Bellator MMA kicked off season eight with its reigning featherweight champion, Pat Curran, so it fits comfortably that the promotion would close out the season with the champ.

However, with season-six featherweight tournament winner Daniel Straus out due to a hand injury, Curran instead will make the second defense of his title against season-seven featherweight tourney winner Shahbulat Shamhalaev. The Russian featherweight prospect bears plenty of pressure on his shoulders, but looks to challenge Curran like none other with the gold on the line.

Also, two tournament finals take place, with $100,000 and title shots going to the winners. Doug Marshall fights Brett Cooper for a crack at middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, and Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev fights Mike Richman for a spot in line to face the winner of Curran vs. Shamhalaev. No word stands certain on whether the winner of Khasbulaev vs. Richman bypasses Straus for the crack at the title, though.

And rounding out the main card, Rick Hawn goes up against Karo Parisyan. Parisyan is making his Bellator debut and looks to record his first win of 2013 after notching wins in three of his last four bouts. However, Hawn is returning from his loss to Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler and will look to take Parisyan out of the picture before gunning for another potential title trek.

As always, The MMA Corner thanks you for making us your home for your official Bellator 95 preview. The season draws to a close Thursday night with one of the most action-packed cards in the promotion’s history, and we thank you for allowing us the opportunity to break it down from top to bottom!

FW Championship: Pat Curran (18-4) vs. Shahbulat Shamhalaev (12-1-1)

Shamhalaev (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Pat Curran kicked off season eight in one of the most action-packed bouts in Bellator history. He mixed up his strikes and fought ferociously against Patricio Freire, who proved a game opponent for Curran. Though Freire lost the bout by a split decision, many called for a rematch simply because of the action provided by both the champ and the challenger.

Shahbulat Shamhalaev doesn’t push a Freire-like pace, but he does not need to. Remember, prior to the flurry, overhand right and right forearm that put Rad Martinez to sleep, Shamhalaev opted to break Martinez down with leg kicks. Rest assured that he will aim for the same result against Curran, but let’s not forget that Shamhalaev will challenge the champion on only five weeks’ notice.

Regardless, Curran always mixes up his unorthodox striking whenever he competes. He prepared for a wrestler in Daniel Straus, but against technical strikers, he rarely falters. If Curran can’t rock Shamhalaev, his output will overwhelm the challenger enough to swing a unanimous decision in his favor.

FW Tournament Final: Mike Richman (15-2) vs. Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (20-5)

Richman (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Mike Richman, very simply, either finishes fights or gets finished in fights. In fact, only three men can say they ever went the distance with Richman. Alexandre Bezerra took the first round away from Richman, but could not finish the job. Richman’s output paid dividends in the end, and despite a close third round, Richman took the split decision.

Frodo Khasbulaev last fought to a decision in August 2012, just two months prior to his Bellator debut. He left no doubt in his second-round submission win over Fabricio Guerreiro. His semifinal opponent, Marlon Sandro, needed to silence critics after a controversial win over Akop Stepanyan. Khasbulaev never allowed him the chance, though, and stormed on Sandro with strikes that Sandro did not answer, thus clinching Frodo the win in round three.

Unquestionably, Khasbulaev can pressure Richman in a similar fashion, but Richman can push a mean pace and overwhelm even the toughest of foes in his own right. That said, he will struggle with trying to crack the jaw of Khasbulaev. If Richman cannot take Khasbulaev’s gas tank away in two rounds, Khasbulaev will knock him out with a thunderous right hook in the third.

MW Tournament Final: Doug Marshall (19-7) vs. Brett Cooper (17-6)

Cooper (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

The middleweight finalists, much like the two featherweight finalists, love to finish and hate leaving it in the hands of the judges. Doug Marshall scored a split verdict over Sultan Aliev in the semifinals, and Brett Cooper finished Dan Cramer in the third round via TKO.

For all intents and purposes, the consensus believes Aliev should stand across from Cooper. Aliev left Marshall unable to mount much offense, but the aggression never wavered. Though Marshall impressed more with his performance over Andreas Spang in the quarterfinals, he will get the chance to showcase his power and explosiveness against a game opponent.

Marshall might feel as though Cooper will look to fight on the ground when the cage door shuts, but one can never tell before fight night. Cooper looked for finishes in three of his past four victories, but only found success in outworking the likes of Darryl Cobb and Norman Paraisy. Of course, had Cooper not found a home for that game-changing straight right hand, Cramer would’ve gone on to take a certain unanimous decision victory.

