Two sets of exciting semifinals highlight the return of Bellator MMA to the Golden State when the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., hosts Bellator 92 this weekend. The middleweight tournament semifinals headline the card, with Brett Cooper closing out the event against Dan Cramer and Doug Marshall co-headlining against undefeated Sultan Aliev. The winners will fight at a date that Bellator officials will specify at a later point in time.

Meanwhile, the card will also feature the semifinals of this season’s featherweight tournament. Two-time finalist Marlon Sandro opens the card against Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev. To the victor goes an opportunity to face the winner of a bout between Mike Richman and Alexandre Bezerra.

As always, The MMA Corner, your home for all things MMA, thanks you for choosing us as the home for your official Bellator 92 preview.

MW Tournament Semifinal: Brett Cooper (18-7) vs. Dan Cramer (10-3)

Cramer (L) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Whereas Brett Cooper held favorite status coming into his bout with Norman Paraisy, Dan Cramer found himself the underdog entering into his bout with tournament favorite Brian Rogers. Not only did Cramer upset Rogers, but should he score a semifinal win over Cooper and a tournament final win over the Marshall-Aliev winner, Cramer can cement himself as arguably one of the biggest underdog contenders to a Bellator title.

Whether Cramer finds himself with more than a puncher’s chance on paper to beat champion Alexander Shlemenko depends on how decisively he handles Cooper, but Cooper will not go down easily. Cooper traditionally brings the type of arsenal that can give Cramer a hellacious bit of resistance and then some. When Cooper doesn’t find a knockout, his double-leg takedowns always stick with authority, and even if he never finds the submission, he does exert the effort needed to make effective use of that wrestling for three rounds.

Cooper can use that wrestling to hinder Cramer’s aggression regardless of where the fight goes, but Rogers enjoyed a similar trait to that of Cooper when he fought Cramer, save for the wrestling. Rogers and Cramer went at it for three rounds in a fight that went everywhere, but Cramer proved the busier and more effective fighter in the first and the third round. The difference came in the clinch, where Cramer controlled the action and found himself in the most clear control of the bout (on his end).

He can do the same against Cooper if setting up the clinch involves a way for Cramer to fend off the takedown attempts. If he can do that, his clinch game can also force Cooper to think twice about throwing any heat of his own. However, it is unheard of for Cooper to not look for the finish on the feet either way. Therefore, this one could produce another thrilling three-rounder. But in the end, a close-knit contest ends in a split decision win for Cooper, the more experienced of the two dark-horse semifinalists, thanks partially to a technical approach on the feet.

MW Tournament Semifinal: Doug Marshall (16-6) vs. Sultan Aliev (9-0)

Marshall (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Plain and simple: Sultan Aliev loves knockouts about as much as his Bellator 92 opponent Doug Marshall. The brunt of Aliev’s wins come by knockout or TKO, as does the majority of Marshall’s wins. If the fight hits the ground, however, perhaps Marshall can reveal something lacking in Aliev’s game.

Of course, Aliev does own a flaw in his game, as all fighters own at least one hole that they never seem to shore up. However, if it existed against Mikkel Parlo, someone forgot to inform Parlo, as Aliev simply never gave up the driver’s seat. The end results reflected that effort, as Aliev took a unanimous decision for the third time in his soon-to-be 10-fight career.

No substitutions exist for experience, outside of over-aggression. Luckily, Marshall’s aggression paid more dividends than dirt, so to speak, in his quarterfinal bout with Andreas Spang. Some gave Spang more of a shot to find the kill against Marshall, but Marshall proved those skeptics incorrect when he landed arguably the knockout of the tournament in putting Spang out cold.

Alright, so who knows if Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney really does grant someone any kind of bonus for landing the best knockout of an entire tournament? But the bottom line remains the same: if Marshall can find a home for either of his fists, Aliev’s streak ends swiftly. If Aliev pushes the pace like he’s done in his past bouts, Marshall’s quest for gold ends just as swiftly. The best bet says that this one will end close, and Marshall shocks many by finishing Aliev by TKO stoppage, though not in as devastating a fashion as the win over Spang.

FW Tournament Semifinal: Alexandre Bezerra (15-2) vs. Mike Richman (14-2)

Richman (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

“Popo” and “The Marine” love finishes. Sure, they both can go all three rounds, and they do own split decision defeats on their record. However, they only needed that one split decision win to realize what can happen if they ever leave it in the hands of the judges again. So as such, we should expect them to bring it to each other come Thursday night.

