On Saturday, Sept. 7, Bellator MMA kicked off its ninth season with Bellator 98 from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

In the night’s main event, Bellator middleweight champion Alexander “Storm” Shlemenko put his belt on the line for the first time, facing off with season eight tournament runner-up Brett Cooper. Shlemenko was originally expected to face Doug Marshall, who bested Cooper at Bellator 95 in April, but Marshall was forced out due to injury.

Also on the main card, the promotion began a new middleweight tournament. The quarterfinal round featured four bouts, Justin Torrey vs. Brennan Ward, Jeremy Kimball vs. Perry Filkins, Brian Rogers vs. Mikkel Parlo and Jason Butcher vs. Giva Santana.

Rounding out the televised portion of the event, Brazilian lightweight Patricky “Pitbull” Freire looked to snap a two-fight losing streak against Derek Anderson.

The night’s preliminary card streamed live on Spike.com beginning at 6 p.m. ET, with the Spike TV-portion of the card airing 8 p.m. ET.

Shlemenko tops Cooper in classic; retains belt

Shlemenko (L) (Brian McKenna/The MMA Corner)

Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko battled Brett Cooper for five, hard-fought rounds, earning a unanimous decision nod to retain the belt.

The champion began as the aggressor, connecting with big shots to Cooper’s head and body. Shlemenko scored with multiple kicks to Cooper’s left side that backed the challenger against the cage. A spinning back fist connected for Shlemenko, but Cooper took it well. Cooper dove for a takedown at the three-minute mark of the round, but Shlemenko shrugged it off. Cooper landed a big, counter left hook that wobbled the champion in the final minute of the round. Cooper allowed the Russian to recover as the round concluded.

Shlemenko opened round two with a more measured approach, showing respect for Cooper’s power. A big cut opened over the left eye of the champion as Cooper scored with another counterstrike. Cooper scored with a takedown midway through the frame, but he could not hold the Russian down. Shlemenko turned up the pace, alternating between head strikes and body shots. Cooper had a takedown attempt stuffed and ate a big head kick in the process. The champion smelled blood and delivered a big right hand, but Cooper fired back with one of his own and hurt Shlemenko badly. Cooper flurried for the finish with a big slam, but Shlemenko again survived the round.

Round three was the definition of a firefight early as both fighters scored with punches. Both took the best shots the other could offer until Shlemenko attacked with a guillotine choke midway through the stanza. Cooper escaped and the striking affair resumed. Cooper worked for a takedown with a minute remaining in the round, but the champion quickly bounced back to his feet. Shlemenko finished the round with a big elbow over the top.

The championship rounds began with a massive left hand from the champion that dropped Cooper. Shlemenko rained punches, but Cooper somehow survived. A big knee from the Russian wobbled Cooper again, but he tied up Shlemenko along the fence. Blood poured from the nose of Cooper from the barrage. Shlemenko shrugged off a takedown attempt from Cooper, but Cooper delivered a series of punches that slowed the champion’s advance.  The final minute of the round saw more big shots from each fighter find their mark. Cooper dove for another takedown, but could not secure it as the round closed.

In the final round, Shlemenko scored with a spinning back kick that prompted Cooper to shoot for a takedown that was stuffed. Shlemenko continued to land with volume, but Cooper fired back. A pair of body kicks from the Russian again saw Cooper look to grapple, but the champion would have none of it. Shlemenko scored with a body-lock takedown with two minutes left in the fight, but Cooper worked his way back to standing. Another takedown from the champion came with a minute left in the fight, but once again Cooper bounced back to his feet. A third takedown from Shlemenko followed with ground and pound put a stamp on the final frame from the champion.

On the scorecards, it was the champion who did enough to earn the verdict.

Parlo too much for Rogers

Parlo (L) (Brian McKenna/The MMA Corner)

Mikkel Parlo became the fourth and final middleweight tournament semifinalist, besting veteran Brian Rogers by decision.

