Bellator MMA is set to open its ninth season this weekend on Sept. 7 with Bellator 98. Live from Uncasville, Conn., the card boasts a deep lineup, including the quarterfinals of the season-nine middleweight tournament, as well as a middleweight title bout.

Also on the card is Fight Master coach and former featherweight champion Joe Warren, who makes his return to bantamweight division. Included in the internationally flavored middleweight tournament are Denmark’s Mikkel Parlo, Brazil’s Giva Santana and Sweden’s Andreas Spang, along with several American fighters.

Champion Alexander Shlemenko defends his title against late replacement Brett Cooper, who fills in for the injured Doug Marshall. Cooper was a finalist in last season’s middleweight tournament, but fell to Marshall in the finals.

Without further ado, let’s preview the Bellator 98 card and make some predictions.

MW: Alexander Shlemenko (47-7) vs. Brett Cooper (19-8)

The main event will see Alexander Shlemenko defend his belt against Brett Cooper, who was supposed to take part in the season-nine tournament. However, an opportunity rang when Doug Marshall got hurt.

Shlemenko’s last loss came at Bellator 34, when the Russian dropped a decision to now-UFC welterweight Hector Lombard. Since then, he has gone 10-0 in his last 10, including a win over his current foe, Cooper. His striking is hard to compete with, as he has great clinch striking with his knees and hands. That’s not to say he is one-dimensional, however, as the Russian can tap opponents on the ground. His most recent submission came at the expense of Bellator vet Zelg Galesic.

Cooper is the clear underdog here and did not have a full camp to train for Shlemenko. “Fudoshin” is a striker, but with a more grinding approach. In last season’s tournament, Cooper decisioned Norman Paraisy and knocked out Dan Cramer before succumbing to a knockout against Marshall. The durable Cooper does own 12 knockouts, however, so he certainly has a puncher’s chance against the Russian.

All things considered, including the recent fight between the two and the current roll Shlemenko is on, points to a successful defense of the title. Cooper has heart, a chin and skills, but Shlemenko is on another level. He may not finish the American within the five rounds, but if he does, it will be courtesy of his striking.

BW: Joe Warren (8-3) vs. Nick Kirk (10-2)

The co-main event has former champion Joe Warren returning to 135 pounds, following a coaching stint on Fight Master, to take on the unheralded Nick Kirk. This will likely decide who gets into the next bantamweight tournament, even though Warren is all but confirmed to take part in it.

Warren’s journey has been a weird one as of late. While featherweight champ, he entered the bantamweight tournament a couple of fights ago, where he was brutally put to sleep by Alexis Vila. He then dropped his 145-pound title in his next outing in an absolutely drubbing at the hands of Pat Curran. He then moved back to 135, posting a decision win over Owen Evinger to get him back on the right track. The power wrestler will look to use his superior ground game in this fight.

As for Kirk, his only two losses have come in Bellator and they have been to lesser fighters than Warren. He is a jack of all trades, master of none, but his counter-wrestling will be tested against a guy with relentless takedowns. His best bet is to keep this fight standing and to catch Warren coming in on a takedown. That will be a tough task.

This fight was tailor-made for Warren, one of the poster boys for Bellator. Expect to see him drag Kirk down and beat him up on the ground for 15 minutes. It won’t be pretty, but it will put Warren at 2-0 in his last two fights at bantamweight.

MW Tournament Quarterfinal: Mikkel Parlo (9-1) vs. Brian Rogers (10-5)

In the middleweight quarterfinals, Bellator staple and tournament vet Brian Rogers is set to meet Danish striker Mikkel Parlo in what will likely be a fun affair. Both men are almost incapable of having a boring fight, so this will be one you won’t want to miss.

Parlo returns to Bellator after being ousted in the quarterfinals of last season’s middleweight tournament. The then-undefeated Dane came up short against Sultan Aliev, showing that the prospect still had some work to do in the gym. He is a striker, first and foremost, and needs to tighten up his takedown defense, especially against guys at a higher level than those in the European regional circuit. All things considered, he does have stopping power in his striking, which could be a factor, since his opponent has been knocked out on multiple occasions.

Rogers has been a staple of the middleweight tournaments for a while. He has been in the season five, six and eight tournaments, but has yet to take home the $100,000 dollars and the title shot. The striker beat Victor O’Donnell in the season-five quarterfinals before falling via knockout to current champ Shlemenko. Then, in season six, he brutally finished Vitor Vianna before getting upset by Andreas Spang in the semis. And then, last season, he was ousted in the opening round by the superior wrestling and workrate of Dan Cramer.

