Bellator MMA is set to continue its ninth season on Sept. 13 with Bellator 99. Live from Temecula, Calif., the card boasts a deep lineup that includes the quarterfinals of the season-nine featherweight tournament.

Patricio Freire will headline opposite of UFC veteran Diego Nunes as one of the featherweight quarterfinals. Also, Vladimir Matyushenko makes his Bellator debut against Houston Alexander, perhaps with a future light heavyweight tournament spot on the line.

Without further ado, let’s preview the Bellator 99 card and make some predictions.

LHW: Vladimir Matyushenko (26-7) vs. Houston Alexander (15-9)

Houston Alexander makes an appearance on late notice for Christian M’Pumbu. He will take on UFC vet and debuting Belarusian Vladimir Matyushenko. One would have to believe that the winner of this fight will get a birth into the next light heavyweight tournament.

Matyushenko has slowed down in recent times. The 41-year-old former title contender has dropped three of his last five fights. The wrestler has improved his striking a bit, though his striking defense was spotlighted negatively in his last two losses to Alexander Gustafsson and Ryan Bader. Since Alexander enjoys a good brawl, the Belarusian should get this fight to the canvas as soon as possible in an attempt to stop Alexander with ground-and-pound or with his underrated submissions.

Alexander’s career is a case of getting pushed too hard too soon. Back in 2007, he was shot out of a cannon with a devastating knockout victory of Keith Jardine under the UFC banner. Since then, he has not panned out to be the potential title challenger we thought he could be. That said, the kickboxer has won two straight with punch stoppages of Dennis Reed and Chuck Grigsby. Matyushenko’s chin has been exposed as of late, so “The Assassin” definitely has a puncher’s chance to win here.

When all is considered, a full training camp and superior wrestling may be the difference here. Alexander has proven to be inconsistent in his career and can be taken down, as seen in his bouts with decent-at-best grapplers Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Kimbo Slice. Matyushenko is a smart veteran and will look for the takedown early and often. Expect a decision win for him.

FW Tournament Quarterfinal: Patricio Freire (18-2) vs. Diego Nunes (18-4)

In the main feature and one of the four featherweight quarterfinals, Brazilian compadres Patricio Freire and Diego Nunes go to war. Both men have to be considered favorites to win this tournament and could have hypothetically met in the finals had they not been matched up in the tourney’s opening round.

“Pitbull” has long been one of the faces of Bellator and enters his third tournament with the company. He was the runner-up of the second season, where he dropped a decision to Joe Warren after beating Will Romero and the respected Wilson Reis. He then took the fourth-season tourney with wins over Georgi Karakhanyan, Reis and Daniel Straus. He is a deadly striker that rarely uses his superior ground game because of the power he possesses. His latest knockout of Jared Downing was especially impressive, with Freire knocking Downing down multiple times.

Nunes joins Bellator after a shocking cut from the UFC. The Brazilian went 3-3 with the UFC, notching wins over Mike Brown, Manny Gamburyan and Bart Palaszewski. His biggest problem has been against wrestlers, something he doesn’t need to worry about when fighting Freire. However, his loss to Dennis Siver showed that he will not always be the best striker in the cage.

Freire generates power that should be in a light heavyweight’s hands. He is also technical, which should make for a nice contrast opposite of Nunes. This fight will be extremely close, but after seeing what happened to his brother, Patricky, this past weekend, Patricio will use a balanced attack to keep Nunes off his guard. Expect a fun decision win for “Pitbull.”

FW Tournament Quarterfinal: Shahbulat Shamhalaev (12-2-1) vs. Akop Stepanyan (13-5)

If you are looking for a bout between powerful strikers with fun styles, this is the fight for you. Fellow Russians Shahbulat Shamhalaev and Akop Stepanyan will look to advance in the featherweight tournament in what could be a “Fight of the Night” contender.

Shamhalaev comes in after winning the latest tournament he participated in, where he destroyed Cody Bollinger, Mike Richman and Rad Martinez to claim a title birth. From there, however, he was thoroughly dominated by champ Pat Curran, who outwrestled and choked out the Russian striker. He uses some kicks, but he is more of puncher that generates sickening amounts of power. Half of his career wins have come via knockout, including all of his Bellator victories.

Stepanyan is similarly a striker that uses more kicks and spinning attacks. He is a veteran of two tournaments, both of which saw him ousted in the quarterfinals (by Wagnney Fabiano and Marlon Sandro). Like Shamhalaev, he has immense power in his strikes. Take, for example, his most recent win, a spinning back kick to the body and punches for a knockout of TUF veteran Chris Saunders. He has the ability to alter a fight with one hit.

Don’t expect too much ground work here. Both men are strikers and have combined for five losses via submission. These men will stand in the pocket and throw bombs for the entirety of the fight, however long it lasts. That being said, I trust the striking of Shamhalaev more, especially seeing what he did to a guy like Mike Richman. He should get a TKO or decision.

FW Tournament Quarterfinal: Dez Green (8-1) vs. Fabricio Guerreiro (17-2)

Featherweights collide in the quarterfinals when American Dez Green makes his Bellator debut against the vastly experienced, one-time tournament veteran Fabricio Guerreiro. It is a match-up that can restore Guerreiro’s hype or push Green into the spotlight.

