Any fan of throwing leather is not going to want to miss the Bellator middleweight championship fight this Friday night. Headlining Bellator 109 at Sands Casino Event Center in Bethlehem, Pa., current champion Alexander “Storm” Shlemenko will put his belt on the line against fellow veteran Doug “The Rhino” Marshall. The real treat in this match-up is the fact that these two men are both stand-up-oriented fighters who have combined for 40 knockouts.

Both men are former champions under promotions outside of Bellator. Marshall was a WEC mainstay until Zuffa dissolved the upper divisions, and he once held—and defended on multiple occasions—the WEC light heavyweight strap. Shlemenko has won several tournaments and a championship in Russia and the Czech Republic before moving to Bellator, where he won the season-two and season-five middleweight tournaments before picking up his current title. Marshall most recently won the season-eight tournament to get his shot at Shlemenko’s belt.

Shlemenko is from Russia, but has spent quite a bit of time training out in California. Marshall is a California native and his training facility is in Visalia. Both men will be heading to the East Coast in a battle for the ages. On Friday night, fans are in for an amazing fight. Both of these men prefer to stand and hit really hard. There is no doubt that “Storm” and “The Rhino” are going to combine for one animalistic hurricane of a brawl.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Shlemenko – 10, Marshall – 10

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that this fight has a really good chance of staying vertical. Both fighters have high-level rankings in striking arts, one a little more traditional than the other, and both prefer to knock opponents out on their way to victory.

Shlemenko holds an International Master of Sports ranking in hand-to-hand combat, which is a striking-only fighting modality, incorporating little-to-no grappling. Marshall has had a pretty similar career, earning a black belt in Muay Thai under Rafael Cordeiro. Needless to say, this is going to be a war.

Although both are prone to standing, their styles are very different. Marshall is very explosive in a sort of caffeine-crazed maniac kind of way. He comes out in every fight, guns a’ blazin, and Brett Cooper, who was the last to fight each of these men, found out just how dangerous he can be. Right off the bat, “The Rhino” came flying out of his corner, throwing haymaker after haymaker until Cooper got him to the ground. After a couple minutes of scrambling, Marshall got back to his feet and got right back at it, quickly knocking out Cooper later in the first round. Shlemenko’s fight with Cooper was a lot different.

The champ is more calculating than Marshall, and he has more creative striking techniques. Shlemenko throws many different combinations, including multiple levels of hooks, spinning back fists and powerful kicks. He presses forward, stays calm and does a better job of maintaining cage control. If this fight goes into the later rounds, it will be very advantageous for the Russian.

Both men do have a weakness in the striking game. Marshall throws so many wild shots that he finds himself open for counters, like when Brian Stann dropped him to strip the WEC title away, and Kyacey Uscola did a similar thing a couple years later. Shlemenko’s flaw is in his technique. For some reason, he comes forward with his head down, and he even drops his head when covering up under duress. It’s strange for such an experienced fighter to have such a major flaw, but it’s there nonetheless.

In the stand-up game, this fight is a toss-up. If Marshall clips Shlemenko with one of his wild shots, it will be lights out for sure, but if Shlemenko stays calm and plays proper defense, he could easily outpoint “The Rhino.”

Wrestling: Shlemenko – 10, Marshall – 9

Although Shlemenko admittedly never focused on any form of grappling early in his career, he exhibits tremendous takedown defense and is very skilled in the clinch. Marshall, who also has no wrestling background, is not as efficient in this area.

Going back to the Cooper fights, Shlemenko stuffed nearly every takedown, and every time Cooper clinched, Shlemenko muted any sort of attack and got the ref to separate them multiple times. Marshall was taken down a couple times and couldn’t really do anything in the clinch against Cooper. It wasn’t until a separation that Marshall finally got the knockout.

Shlemenko may be a powerful, calculating striker, but it is that same calculated calm that makes him a superior wrestler. Marshall is too crazy and reacts on a dime, but Shlemenko is a cool customer in the wrestling department, giving him the upper hand.

Submission Grappling: Shlemenko – 10, Marshall – 9

Shlemenko is a better wrestler than Marshall, but it wasn’t until his 26th fight, when he was choked unconscious by Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, that he finally decided to incorporate grappling into his training regimen. Since then, he has earned four submission wins by way of triangle chokes, a rear-naked choke and a standing guillotine, showing his improving skills in the submission game.

Marshall had a couple of armbar wins early in his WEC career, and he threw a rear-naked choke in a small local event a few years ago, but that’s it. Marshall is just not a ground fighter and probably never will be. Whereas Shlemenko is determined to round out his total MMA game, Marshall prefers to remain focused on striking. Marshall has a black belt BJJ coach at his gym, but his grappling skills are more of a necessity than a proficiency.

Neither of these guys are touted as submission artists in any way, shape or form, but if it goes to the ground, Shlemenko holds a slim advantage.

Stamina: Shlemenko – 10, Marshall – 9

With these guys coming in with similar levels of skill in the major aspects of fighting, stamina could prove to be a game-changer. Marshall fights to finish in the first round every single bout. The pace he holds is ridiculous and doesn’t serve him well into the later rounds. In fact, his only decision wins were by split verdicts. Shlemenko has a deep gas tank that he has had to dip into more than once. In addition to his many unanimous decision wins, his early fights were all tournaments that saw him fighting multiple times in the same night, a format similar to the earliest of UFC events.

If Marshall doesn’t get the first-round knockout, he will likely gas out and lose, as Shlemenko has a huge advantage in stamina.

Aggression: Shlemenko – 9, Marshall – 10

Marshall’s attitude, knockout record and overall pace come from a long history of anger issues. He has gotten in a lot of trouble throughout his life for fighting, and it has transitioned well into this aggressive sport. He comes out like a man possessed in every fight, and all of his knockouts have been a result of his overwhelming barrage of strikes.

Shlemenko is a powerful, aggressive guy, but that sort of calculated calm that was described earlier comes off as a lack of aggression at times. If “The Rhino” pulls this one off the way he plans, it will be the result of his ultra-aggressive attack mode.

X-factor

The x-factor in this fight is likely the Russian’s youth and experience. Shlemenko is seven years younger than Marshall, and, in all of his endeavors, he has seen just about any type of attack, including Marshall’s brand of blitz. If Shlemenko remains calm, as he does so well, and avoids Marshall’s haymakers, he will wear his wild elder down, working his way toward victory.

Total: Shlemenko – 50, Marshall – 47

Verdict: There’s really no secret as to how this fight will kick off. Marshall is going to come flying out of his corner, and Shlemenko is going to try not to get clipped. Shlemenko is more skilled at almost every aspect of the game, has a bigger gas tank, and keeps a more level head. If he sticks to his game plan, he should win. The only way Marshall takes this one is with a wild, streetfighter-esque bomb. It’s likely that will not be the case, and Shlemenko will win by a long, drawn-out decision, retaining his Bellator belt after five rounds.

Photo: Alexander Shlemenko (Bellator MMA)