The MMA world knows the story of Rad Martinez by now.

Martinez, who faces Russian finisher Shahbulat Shamhalaev this Thursday night at Bellator 90, cares after his father while also pursuing his mixed martial arts career. And so the significance of a victory over Shamalhaev, as well as a potential win over either reigning Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran or current title hopeful Daniel Straus, extends beyond his standing or legacy in the sport.

In addition, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal fights Emanuel Newton in a light heavyweight tournament semifinal co-headliner and Jacob Noe’s tournament semifinal bout with Mikhail Zayats opens the main card. The welterweight tournament semifinals also take place on this card as Douglas Lima faces late-replacement Bryan Baker and Ben Saunders fights Raul Amaya. The winners of the two semifinal bouts will collide later this season to determine the new challengers to the light heavyweight and welterweight titles, respectively.

As always, The MMA Corner thanks you for choosing us as your home for your official Bellator 90 preview. With a title shot waiting in the wings for one light heavyweight and one welterweight, as well as one of the two headlining featherweights, we thank you for allowing us to break down this night of fights from top to bottom!

FW Tournament Final: Rad Martinez (14-2) vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev (11-1)

Shamhalaev (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Rad Martinez rides a five-fight winning streak as he prepares for Shahbulat Shamhalaev, including three recent wins inside the Bellator cage. After a win over Douglas Frey, Martinez scored two unanimous decision wins in Bellator’s season-seven featherweight tournament, ousting Nazareno Malegarie and Wagnney Fabiano en route to the finals. Now, he and his skill set face former Muay Thai and kickboxing champion Shamhalaev, who literally punched his way to the finals.

Riding a 9-0-1 streak, Shamhalaev owns finishes in seven of his past ten bouts, including two recent first-round TKOs. His quarterfinal bout with Cody Bollinger ended with almost 10 seconds left in the first round, and his win over Mike Richman ended in just a minute and 45 seconds. If he knocks out Martinez, he will not only win the tournament, but he will hand Martinez his first-ever (T)KO stoppage loss.

However, a fighter with the wrestling of Martinez will not just let Shamhalaev get the knockout. Martinez will look to counter the Russian at every turn and implement his wrestling game, though he could also break Shamhalaev down with a tricky striking arsenal. Nevertheless, Martinez should find his openings to set up his takedowns and get a unanimous decision in front of his hometown crowd in Utah.

LHW Tournament Semifinal: Muhammed Lawal (9-1) vs. Emanuel Newton (19-7-1)

Lawal (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

King Mo turned in a success, albeit an expected one, in his Bellator debut. Przemyslaw Mysiala owned an experience edge over Mo, but he also possessed a weak chin. Lawal’s next opponent, Emanuel Newton, last lost by a finish in a 2009 bout with Raphael Davis, and he lost his pro debut to Brian Ebersole by TKO. But since then, nobody has come close to knocking out Newton or stopping him.

Newton rides an eight-fight winning streak coming into this fight. Some feel Attila Vegh lost to Newton when they fought, but Newton rebounded against Atanas Djambazov in the quarterfinals with a second-round submission win. However, just as Lawal will experience trouble with scoring the knockout, Newton will experience trouble getting Lawal down on his terms.

In the end, both men will look as durable as they appear on paper, at least for one round. If Lawal can establish his 78-inch reach or his wrestling from the onset, then he can take Newton in no more than two rounds. However, expect this one to go three rounds, and if Lawal doesn’t leave his chin exposed in throwing his shots before this one hits the third (and I don’t expect him to), expect the unanimous decision to go to King Mo.

WW Tournament Semifinal: Douglas Lima (23-5) vs. Bryan Baker (18-4)

Lima (L) (Sherdog)

Two knockout artists compete for their shot in Bellator’s next welterweight title bout when Douglas Lima and Bryan Baker compete on Spike, but only one of the two can come out with the win. Whether or not Lima does depends more on how he reacts to Baker than anything else. Baker steps in as a replacement for Brent Weedman, and the short-notice issue can prove a tricky bit of business.

On one hand, Baker’s knockout power and takedown ability differ greatly from Weedman’s wrestling and submission versatility. Lima needed to plan on dealing with a lengthy reach and a persistent slew of takedown attempts against Weedman, who outworked Marius Zaromskis despite Zaromskis’ trademark craftiness. Now, against Baker, he need not worry about the reach, an edge he should hold against Baker, but he should worry about an opponent who will try to outwork him and likely even outwrestle him.

Equally, however, Baker faces a threat as well. Baker took the fight on short notice, but while it means he can throw Lima off, it also poses a question over whether or not he took the time to condition himself for the possibility of Lima’s thunderous rights and lefts. Also, people forget about Lima’s jiu-jitsu and his leg kicks, the latter of which moved him past Michail Tsarev. If Baker forgets about the leg kicks, Lima will force “The Beast” to remember them the hard way.

Ultimately, all of the above will occur, and Lima will remain patient in executing the aforementioned strategies, save for perhaps the jiu-jitsu game. When Lima shows patience and fights technically before finishing the fight, he proves a tough pill to swallow. Therefore, expect him to break Baker down early and put him away late, as a technical error leaves Lima the chance to score a late knockout in the second round.

