Bellator MMA is set to conclude its ninth season on Nov. 22 with Bellator 109. Live from Atlantic City, N.J., the card boasts a deep lineup that includes a heavyweight championship fight, a featherweight tournament final and a welterweight tournament final.

Alexander Shlemenko headlines opposite Doug Marshall for the Bellator middleweight championship. Marshall is the season-eight middleweight tournament champion, and Shlemenko is a multi-time tourney champ who holds the belt.

The other two featured fights are high-stakes affairs. Alexander Sarnavskiy and Will Brooks will compete for a title shot in the lightweight division, and Ron Keslar and Rick Hawn vie for a chance to fight Douglas Lima for the vacant welterweight title.

Without further ado, let’s preview the Bellator 109 card and make some predictions.

MW Championship: Alexander Shlemenko (48-7) vs. Doug Marshall (18-6)

Power meets power, with gold on the line, in the main event. Russian veteran and champion Alexander Shlemenko takes on Doug “The Rhino” Marshall, who hits as hard as his nickname suggests. The winner will be the champion of Bellator and meet Brennan Ward, who earned his spot as the top contender with the season-nine tournament win.

Shlemenko is a longtime veteran of the sport and has faced a who’s who of the sport. He is 9-1 in Bellator while knocking out and tapping out most who’ve stepped up to fight him. He was crowned the champion after winning a tournament following Hector Lombard’s departure from the promotion. It was a tournament in which he beat Zelg Galesic, Vitor Vianna and Brian Rogers. He then met up with Maiquel Falcao, another tournament winner, to fight for the vacant belt in a bout in which he knocked out the UFC vet. Since then, Shlemenko has defended his belt against Brett Cooper in a fight he won in fun fashion.

He now takes on Marshall, who has violently blasted his way into this title shot by winning the season-eight tournament. He opened that tournament by stopping Andreas Spang with a one-punch knockout, before taking a decision from Sultan Aliev. Then, in the tourney finals, he destroyed Cooper with another huge one-punch knockout, effectively putting his stamp on the top contender label.

Marshall’s only hope is to keep this standing. He has scary stopping power with his hands and is incredibly aggressive. Shlemenko is no pushover on the feet himself, but he is vastly superior on the ground. He needs to stay out of Marshall’s wheelhouse and change levels or he could be eating meat through a straw. He will get the takedown, wear out his prey and secure a tap to keep his belt around his waist.

LW Tournament Final: Will Brooks (12-1) vs. Alexander Sarnavskiy (25-1)

A very interesting match-up is upon us with a lightweight title shot up for grabs. Russian phenom Alexander Sarnavskiy takes on American wrestler Will Brooks. This is a close look at two top prospects that could be the future of this company.

Sarnavskiy has been more than impressive during his time in Bellator. He is the definition of well-rounded. “Tiger” can strike well, wrestle well and submit people when on the ground. This season, he has blown through Marcus Davis and Ricardo Tirloni, tapping out both men in under two minutes. Most impressive was the triangle choke of Tirloni, who is a high-level BJJ black belt and has only been tapped out by Benson Henderson in his career.

Brooks is a power wrestler whose striking has improved. He is very quick and athletic, which allows him to move in and out quickly and to explode into takedowns. Both of his fights in the tournament this season have been workmanlike dominations, as he frustrated and grounded UFC vet John Alessio and former TUF hopeful Saad Awad, the latter of which was an avenged loss. Though Sarnavskiy is dangerous on the ground, he wants to avoid the heavy hands of Brooks.

This is actually a very interesting fight. On one hand, Brooks could take Sarnavskiy down and play it safe, though he’d have a hard time holding him down and avoiding submissions. On the other hand, Awad showed that Brooks has some holes in his striking defense, something “Tiger” can exploit.

Brooks will have a decent performance, but Sarnavskiy will come out on top.

WW Tournament Final: Rick Hawn (17-2) vs. Ron Keslar (11-3)

A bout opposite Douglas Lima for the Bellator welterweight championship is up for grabs when Rick Hawn meets Ron Keslar in the tournament finale. Keslar was a late addition to the tournament when Matt Riddle bowed out due to injury.

Hawn is an Olympic-level judoka who relies more on his hands than his accredited grappling chops. He has uncanny power in his boxing game, and that power has resulted in many knockouts in his Bellator tenure. He opened this season’s tournament with a hard-fought decision over Herman Terrado, before winning a rematch against Brent Weedman by decision as well. Ten of his career wins have come by knockout, and one would think he is going to be headhunting when he meets the American Kickboxing Academy rep.

Keslar was really the dark horse in this tournament and wasn’t given much of a chance upon arrival. However, the power wrestler has impressively won both fights so far. He edged out Luis Melo in the quarterfinals, then choked War Machine unconscious in the semifinals. His game plan here is to do what Michael Chandler did to Hawn, which is to ground him, grapple him and smother him until he tires.

Hawn has faced wrestlers before, but Keslar looks to be vastly underrated and could surprise him here. However, I trust Hawn’s track record as a meat-hook throwing, aggressive technician that can hurt people with just one strike. Wise money says Hawn wins yet another tournament with Bellator.

LW: Terry Etim (15-5) vs. Patrick Cenoble (9-2-1)

Kicking off the evening on the main card will be an intriguing lightweight bout with possible future tournament implications that features UFC veteran Terry Etim against one-time Bellator vet Patrick Cenoble. It is Etim’s Bellator debut and his first fight since his release from the world’s largest MMA promotion.

