Alexander Shlemenko (Keith Mills/Sherdog)Bellator 114: Shlemenko vs. Ward Preview and Predictions Riley Kontek March 25, 2014 Events, Previews, Spotlight Bellator MMA is set to return on March 28 to continue its 10th season. Live from Utah, the card boasts a lineup that includes a middleweight title bout and the quarterfinals of the lightweight tournament. Champion Alexander Shlemenko is set to defend his title against dark horse Brennan Ward, who won last season’s middleweight tournament. Shlemenko is a world-ranked middleweight who has been an ace at 185 pounds since winning the title. Also, the featherweights will duke it out to see who makes it to the finals. In those bouts, we will see Germany’s Daniel Weichel take on Matt Bessette and Des Green meet Will Martinez. Without further ado, let’s preview the Bellator 114 card and make some predictions. MW Championship: Alexander Shlemenko (49-7) vs. Brennan Ward (9-1) In the middleweight title fight and main event, Russian buzzsaw Alexander Shlemenko takes on top contender Brennan Ward in an interesting bout. Ward won last season’s middleweight tournament. Meanwhile, Shlemenko hasn’t lost since a title bout against Hector Lombard in 2010. Shlemenko is just 29 years old and has fought 56 pro fights in his career. He is a kickboxer with fantastic technique and solid power, which will be a good recipe to beat Ward. His last three wins have all been incredibly impressive—he knocked out Maiquel Falcao, outgunned Brent Cooper and destroyed Doug Marshall with a body shot. Shlemenko is riding a 12-fight winning streak in which he has faced some very stiff competition. Ward was a late replacement to last season’s middleweight tournament, where he turned into a very pleasant surprise. He is a striker with good power and incredible toughness. In the tournament, he knocked out Justin Torrey and Mikkel Parlo and tapped Joe Pacheco. Ward’s strength on the feet is going to be met with a superior striker in Shlemenko, and that will be a recipe for disaster. Shlemenko will make short work of “The Irish Bad Boy.” He’ll mix up body shots with his knockout punches and eventually put Ward down to retain his title. FW Tournament Semifinal: Daniel Weichel (32-8) vs. Matt Bessette (13-4) In the first of two featherweight tournament semifinals, Germany’s Daniel Weichel takes on American Matt Bessette with the chance to move on to the finals. Right now, as it stands, Weichel is the favorite to win the whole tournament. Weichel is a submission fighter who has won 20 of his bouts via tapout. In the quarterfinals, he took out a very tough Scott Cleve via rear-naked choke in the first round to get to this spot. He has an extensive record on the European circuit, where he has taken on guys like Artiom Damkovsky, Magomedrasul Khasbulaev and Yuri Ivlev. Bessette won a controversial decision over Diego Nunes to secure his semifinal spot. He used his wrestling and clinch to tie up Nunes in that fight, though many think Nunes did enough to earn the win. That will need to be the skill he uses to stifle Weichel, though the German is educated on the ground and can definitely handle himself. Come fight time, Weichel is going to be the heavy favorite. Cleve has a similar skill set to Bessette, which should give us an insight to how this fight will go. Weichel will outstrike Bessette and possibly finish him on the mat. FW Tournament Semifinal: Will Martinez (9-2-1) vs. Des Green (10-2) With a spot in the featherweight tournament up for grabs, two-time tournament participant Des Green takes on dark horse Will Martinez. The winner has an opportunity to earn a title shot at the champion when the dust clears. Martinez is a grappler who possesses good wrestling and solid submission skills. He scored a huge upset in the quarterfinals, where he outworked Brazilian phenom Goiti Yamauchi to get to the semifinals. He will need to use that pace and mixture of grappling arts to keep Green on his heels. Green is a wrestler who barely escaped the quarterfinals against Mike Richman. He grinded Richman to a close decision, using wrestling to hold down Richman. However, Green did not inflict much damage or seem to be too worried about advancing position. That earned him a rain of boos. His unwillingness to engage may come back to bite him down the road. Martinez has a similar skill set to Green, though he is likely the more gifted technician on the ground. His domination of Yamauchi in his last fight gives Martinez a bunch of hype, and he should carry that momentum over to this fight in a winning effort over Green. MW Tournament Semifinal: Kendall Grove (19-13) vs. Brett Cooper (19-9) A spot in the four-man middleweight tournament finals is up for grabs when UFC veteran Kendall Grove takes on tournament vet Brett Cooper. The winner of this bout takes on the winner of the fight between Jeremy Kimball and Dan Cramer, which takes