Rogers slipped early and Parlo closed the distance with short shots. Parlo pushed Rogers against the cage and pummeled for position, but Rogers broke away. Rogers came forward with a flying knee, but missed. A right hand from Rogers found its mark and he followed with another knee that landed. Parlo took the strikes well and fired back. Rogers slipped once again, but Parlo failed to capitalize. Rogers continued to land his right hand, but Parlo countered with a series of uppercuts late in the frame. Parlo forced the fight to the mat, but Rogers powered into top position and returned his feet as the round closed.

The two fighters met in the center of the cage and fired punches from close quarters to kick off the second frame. Rogers scored to the body, but Parlo delivered a big knee and then put Rogers on his back near the fence. Parlo passed to the mount while raining left hands, but Rogers was able to recover his half guard. Parlo delivered right hands while Rogers desperately looked to get back to his feet. Parlo transitioned to half guard on the opposite side and punched Rogers’ midsection repeatedly until the conclusion of the frame.

After a series of kicks from Rogers, Parlo again looked to close the distance early in round three. Rogers managed to separate, but Parlo put him on his back in the center of the cage. Parlo moved to half guard and methodically dropped short punches. Rogers rolled for a leg lock which allowed him to get back to his feet. Parlo stayed tight on Rogers before scoring with a late takedown along the cage. Parlo connected with a massive knee in the waning seconds that sent Rogers crash to the canvas, but the referee allowed the fight to see the scorecards.

All three judges at cageside rewarded Parlo for his efforts.

Butcher bests Santana by TKO

Butcher (Brian McKenna/The MMA Corner)

Jason Butcher claimed his grappling would be good enough to hang with Brazilian Giva Santana, but it was his striking that helped him punch his ticket into the middleweight semis.

Butcher marched forward aggressively and clipped Santana with punches to begin the fight. Santana absorbed the shots and put Butcher on his back with little effort. Santana worked for his trademark armbar from the top position, but Butcher was wise to it. Butcher recovered his half guard and attacked Santana’s right arm with a kimura, but the Brazilian passed to side control to escape. Santana found the full mount with 90 seconds in the round. Santana locked in an arm-triangle choke and cranked hard, but Butcher survived. Again Santana attacked with an armbar, but Butcher escaped as the round ended.

Butcher opened round two with an onslaught of punches. Santana flopped to his back, but Butcher refused to follow him to the mat. When Santana returned to the feet, Butcher delivered a big right hand that stunned Santana. Butcher smelled blood and flurried, forcing the referee to put an end to the assault.

Ward batters Torrey

Ward (Brian McKenna/The MMA Corner)

Last-minute tournament replacement Brennan Ward earned a spot in the middleweight tournament semifinals with a second-round TKO win over former training partner Justin Torrey.

Torrey looked a for takedown as soon as the bell rang to start the fight. Ward countered with a head-and-arm throw to plant Torrey on his back. Torrey locked up his guard momentarily, but Ward freed himself to rain some heavy right hands against the fence. Ward rolled for a heel hook, but gave up the top position as Torrey escaped. Torrey passed to side control with 90 seconds in the round and he attacked with an Americana that Ward easily defended. Torrey moved to the mount in the final seconds of the round and unloaded until the round concluded.

The left eye of Torrey swelled completely shut between the first and second rounds, prompting the referee to warn the fighter to protect it. Ward planted Torrey on his back to kick off the frame and moved to half guard. Ward targeted Torrey’s eye with punches from the top, opening up a big cut. Torrey scrambled back to his feet, but Ward continued to assault the damaged eye, prompting the referee to waive off the contest.

Filkins submits Kimball

Filkins (Brian McKenna/The MMA Corner)

Perry Kimball became the first middleweight tournament semifinalist with a third-round submission win over Jeremy Kimball.

The two tournament newcomers traded kicks early in the fight. Kimball scored with a spinning kick to the body, but Filkins fired back with punches. Kimball opened up with a variety of strikes, but Filkins marched ahead with reckless abandon. Kimball scored with a takedown midway through the round, but he could not keep Filkins on the ground. Kimball again planted Filkins on the mat, but it was only for a moment. Kimball’s attack continued to frustrate Filkins as the round wrapped.