Green makes his debut on the heels of the biggest victory of his career. The once-beaten American dispatched of UFC veteran Henry Martinez via TKO last time out, showing he had big-show potential. The former collegiate wrestler uses takedowns and ground-and-pound to soften up opponents. The one area of concern is that he really isn’t a finisher, with all but two of his victories coming on the judges’ scorecards.

Guerreiro is looking for a mulligan since dropping his Bellator debut against Magomedrasul Khasbulaev in a quarterfinal bout in last season’s tournament. He is a submission specialist that has taken 12 of his 17 wins by tapout. He has improved his striking a bit, but his counter-wrestling could use some improvement.

Green’s best chance is on the feet, as any engagement on the ground with Guerreiro is dangerous. It’s doubtful that Guerreiro will be able to drag Green to the ground. This is a toss-up as to who will win, but I will take Guerreiro via submission late in the fight.

FW Tournament Quarterfinal: Joe Taimanglo (18-4-1) vs. Andrew Fisher (12-4-1)

Normal bantamweight Joe Taimanglo of Guam takes his talents to the featherweight division for Bellator’s tournament quarterfinals, where he will look to take out bigger men in hopes of a title shot. In front of him is Andrew Fisher, an Englishman who will stand across the cage and look to spoil any hopes for the underdog of the tourney.

Taimanglo is a scrappy guy who made a successful Bellator debut in his last outing, choking out Ronnie Rogers in two rounds. He has powerful takedowns and good top control, a formula that has seen him take out notables such as Harris Sarmiento, UFC vet Per Eklund and Rogers. British fighters are not traditionally great wrestlers, so Taimanglo should look to exploit that in this bout.

Fisher has not lost since 2011, but he has faltered every time he has stepped up in competition. He is riding a four-fight winning streak and has not lost in seven fights. Submission skills are a plus for him, as seven of his wins came via tapout. He does have solid striking ability, but he will be using that to try to fend off the relentless takedown game of Taimanglo.

Taimanglo may be the smaller guy here, but his tenacity and experience are beneficial. Fisher will fight for his life to stay off his back, but the angles and leverage the Guam native can generate will allow him to win an ugly fight here. Either a late submission or decision will be the method of victory for Taimanglo.

Preliminary Card

LHW: Savo Kosic (4-1) vs. Hector Ramirez (9-5-1)

In the feature prelim, light heavyweight import Savo Kosic makes his Bellator debut against UFC vet Hector Ramirez. Kosic is from Montenegro and has spent his young career fighting in that region. He takes a big step up in competition with Ramirez, who has been fighting since 2003. Both men are strikers, but experience wins out in this one. Ramirez should bang his way to a decision.

BW: Mario Navarro (4-3) vs. Derek Loffer (4-1)

Mario Navarro makes his return to Bellator against Derek Loffer in a bout that could put either man in an upcoming bantamweight tournament. Navarro is a jiu-jitsu stylist who doesn’t mind fighting off his back. He owns two triangle choke victories, as well as an armbar, showing that he knows how to use his legs. Loffer is powerful for a 135-pounder and owns three of his four wins by knockout. Navarro can win if this fight goes to the ground, but Loffer will avoid that and earn a TKO.

WW: Gavin Sterritt (4-1) vs. Andy Murad (6-0)

Undefeated Andy Murad will welcome England’s Gavin Sterritt to the United States. Murad is a King of the Cage veteran that has been in some really close fights while competing at middleweight. Sterritt has just one blemish on his record, which he took against tournament participant Andrew Fisher back in 2008. This will be a close fight, but the bigger Murad will outwork Sterritt.

FW: Goiti Yamauchi (14-1) vs. Musa Toliver (9-8-1)

Goiti Yamauchi, one of Brazil’s best prospects, makes his anticipated Bellator debut against Musa Toliver in what looks like a squash match to many. Yamauchi is just 20 years old and already has 15 bouts under his belt. Of his 14 wins, 12 have been tapouts. However, he has pro boxing experience too. Most of Toliver’s losses have come via submission, so you can probably figure out how this fight will go.

HW: Blagoi Ivanov (7-0) vs. Manny Lara (4-3)

Blagoi Ivanov looks to return from a stabbing that nearly claimed his life. He comes home to Bellator to take on two-time Bellator vet Manny Lara. Ivanov is one of the few intriguing heavyweight prospects in the ranks of the company, but he has not competed in almost two years. He is well-rounded and will look to expose the holes in Lara’s game that Josh Appelt revealed in Lara’s last fight. Ivanov has the killer instinct and will tap Lara out early on.

LHW: Virgil Zwicker (10-3) vs. Nick Moghaddam (6-6-1)

Strikeforce vet Virgil Zwicker will kick off the card at 205 pounds when he meets Nick Moghaddam, a fighter who sits at the .500 mark. Zwicker has not fought in a mixed martial arts contest since May of last year, when he was bested by Guto Inocente via decision. The knockout artist meets a grappler in Moghaddam, who will be looking to get this fight to the ground. Zwicker will shake off the ring rust, using good takedown defense and powerful striking to earn a TKO stoppage.

Photo: Vladimir Matyushenko (Stephen Albanese/Tailstar.com)

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.