On paper, we know this one pits the grappler, Bezerra, against the knockout specialist, Richman. Bezerra’s style can frustrate some and stifle others, but if he gets it to the ground and finds something, the tap will come. He poses a problem for Richman because of that grappling and because of how he recognizes opportunities to finish fights, but Richman poses a problem of his own. While Bezerra rarely ever gets rocked, Richman’s power always puts even the most granite-chinned fighters on notice before every fight. Richman can come at Bezerra technically, aggressively, or with a combination of the two, but if he touches Bezerra’s chin, they will call it curtains for “Popo.”

Someone will lose their “never been” in this one for certain. Either Richman’s seemingly impenetrable submission defense gets broken or Richman cracks Bezerra’s tough chin. Though it will prove tough, Richman will find a home for something that puts Bezerra out in similar fashion to how Richman put Mitch Jackson out, as he finds another wicked first-round finish.

FW Tournament Semifinal: Marlon Sandro (24-4) vs. Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (19-5)

Sandro chokes out Roberto Vargas at Bellator 60 (Sherdog)

Marlon Sandro knows about the spoils of winning a Bellator tournament, despite never having won one. He owns previous tournament runs in which he won in the quarterfinals and semifinals to advance to the tourney final. However, a fourth tournament run may only come if he loses in highly controversial fashion, and many feel he did not earn the better end of the majority decision win over Akop Stepanyan, so Sandro must prove the most come Thursday night.

Perhaps because he knows the consequences of an overly aggressive approach, Sandro’s run in Bellator consists of technical game plans, expertly executed grappling games, and a bevy of decision wins. Although many expected this when he first came to Bellator, it does differ greatly from the man who boasted finishes over the likes of Nick Denis and Masanori Kanehara prior to a loss to Hatsu Hioki. In short, Sandro cannot depend on the judges to help him out against “Frodo” Khasbulaev.

Khasbulaev made short work out of hot prospect Fabricio Guerreiro with what also happens to be Sandro’s specialty, the arm-triangle choke. Needless to say, he does boast some respectable submission skills for Sandro to worry about, but like his Brazilian counterpart, the Russian also boasts finishing capabilities. The brunt of Khasbulaev’s wins do come by submission, but perhaps he possesses the type of ground game that could pose problems for Sandro.

However, we won’t know until match time of whether Sandro should really show any concern about what Khasbulaev brings. Knowing Sandro, he will see the areas where he left doubt against Stepanyan and look to close those holes against Khasbulaev. If he can control the action against the cage and get it down to the ground, Sandro ends this with his signature arm-triangle choke in what should be a fun yet ugly bout.

Preliminary Card

LHW: Rocky Ramirez (4-3-1) vs. Brandon Hasley (2-0)

Rocky Ramirez comes off the heels of a loss at a recent Jackson’s MMA event and debuts for Bellator against Brandon Hasley. The prospect, Hasley, lacks experience, but owns a win in King of the Cage over Shonie Carter. Ramirez doesn’t bring Carter’s fight, but should capitalize on a technical error by Hasley. Ramirez by second-round TKO.

FW: Shad Smith (12-16-2) vs. Aaron Miller (13-8)

Shad Smith’s losses impress more than his wins, though he does own a victory over Jared Papazian by submission. Smith takes on a man in Aaron Miller, however, who can grind out a win if need be and can finish whenever possible. With Smith’s questionable chin, I expect that Miller will indeed find the finish. Miller by first-round knockout.

HW: Manny Lara (4-2) vs. Maurice Jackson (3-2, 3 NC)

Manny Lara will face Maurice Jackson on the heels of a loss to Ryan Martinez, who fights Travis Wiuff in two weeks. Jackson recently posted a no-contest against Chase Gormley, but has not competed competitively since the fight with Gormley. The layoff will have a negative effect on Jackson, who succumbs to punches in round one, giving Lara a trip back to the winning path.

MW: Willie Parks (5-2) vs. Keith Berry (13-10)

Keith Berry brings in serious experience into this bout, as well as a two-fight winning streak. Parks recently righted his ship with a unanimous decision win over Jamaine Facey at WMMA 1 in El Paso, Texas. The experience normally trumps the potential, but in this case, Berry’s veteran instincts will remind him that he never wins decisions. Knowing that, Berry forces a TKO stoppage due to a cut in the second round.

WW: Sabah Homasi (5-3) vs. Ricky Legere Jr. (15-4)

Ricky Legere runs on a five-fight winning streak as he prepares for Sabah Homasi, who owns a split decision win over Jose Caceres. Homasi knows how to find a finish, but Legere will turn in the victory. After a rocky first round, Legere submits Homasi in the second round.

FW: Cleber Luciano (8-4) vs. Eric Uresk (7-5)

Cleber Luciano won a unanimous decision over Mario Navarro earlier this year, while Uresk rides a three-fight winning streak. Expect these two to come out looking for the kill and forcing the other to dig deep for a win in a potentially ugly battle. Luciano takes another unanimous decision after all is said and done.

Photo: Brett Cooper (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.