Kimball looked for a takedown early in the second stanza, with Filkins desperately diving for the fence to avoid getting dragged to the canvas. After getting warned for grabbing the fence, Filkins put Kimball on his back for the first time. Filkins passed to half guard and delivered shoulder strikes from close quarters. Kimball powered out and fired knees to the body. Filkins picked up Kimball and slammed him to the canvas, but did not follow to the mat. Kimball stood, but Filkins brought the fight to the ground in the final minute of the frame. After a brief scramble, Filkins took Kimball’s back and rained punches until the bell halted the round.

The pace to open the third round was noticeably slower. The fighters traded single blows, with Kimball looking to counter. A flurry from Filkins saw Kimball shoot for a takedown, but Filkins reversed the position and landed in Kimball;s guard. Filkins moved to side control with two minutes remaining. Kimball rolled to escape but gave up his back in the process. Filkins worked for a rear-naked choke and forced a tap in the waning moments of the fight.

Anderson upsets “Pitbull”

Anderson (Brian McKenna/The MMA Corner)

Lightweight Derek Anderson put himself on the map and remained undefeated with a decision victory of former tournament finalist Patricky “Pitbull” Freire.

Pitbull opened the fight with a massive left hand that dropped Anderson. Anderson quickly recovered and moved forward. Freire scored with a combination that again saw Anderson’s knees lock, but he managed to stay upright. Anderson fired back along the fence as Freire stood flat-footed in front of him. At the three-minute mark of the frame, Freire scored with a takedown and effortlessly moved to mount. The Brazilian fished for an armbar and then transitioned to a triangle choke with a minute left. Anderson picked up Freire and slammed him to the mat, allowing him to escape before the round closed.

The fight returned to the ground early in round two as Pitbull swept Anderson’s leg out from under him on a kick attempt. It was only briefly though, as Anderson returned to his feet and stalked Freire along the fence. A big left hook from Freire wobbled Anderson once more, but he did not pounce. Anderson scored with a combination near the fence, ending with a solid right hand. Freire shot for a takedown, but could not get Anderson to the canvas. Anderson sensed the Brazilian tiring, but could not find a finish as the stanza concluded.

Anderson continued to score on the feet to kick off the final frame. Freire looked to counter, but Anderson moved forward undeterred. A spinning back kick from Anderson landed on the shoulder of the Brazilian, but Anderson’s confidence seemed to grow with strike that landed. Anderson landed with his hands in the final minute as the fight went the distance.

When the scorecards were read, it was Anderson taking home the unanimous decision nod.

Alexander Shlemenko def. Brett Cooper by unanimous decision (48-47 x3) – for middleweight title
Mikkel Parlo def. Brian Rogers by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26) – middleweight tournament quarterfinal
Jason Butcher def. Giva Santana by TKO (punches). Round 2, 1:12 – middleweight tournament quarterfinal
Brennan Ward def. Justin Torrey by TKO (strikes). Round 2, 3:28 – middleweight tournament quarterfinal
Perry Filkins def. Jeremy Kimball by submission (rear-naked choke). Round 3, 4:18 – middleweight tournament quarterfinal
Derek Anderson def. Patricky “Pitbull” Freire by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Jeff Nader vs. Mike Mucitelli declared a no-contest (accidental eye poke). Round 1
Josh Diekman def. Parker Porter by TKO (strikes). Round 1, 1:12
Ryan Quinn def. Brylan Van Artsdalen by submission (arm-triangle choke). Round 1, 2:34
Matt Bessette def. Nick Piedmont by TKO (punches). Round 1, 1:41
Rico Disciullo def. Glenn Allair  by knockout (elbows). Round 1, 1:21

Photo: Brett Cooper (L) faces off with Alexander Shlemenko (Bellator MMA)