Marshall proves correct in believing that Cooper does not want to keep it standing. Truthfully, if Cooper does try, he doesn’t make it out of the first round. Therefore, he must take Marshall to the ground and overwhelm him with ground-and-pound. Should Marshall fend off Cooper’s takedown attempts, however, then he will frustrate Cooper and score a late first-round knockout.

LW: Rick Hawn (14-2) vs. Karo Parisyan (22-9)

Hawn (Sherdog)

Rick Hawn fought wholeheartedly to earn himself a shot at the Bellator lightweight crown, but as expected from a Bellator champion, the undefeated Michael Chandler put another idea into execution. Simply put, Chandler backed Hawn up, got the judoka down and sunk in the rear-naked choke to force the tap. Hawn only found the second setback of his career on that night, admitting to his mistakes, but asked to get back in the cage as soon as possible to shake the defeat off.

Taking away Karo Parisyan’s streak of three wins and just one loss in his last four tells a story of a man with whom Hawn never quite buddied up. The two competed against each other years back, and while neither will say “beef,” neither guy particularly cares much for the other. Looking at the way Parisyan handled his most recent two foes, however, one can say that his judo likely stands to play a major role in the outcome of this bout.

However, a set of heavy hands normally gets Parisyan, and unfortunately for him, Hawn’s fists hold such power. Parisyan must catch Hawn first and work in his own judo game. That seems simple enough, but opponents never have an easy time creating the opportunity to do so. Parisyan won’t either, and while Hawn may not find the knockout, he should take a unanimous decision here.

Preliminary Card

WW: Lyman Good (14-3) vs. Dante Rivera (15-6)

If not for Dante Rivera’s almost three-year-long layoff, he would hold an edge over the former welterweight champion, Lyman Good. However, ring rust will hinder Rivera’s comeback. Good’s striking showcases itself once again en route to another TKO win before the end of the second round.

FW: Brylan Van Artsdalen (7-5) vs. Brett Martinez (4-1)

The full dozen of Brylan Van Artsdalen’s fights are comprised of submission wins and submission defeats. Ironically, Brett Martinez’s lone defeat came by submission. Unless Martinez puts his striking to good use and creates an opportunity to knock the veteran Van Artsdalen out, Van Artsdalen takes yet another submission win by way of an anaconda choke.

LW: Philippe Nover (7-5-1) vs. Darrell Horcher (7-0)

Philippe Nover lost a majority decision to 5-0 prospect Tony Martin. Darrell Horcher, only four years Nover’s junior, recently took Chris Liguori the distance and has not fought since. Nover proves a tough battle for Horcher and will look to use his veteran edge to best Horcher. However, it will be Horcher who bests Nover in all aspects to take a unanimous decision.

LW: Andrew Calandrelli (6-3) vs. Chris Liguori (15-10)

Chris Liguori will fight for the first time since the loss to Darrell Horcher. Andrew Calandrelli owns two submission wins in two Bellator appearances, but will struggle to get a third against the veteran Liguori. However, Calandrelli will tire Liguori out and score a TKO early in the third.

FW: Michael Brent Hess (3-1) vs. Will Martinez (5-2-1)

Will Martinez runs on the strength of four first-round wins, including three submission victories by rear-naked choke. Michael Brent Hess lost for the first time as a pro recently, but still shows incredible upside. However, Martinez will roll on to five straight finishes with a first-round TKO of Hess after the prospect gets rocked on a countershot.

Catchweight (140 pounds): Jimmie Rivera (11-1) vs. Brian Kelleher (8-3)

Jimmie Rivera owns a ridiculous 10-fight streak coming into this bout. The former King of the Cage champ faces Brian Kelleher, who rides a four-fight winning streak and lost in his only time going the distance. Rivera will outwork this young man in the first round and knock him out with a left hook in the second.

MW: Tom DeBlass (7-2) vs. Carlos Brooks (4-2)

Tom DeBlass ends his surprising retirement to face Carlos Brooks. Both men come off recent unanimous decision losses to make their Bellator debuts. Brooks should bring a stiff test of DeBlass’ skills, but DeBlass should get a TKO before this one leaves the second round.

WW: Shedrick Goodridge (3-4) vs. Sam Oropeza (7-2)

To beat Shedrick Goodridge, one must either outwork him or finish him with a few good strikes. Unfortunately for him, Sam Oropeza knows all about the latter and will demonstrate those skills inside the Bellator cage. Oropeza records a first-round knockout.

Photo: Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran (left), who opened season eight of Bellator MMA with a ferocious title defense against Patricio Freire (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)