Cenoble is a power boxer who is looking to pick up his first win in three tries. He has one-punch knockout power, as shown in eight bouts where he has won by stoppage via strikes. He needs to look to stop the takedown, which served as the reason why he took a draw against Tony Fryklund in his last fight. He dominated the striking in that fight, but failed to thwart Fryklund’s wrestling attack completely.

Etim is an 11-fight UFC veteran who showed a complete game, but was definitely known for his submission prowess. During his time in the company, he earned stoppages over the likes of Justin Buchholz, Brian Cobb and Matt Grice, to name a few. However, he is 1-3 in his last four, which includes an armbar loss to Rafael dos Anjos, a highlight-reel knockout from Edson Barboza and a huge upset blemish to Renee Forte.

Cenoble is going to have a simple game plan here. He is going to look to brutalize the Brit on the feet. Etim is crafty, though, and has faced higher-level guys than “Lights Out.” Look for Etim to mix in striking, clinch work and takedowns. All of these things will earn him his Bellator debut on points, which could elevate him to a season-10 tournament berth.

Preliminary Card

LW: Bubba Jenkins (4-1) vs. Terrell Hobbs (9-5)

Lightweight prospect Bubba Jenkins looks to rebound from his first-ever loss when he takes on the vastly experienced Terrell Hobbs. Jenkins is a power wrestler with knockout power, but he is a developing prospect whose cardio has come into question. He was upset by LaRue Burley in his last outing, which overshadowed the four-fight winning streak he was on to start his career. Hobbs will be a tough opponent, though it looks like Jenkins has a tailor-made match-up where he will secure the takedown, pound Hobbs and earn a submission victory.

FW: Goiti Yamauchi (15-1) vs. Saul Almeida (13-4)

Brazilian phenom Goiti Yamauchi looks to continue his U.S. invasion at featherweight when he takes on Bellator vet and East Coast staple Saul Almeida. Yamauchi is a wizard on the ground, as seen in his Bellator debut, where he quickly grounded and tapped Musa Toliver. He can strike a bit as well, but his jiu-jitsu is high level and he has secured 13 career tapouts. Almeida is a ground fighter as well, though he is not as voracious of a finisher as Yamauchi. When this fight goes to the ground, Almeida will realize Yamauchi is on another level. The Brazilian wins via tapout.

HW: Blagoi Ivanov (8-0) vs. Keith Bell (4-3)

Prospective heavyweight-tournament participant Blagoi Ivanov continues his comeback from a near life-ending stabbing. He meets the powerful Keith Bell. Bell is a knockout artist who will want to stay away from the ground and clinch of Ivanov. That being said, Ivanov can fight on the feet or the ground. He has great knockout power and a tight guillotine choke. His sambo background is of a high level, which means that even if Bell shoots, Ivanov should be able to stave it off. Ivanov should get a win here and an invite to the next heavyweight tournament.

WW: Michael Page (5-0) vs. Andrew Osborne (7-7)

Michael Page is easily one of the hottest prospects in the sport, due to his flashy style and skills. In his way stands a very experienced East Coast fight veteran in Andrew Osborne. Page has taken the sport by storm. The kickboxer has used crazy athleticism, good movement and unorthodox striking to dominate his opponents. That’s not to say he can’t handle business on the ground, where he owns two submissions. Osborne is a tough guy who likes to strike, but he will find himself in the deep end here. Page gets another finish.

FW: Lester Caslow (10-8) vs. Jay Haas (11-12)

Kurt Pellegrino disciple Lester Caslow looks to make a successful return to Bellator in the featherweight division. He takes on Pennsylvania native Jay Haas. Caslow is 1-2 with Bellator. In that time, he has been shown to be a jack of all trades, but a master of none. His biggest weakness is submission defense—half of his losses are via tapout. Haas is similarly weak in submission defense, which could turn this fight into a striking affair. Haas has faced higher-level opposition, but that won’t win him the fight. Caslow pulls off his second win with the company.

LW: Ahsan Abdulla (5-3) vs. Mike Bannon (4-1)

Team Bombsquad member Ahsan Abdulla is looking to make a successful Bellator debut, but in his way will be Pennsylvania native and one-time Bellator vet Mike Bannon. Bannon is a jiu-jitsu fighter who will be looking to drag Abdulla to the mat. All four of his career wins come via tapout, but from four different techniques (armbar, kneebar, rear-naked choke and triangle choke). Abdulla’s best bet is a sprawl-and-brawl game plan. He has been tapped out before, but he is the better striker of the two. Bannon’s takedown offense should be solid enough to ground Abdulla. Bannon should be able to finish Abdulla at some point in the bout.

LW: Brent Primus (3-0) vs. Brett Glass (2-0)

Somebodies “0” must go, as undefeated lightweight prospects Brent Primus and Brett Glass square off. Glass has competed as high as middleweight, though he is in his more natural weight class for this fight. The 23-year-old is going to meet a physically imposing submission specialist with good takedowns and a smooth ground game. All of Primus’s wins have come with his rear-naked choke, which is set up by his ground striking. We should see Primus take another submission victory here.

Photo: Alexander Shlemenko (R) delivers a spinning back kick (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

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.