Rogers is like Parlo when it comes to striking, but he also has a wrestling game. He will mix in both power strikes and takedowns to keep the Dane off balance. From there, he will run a decision and go to the semifinals for the third time in his Bellator career.

MW Tournament Quarterfinal: Jason Butcher (6-0) vs. Giva Santana (18-2)

Two jiu-jitsu artists are set to do battle in the tournament quarterfinals, as “The Arm Collector” Giva Santana takes on a man who claims to have the best guard and jiu-jitsu in MMA in Jason Butcher. Santana will look to refute those claims, as he is a high-level ground worker himself.

This will be Butcher’s first tournament in his young pro career. The jiu-jitsu specialist, who trains with black belt Jorge Gurgel, has finishes in all six wins, five by submission. All of them are first-round finishes, including wins in Bellator against Duane Bastress, Shaun Asher and Jack Hermansson. It was after the Hermansson fight that Butcher made claim to having the best guard and ground game in MMA, something that plenty of fighters will take exception to.

One of those fighter could definitely be Santana, who, in his 18 wins as a pro MMA fighter, owns 16 tapouts. Of those 16, 13 have come via armbar, solidifying his moniker of “The Arm Collector.” Santana did compete in the season-six tournament, but fell by unanimous decision to Bruno Santos. His only other two fights in Bellator have seen him win in impressive submission fashion over Darryl Cobb and Brendan Seguin.

Although Butcher’s claims of a superior ground game are warranted with his performances, Santana is a whole different type of animal on the ground. If Butcher does wish to engage in a ground war, it will be a tough battle that he will likely not win. Some fun scrambles and exchanges on the ground lead to a late submission or a decision for Santana.

MW Tournament Quarterfinal: Jeremy Kimball (9-3) vs. Perry Filkins (7-1)

Another late addition to the tournament will compete, as Jeremy Kimball enters the bracket to battle Perry Filkins. This fight has wild slobberknocker written all over it, as both men are tough-as-nails finishers.

Kimball, despite being a late addition, has to be a tournament favorite based on his resume. A list of his victims includes Strikeforce vet Keith Berry, Fight Master competitor Artenas Young, Chidi Njokuani and UFC vets Tom Speer and Drew McFedries. He is susceptible to submissions, as all three of his losses came via tapout. He has sickening power on the feet. Of his current six-fight surge, four of those wins have come by knockout, including his drubbing of Berry in his Bellator debut.

Filkins is an underrated, overlooked guy who should have been in the last tournament Bellator hosted. He has a similar style to Kimball, as he throws heavy leather with great success (six knockout wins). He has also shown some takedown skills, as seen in his Bellator debut win over Jonas Billstein. It would be wise of him to try to mix in some takedowns, which could score some points with the judges.

Both men are knockout artists, but neither has ever been knocked out. Both men will be headhunting in this fight, but I am not sure either will be put down for the count. At this point, I trust the track record of Kimball, who has faced higher levels of competition with success. He will score a late knockout or win on the scorecards.

MW Tournament Quarterfinal: Andreas Spang (8-3) vs. Justin Torrey (7-0)

In the quarterfinals of the middleweight tournament, Andreas Spang, brother of UFC veteran Chris Spang, tries to end a two-fight skid as he takes on late entry Justin Torrey. This should be a fun battle on the feet, as both men are noted strikers.

Spang is no stranger to the Bellator tournament system. This will be the third field he has entered. He came in as a late replacement in season six when Bruno Santos went down with an injury. After getting battered by Brian Rogers, he nailed a comeback knockout to punch his ticket to the finals. There, he was outpointed by Maiquel Falcao and fell short of his goal. He returned in the season-eight tourney, but was immediately rebuked in the quarterfinals, falling victim to eventual tournament winner Doug Marshall by knockout.

Spang is a striker with good clinch work and power. However, shooting on him can be fatal. The Swede owns three tapouts due to guillotine choke, showing his competence in the submission game. His experience in the Bellator promotion and tournament are definite advantages as well.

As for Torrey, this will be his first fight since 2010, when he notched a victory at Bellator 17. Yes, 81 Bellator events ago. Plus, seeing how this is on late notice, he has a notion of momentum riding against him. That being said, he is a power striker, with six of his seven wins coming by way of knockout. He has yet to taste defeat, so that mindset could definitely aid him in this brawl.

