It's going to be hard to replace Hector Lombard, the beloved Bellator middleweight champion who parted ways with the promotion to join the UFC last year. The Cuban was violence personified, a ball of muscle capable of both spectacular throws and brutal knockouts in equal measure.
Alexander Shlemenko is no Lombard—but the Russian striker, who dispatched with Maiquel Falcao in the second round with brutal ground-and-pound, brings his own arsenal of exciting strikes and spinning techniques to the cage every time he fights. Only 28-years-old, Shlemenko already has more than 50 fights. It was his experience that turned out to be useful against the crafty Brazilian.
Walking out with title gold makes Shlemenko the clear winner of the night. But he's not alone. What's interesting about MMA is that the real winners and losers aren't always as clear cut as you'd expect. It's a sport about more than just victory and defeat.
A fighter can win a bout on paper, but lose the love of the fans or even his own confidence in the process. Likewise, a fighter who gets a check in the loss column can be a secret winner with a hard-fought performance, earning the attention of sponsors, matchmakers and media movers and shakers.
So who were the real winners and losers in Gwinnett, Ga.? Click on to find out.
"Natural Born Finisher."
It's what they are calling the new Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko and statistics back up that nickname. Score one for Sabermetrics.
Thirty-five times in his nine-year career he's finished a fight by submission or knockout. How many people have 35 fights in a career these days, let alone 35 finishes?
It wasn't just in the cage, where he finished Maiquel Falcoa by following brutal body shots with a punch right to the chin, that Shlemenko impressed. The native of Siberia did much of his post-fight interview in English. Sure, it was broken English. And maybe his answers were nonsensical at times. But it's the thought that counts.
"I am champion of Bellator and I am face in Bellator now and who want with belt come on with cage I am beat you."
Indeed, Alexander. Indeed.
Marlon Sandro is the biggest name in Bellator's featherweight division, but the former Sengoku champion just can't seem to get the job done in America. Yes, he won his fight, taking advantage of opponent Aktop Stepanyan's limited ground game and penchant for fence grabbing to take a majority decision.
But Sandro impressed absolutely no one on his way to the featherweight semifinals. He looked timid standing and his takedown attempts were often sad to watch. The end is near for Sandro and it looks like it isn't going to be a pretty one.
Mike Richman was incredibly impressive, completely outclassing Mitch Jackson with his fast, accurate, powerful hands. Richman should be the story here, especially after a head snapping high kick that should have finished the fight.
"Should" being the operative term. It should have ended the fight. Instead Richman had to pound on a supine Jackson over and over again before referee Dan Miragliotta had finally seen enough. It was an ugly and dangerous scene. What's the possible benefit to anyone of letting that fight continue?
I don't feel comfortable calling for anyone to lose their job. But athletic commissions that use Miragliotta need to consider whether he still has the appropriate instincts to protect fighters in their jurisdiction.
The announcers were all over Alexandre Bezerra for being a little too nice when he took on Marlon Sandro last year. Sandro, it seems, was one of his idols, making it hard for him to unleash the face punching and limb twisting required to beat a top-level fighter.
Would he have the same trouble with his friend Genair da Silva?
There's a long answer, but a short one will suffice—no. "Popo" knocked da Silva down with a stiff jab and finished him off with a slick armbar, With the 10th submission win of his career, the 25-year-old just announced himself as one of the favorites to win a featherweight title shot.
The move to Spike TV has been a boon for Bellator's television production. The shows have made a huge leap forward, with crisp direction, great camera shots, solid announcing, all of it broadcast in sparkling HD.
But the wrinkles haven't all been ironed out yet. The backstage interviews need a bit of work. The giant headphone/microphone combo looks like it was pulled out of the 1990s and the plain brick wall behind the athletes looks low rent.
The worst part of these segments, however, are the fighters themselves. None of them are looking the camera, and thus the audience in the eye. Instead they look shifty and disinterested. If the idea is to breathe some life into relatively unknown fighters, it isn't quite hitting the mark.
First and foremost, you have to acknowledge his nickname. Sure, he's probably called "Frodo" because Magomedrasul is utterly and completely unpronounceable. That doesn't make it any less cool.
The nickname begs oh so many questions. Do they have Lord of the Rings in Russia? Is he in on the joke? That someone is saying he's short and hairy and goofy? Just how hairy are his feet anyway?
I'd love to call Frodo a winner outright. He finished off prospect Fabricio Guerreiro with an arm triangle in the second round after establishing his bona fides as a brawler and a leg lock man in the first. He moved on to the semifinals of the featherweight tournament. But I can't do it, not even for Tolkien.
Frodo's victory happened on the SpikeTV.com web stream, during the preliminaries. It was the one tournament bout that didn't go down live on Spike TV. Frodo made his presence felt in a major way—too bad no one was around to see it happen.
Note: As a reader points out, Frodo's fight was replayed immediately following the main event on Spike TV. Score one for Hobbits everywhere!
Alexander Shlemenko beat Maiquel Falcao via TKO (Round 2)
Marlon Sandro beat Akop Stepanyan by Majority Decision (28-28, 29-27, 29-27)
Mike Richman beat Mitch Jackson via TKO (Round 1)
Alexandre "Popo" Bezerra beat Genair da Silva via arm bar (Round 1)
"Frodo" Khasbulaev beat Fabricio Guerreiro via Arm Triangle (Round 2)
Joe Elmore beat Jerrid Burke via Knockout (Round 2)
Ronnie Rogers beat Shane Crenshaw via Decision
Clay Harvison beat Ururahy Rodrigues via TKO (Round 3)
George Hickman beat Stephen Upchurch via Submission (Round 1)