the lights out on the Brazilian.

A victorious Shlemenko implored the rest of the middleweight division to come challenge him for his belt. He credited the work to Falcao’s body as his path to victory.

Sandro ekes past Stepanyan

It was anything but pretty, but Brazilian featherweight Marlon Sandro moved on to the tournament semifinals with a majority decision win over Russian Akop Stepanyan.

The 35-year-old Sandro spent a large portion of the opening frame dodging spinning kicks from his Russian foe, all the while working hard for a takedown. Stepanyan was warned for grabbing the cage on multiple occasions, but Sandro finally took the fight to the ground in the waning seconds of the round.

Stepanyan’s striking hit its stride in the middle stanza, dropping Sandro with a spinning wheel kick. Sandro looked to counter with wild shots, but absorbed more punishment from Stepanyan. Late in the round Sandro rolled for a leg lock, but Stepanyan again used the cage to his advantage.

In a bizarre scenario, referee George Allen took a point from Stepanyan as the third round began.

The final round saw Sandro implement his takedown game, catching multiple kicks from Stepanyan, and controlling the action from inside the Russian’s guard.

When the scorecards were read, two of the judges felt Sandro’s work in the first and third rounds was enough, as he now moves on to face Magomedrasul Khasbulaev in the next round.

Richman demolishes Jackson

Mike Richman bounced back from the second loss of his career in the season seven tournament, scoring a violent, first-round TKO over Mitch Jackson.

Richman landed a big right hook early that dropped Jackson, but the debuting fighter was able to recover. From there, Richman showed patience, delivering straight left after straight left through Jackson’s defense. As the round neared its close, Richman delivered a massive head kick that sent Jackson crashing to the mat along the fence. Richman dropped a barrage of follow-up punches that forced the referee to waive off the contest.

Bezerra submits da Silva 

In a battle of Brazilian featherweights, Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra ran through his fellow countryman Genair da Silva.

Bezerra connected with a jab early that sent da Silva to a knee. “Popo” smelled blood and quickly took da Silva’s back and worked for a rear-naked choke. Da Silva managed to stay standing during the choke attempt and escaped into Bezerra’s guard. That move quickly backfired as he left an arm in a bad spot, allowing Bezerra to latch onto a fight-ending armbar.

Alexander Shlemenko def. Maiquel Falcao by knockout (strikes) Round 2, 2:18 – claims vacant middleweight title
Marlon Sandro def. Akop Stepanyan by majority decision (28-28, 29-27, 29-27) – featherweight tournament quarterfinal
Mike Richman def. Mitch Jackson by TKO (head kick and punches). Round 1, 4:57 – featherweight tournament quarterfinal
Alexandre Bezerra def. Genair da Silva by submission (armbar). Round 1, 1:40 – featherweight tournament quarterfinal
Magomedrasul Khasbulaev def. Fabricio Guerreiro by submission (arm-triangle choke). Round 2, 1:15 – featherweight tournament quarterfinal
Joe Elmore def. Jerrid Burke by knockout (punch). Round 2, 4:11
Ronnie Rogers def. Shane Crenshaw by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Clay Harvison def. Ururahy Rodrigues by TKO (knee and punches). Round 3, 3:34
George Hickman def. Stephen Upchurch by submission (rear-naked choke). Round 1, 2:19

Photo: Alexander Shlemenko (Keith Mills/Sherdog)