place at Bellator 115. Grove is a 6-foot-6 monster at middleweight, and he makes the follow-up to his Bellator debut in October. Grove is long and lanky, and he uses his striking to keep power fighters at a distance. On the mat, Grove has slick submission skills, which is helped greatly by his long limbs. Against Cooper, Grove needs to utilize his reach to stay out of Cooper’s clinch and off his back. Cooper is a tough grinder who has fought for the Bellator title in the past. He is on a two-fight skid, having lost his last middleweight final appearance against Doug Marshall before getting beat on late notice against Alexander Shlemenko for the title. He has powerful strikes, but he will need to get on the inside of the rangier Grove. When it’s all said and done, Grove is being set up for success here. He has the physical gifts and all-around skills to give Cooper fits. It will likely be a 15-minute chess match, as Grove punches his ticket to the finals via a hard-fought decision. Preliminary Card FW: Rad Martinez (14-3) vs. Edson Berto (17-11-1) Rad Martinez looks to close his career out in style, but in his way is a tough striker in the form of Edson Berto. Martinez is looking to walk away from the sport for personal reasons despite the fact he’s just 27 years old. The wrestler needs to use his ground game against Berto, who is the vastly superior striker. That will happen, as Martinez leaves the sport on a high note in grinding away Berto. LW: Jason Fischer (6-2) vs. Justin Wilcox (13-6) A pair of Bellator tournament veterans are set to collide when Jason Fischer takes on last season’s featherweight tournament finalist, Justin Wilcox. Fisher hasn’t fought in over a year, and his only two losses have come to David Rickels. Wilcox is a wrestler who almost ran the table in his tournament on short notice. He beat Akop Stepanyan and Joe Taimanglo before getting knocked out by Patricio Freire. Wilcox’s wrestling will be the determining factor here, as he grounds and grinds Fischer to a decision. WW: Ron Keslar (11-5) vs. Jordan Smith (18-6-1) Bellator tournament runner-up Ron Keslar makes his return to the Bellator cage against TUF vet Jordan Smith in a clash of welterweights. Keslar is a wrestler who surprised in last season’s tournament. He beat Luis Melo and War Machine to make it to the finals, where he was knocked out in devastating fashion by Rick Hawn. Smith is a striker who has lost four out of his last five. Keslar will ground Smith and beat him up there, eventually taking the victory. LHW: Linton Vassell (12-3) vs. Trevor Carlson (7-1) One of the United Kingdom’s brightest prospects, Linton Vassell, is set to make his sophomore effort with Bellator against once-beaten Trevor Carlson. Carlson is a stand-up fighter whose only loss comes to current UFC fighter Sean O’Connell. He has one-punch knockout power, which he will look to use against the Brit. Vassell is also a striker, though he does have a solid ground game as well. He has beaten some respectable opponents, which may give him the experience edge here. Expect Vassell to get a win and a tournament call for a future field. WW: Mike Estus (6-1) vs. Gavin Steritt (5-1) British prospect Gavin Steritt looks to impress the Bellator management and possibly earn a tournament berth, but in his way is a good American prospect in the form of Mike Estus. Steritt had a solid performance in his first Bellator outing when he took a narrow nod over Andy Murad, though he showed some holes in his wrestling. That will play into the hands of Estus, who is a good wrestler with solid submission skills. Estus will ground Steritt and make him pay on the ground. WW: Aaron Wilkinson (11-6) vs. Michael Arrant (14-8) UFC veteran Aaron Wilkinson gets his first fight with Bellator in the welterweight division. The former The Ultimate Fighter competitor draws 20-plus fight vet Michael Arrant. Arrant is on a seven-fight winning streak and has used a variety of tools in his arsenal to put away fighters. He will likely hold a striking and power advantage over Wilkinson, who is a grappler looking to get this fight down. Many will peg Wilkinson as the favorite due to his UFC background, but Arrant is the local fighter with the tools to take this fight on the feet. LW: Bubba Jenkins (5-1) vs. Sean Powers (8-4) Lightweight prodigy Bubba Jenkins continues to look to get his momentum back from his first career loss. The former collegiate wrestling standout takes on local standout Sean Powers. Jenkins’ motive is simple, in that he wants to use power shots on the feet to open up takedowns. That makes him susceptible to gassing out, so Powers should look to take him into deep water. Powers has a good submission game, but he is honing his striking craft with the Pit Elevated, so he should be able to handle himself there as well. However, wrestling and athleticism will prevail, as Jenkins grinds out Powers.