LHW Tournament Semifinal: Mikhail Zayats (20-6) vs. Jacob Noe (11-1)

This light heavyweight bout just fits for its most obvious reason—Jacob Noe upset Seth Petruzelli and Mikhail Zayats upset early tournament favorite Renato “Babalu” Sobral. Why not match the two up together and see which upset artist can best the other?

The dozen-fight vet Noe lacks experience in comparison to Zayats, just as he did against Petruzelli. However, “The Psycho” never seemed fazed by the underdog status, considering how few people gave him an honest chance to even compete with the UFC veteran, and we know exactly how the end result played out for Petruzelli. If Noe pressures Zayats in the same manner, he can produce a similar verdict in equally stunning fashion.

Zayats’ chin likely will hold up well in this one, while Noe’s biggest concern against the Russian comes in the submission game, where Zayats predominantly finds success. In fact, when it comes down to finishes, Zayats’ record only holds three TKO losses and two submission defeats, and his current six-fight winning streak boasts five finishes. Does it mean Noe stands as miniscule a chance as he stood on paper against Petruzelli? No, it doesn’t, but it does suggest that perhaps Noe will benefit more from setting up a lightning-strike finish rather than a submission.

Then again, we don’t know how Noe holds up in the submission department, because Petruzelli didn’t test him there. Obviously, Noe must establish his striking and aggression from the onset, but a slip-up will provide an opening for a takedown and Zayats will capitalize. Unless Noe protects his neck, Zayats will enjoy a mid-first-round moment of dominance and a late first-round submission win.

Preliminary Card

MW: Lionel Lanham (4-1) vs. Joe Rodriguez (1-0)

Two-time Strikeforce vet Lionel Lanham returns for the first time in a little under a year to face Joe Rodriguez, who owns a single win on his record. Lanham’s ring rust remains a question, but he should still take this fight in what should be an interesting battle between two prospects. Lanham by unanimous decision.

WW: Terry Davinney (10-5) vs. Trevor Carlsen (6-1)

Terry Davinney comes off a 15-second knockout of Matt Van Buren, and Trevor Carlsen comes off the first pro loss of his career. Carlsen dropped his last fight by unanimous decision, but with half of his wins coming by decision (two unanimous and one split), cardio should not prove an issue for the prospect. That said, Davinney will hunt for any opening to finish, and if he sees one, he’ll take it. Davinney wins by first-round TKO after forcing Carlsen into a position where he cannot defend himself.

WW: Dave Allred (11-4) vs. Sean Powers (6-3)

Dave Allred’s last lost came to featherweight finalist Rad Martinez in 2009. Since then, he’s accumulated a six-fight winning streak, with his most recent victory marking his first win and first fight since June 2011. With Sean Powers looking to snap a two-fight skid, Allred can expect a tough fight. Although Allred’s best shot at exposing a weak spot can come if he looks for a KO, he will instead target Powers’ susceptibility to submissions in earning the finish. Allred by mid-second-round submission due to an armbar.

WW: Jesse Juarez (18-8) vs. Jordan Smith (17-4-1)

Jordan Smith needs to snap a two-fight skid against Jesse Juarez, who debuted for Bellator at the promotion’s second event and has never lost under the promotion’s banner. Juarez recently defeated TUF Smashes welterweight winner Robert Whittaker and should bring a tough fight to Smith. Smith, however, pulls out a split decision after a closely contested tilt.

WW Tournament Semifinal: Ben Saunders (15-5-2) vs. Raul Amaya (11-1)

How we always encounter tournament quarterfinals and semifinals on Spike.com in this day and age, I’ll never comprehend. Ben Saunders defeated Koffi Adzitso, while Raul Amaya defeated Jose Gomes. Amaya came out looking to throw leather with a total lack of sanity, but if he does that here, he plays into Saunders’ ground game. We know Saunders will hope at least for a TKO due to a cut or a doctor’s stoppage, but he should realistically earn another unanimous decision win here if he doesn’t oblige “Smash Mode” on the brawling tip.

FW: Josh Tyler (4-1) vs. Shannon Slack (5-1)

Josh Tyler’s ground game should get respect as he faces cardio machine and potential knockout specialist Shannon Slack. Slack can run into problems if he allows Tyler to implement his grappling, but if he fights his fight, another first-round TKO seems imminent. However, after the fighters split the first two rounds, Tyler will score a third-round TKO.

BW Tournament Qualifier: Chase Beebe (22-8) vs. Travis Marx (19-4)

Travis Marx and Chase Beebe own recent decision losses to Marcos Galvao, with Marx’s loss coming more clearly than Beebe’s. Marx returns on the heels of that loss, while Beebe comes in on a 6-0-1 tear. UFC veteran Steven Siler holds the only instance of a submission win over Marx, and although Beebe won’t become the second name to tap Marx out, his activity on the ground will nullify the normally dominant top game of Marx. Beebe by unanimous decision.

Photo: Rad Martinez (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.