All things considered, the long layoff and the tough competition in Spang do not seem to play in favor of Torrey. He will do an admirable job on the feet, but Spang will use a grinding attack and more versatile ground game to find his way to the semifinals, taking a decision on the judges’ scorecards.

Preliminary Card

LW: Patricky Freire (10-4) vs. Derek Anderson (9-0)

Normal main-card fighter Patricky Freire finds himself on the undercard this time, as he takes on undefeated Californian Derek Anderson. Anderson has only gone to the third round once, having finished his opponent in all nine wins. However, this is a big step up for him, as Freire has been around the block a few times. Freire is on a two-fight losing streak, with losses to Lloyd Woodard and Eddie Alvarez, but he should be the superior fighter. Expect a TKO of some sort, as the American walks away with his first career loss.

LHW: Jeff Nader (5-4) vs. Mike Mucitelli (5-0)

Light heavyweight prospect Mike Mucitelli returns to Bellator pining for a future spot in the light heavyweight tournament as he meets the more experienced Jeff Nader. Nader’s last fight saw him fall to middleweight Dan Cramer, which reversed a TKO win he had against Cramer in their previous outing. He has been exposed on the ground before, which is where Mucitelli will want to bring this. Mucitelli is the larger fighter and the more skilled fighter, and he will earn a tapout in the first stanza to go 6-0, with all first-round stoppages.

MW: Dave Vitkay (12-12) vs. Brennan Ward (6-1)

We have a striker vs. grappler match-up brewing in the middleweight division when .500 fighter Dave Vitkay takes on potential tournament participant Brennan Ward. Vitkay is known for his guillotine choke on the ground, as seen in his Bellator 93 win over Jesse Peterson. He is susceptible to the knockout, though, and Ward is a boxer who has knocked out two-thirds of his foes. That will happen here as well, as Vitkay fails to get Ward down and eats punches en route to a stoppage.

LW: Andrew Calandrelli (6-3) vs. Ryan Quinn (7-4)

A Connecticut native who has trained with Nova Uniao, Andrew Calandrelli looks to rebuke Ryan Quinn in a state-residence war. Calandrelli is a submission fighter who is developing his stand-up. Four of his six wins are by tapout. He will want to get the fight down on the ground against Quinn, who has struggled against grapplers like Ricardo Funch and Abner Lloveras in the past. Calandrelli will get the fight down, but settle for a decision.

FW: Matt Bessette (11-4) vs. Nick Piedmont (8-3)

An intriguing match-up of featherweight prospects and possible future tournament participants will take place when Matt Bessette looks to defend his turf against Nick Piedmont. Bessette is a grappler who is known for his tight guillotine choke and great control on the ground. Piedmont is a heavy-handed hitter with solid wrestling and takedown defense. If he keeps Bessette standing, this fight is his, but if Bessette puts him on his back, expect Piedmont to be outworked.

BW: Glenn Allaire (3-1) vs. Rico Disciullo (0-0)

Rico Disciullo will make his professional debut in Bellator’s bantamweight division when he takes on four-time pro Glenn Allaire. Allaire is a ground fighter, but he has not fought since 2009, a four-year layoff. Disciullo went 6-3 as an amateur and lost twice via submission. That does not spell good things for the debuting fighter. Allaire gets him down and taps him out midway through the fight.

HW: Parker Porter (5-3) vs. Josh Diekmann (12-5)

Heavyweights clash when Connecticut’s Josh Diekmann meets fellow statesman Parker Porter. Porter’s only three losses came at the hands of big-show vets Gabriel Gonzaga, Jon Jones and Gabriel Salinas-Jones. He hasn’t fought since 2011, so that may be an issue for him. Diekmann is on a two-fight skid and is looking to get back on track. Diekmann has heavy hands, but Porter will be hard to finish. Midway to late in the fight, Diekmann will finally catch Porter and win via TKO.

Photo: Alexander Shlemenko (Bellator)

About The Author

Riley Kontek
Staff Writer

Riley Kontek is a Chicago-land native that has been an addict of mixed martial arts since the first Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz encounter. He has been writing on MMA for the last year and is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. In addition to that, he used to host a weekly radio show on MMA. Though he has no formal training in mixed martial arts, Riley is a master in the art of hockey fighting.