Frodo Khasbulaev is the best kind of young fighter—fearless. The 26-year-old from Dagestan was stepping in against one of the all-time featherweight greats. But rather than give Marlon Sandro too much respect, he seemed to give him none at all.
Frodo controlled the action standing, with a total strikes advantage of 134-16, took Sandro down easily and even navigated the submission game with grace and skill, surviving an arm triangle and nearly finishing the fight with his own kimura.
What I like about Frodo is the chip he carries on his shoulder. After touching gloves to open the third round, Khasbulaev even snuck in a little hook for good measure. Pay back for a first-round blow to the groin that had him moaning in pain? We can only speculate.
One thing is for sure—Frodo has emerged from this inaugural season on Spike as one of Bellator's most compelling young stars. The featherweight tournament final between Khasbulaev and Mike Richman has just vaulted onto my list of must-see fights.
Frodo, of course, wasn't the night's only winner. Nor was Sandro the only loser. Sometimes in MMA, winning and losing is subjective. You can win a fight on the cards but lose respect with a tepid performance. Likewise, an official loser can score major points with fans if he fights with passion and heart.
So who were the real winners and losers? Read on to find out.
As a person, he might be a complete gentleman combining a sly sense of humor and a giving spirit. But as a fighter? Sultan Aliev, to quote the great Chael Sonnen "absolutely sucks."
He held Doug Marshall down for three rounds and peppered him with the worst kind of ground-and-pound, landing the tiniest of tiny insubstantial punches. It was the worst.
But, no matter what we think of his style, a win is a win. I hoped beyond hope that Marshall would steal victory from the jaws of defeat but by way of a last-second knockout. No one wants to see an undeserved decision—and scoring this fight with Doug Marshall for anyone but Aliev was inexcusable and unacceptable.
I don't understand the need to sexualize these broadcasts. But, once again, Spike and Bellator bring two bikini-clad girls into the cage to demonstrate common MMA moves.
This week's Sweet Submission, to the shock of absolutely no one, was the triangle, requiring one girl to bury her head in the other's crotch.
Our own Matt Saccaro wasn't into it at all:
The "sweet submissions" segment is so sexist, tacky, and horrible.— Matt Saccaro (@MattSaccaro) March 8, 2013
It's a scene we've witnessed thousands of times on MMA broadcasts—a fighter listlessly working out before his bout, a tiny bit of action for the benefit of television.
It rarely amounts to much. I say "rarely" because Doug Marshall just flipped the script. Before his fight with Sultan Aliev, Marshall managed to miss the pads entirely and kick his cornerman in the face. Hard.
Who saw Doug Marshall just kick corner guy in the face after missing pads?— AKA HQ (@AKA_HQ) March 8, 2013
I shouldn't have laughed. I mean, that had to hurt, right? But lord help me—I laughed. I'm laughing right now. I'll be laughing on Friday. I'm horrible.
Thanks to our former Bleacher Report colleague Rob Tatum for the screen capture commemorating the moment.
For two-and-a-half rounds, Cramer took it to Brett Cooper. He beat him on the ground. He beat him to the punch. For good measure, he even beat him in the Thai clinch.
But winning almost every minute of all three rounds doesn't count for much at all if the 15 seconds your opponent wins ends with you landing on your face and "Big" John McCarthy stepping in to stop the fight.
That's exactly what happened to Cramer. Just as it seemed Cramer was about to cruise to victory, Cooper was able to connect with a huge uppercut and then pounce for the win. And, just like that, dreams can turn to nightmares.
Let's be honest: Not every fan is going to know guys like Brett Cooper and Mike Richman. The hardest of hardcores do, of course—people like me who have traveled to places like Biloxi, Miss. to see Cooper fight. But to most? These are simply anonymous cage fighters.
That's where Spike TV has helped Bellator take its game to the next level. The two-minute introduction videos do a great job of introducing each fighter. I feel like knowing them a little bit better before the fight helps. And that's important.
Mike Richman won the split-decision slugfest to advance to the featherweight finals.
Alexandre Bezerra is nicknamed "Popo."
Clearly, both are winners.
In the cage, this was a fantastic contest. Popo dominated the first round, taking Richman's back and searching in vain for a rear-naked choke. Richman kept his cool and survived, coming back to control the second round with a stiff right jab and a succession of powerful lefts.
Bezerra was unflappable in the face of Richman's power. If you didn't know better, you'd suspect "The Marine" was a weak puncher. Considering three of his four Bellator fights ended with knockouts, we know that to be a lie. But it was a lie "Popo" told with confidence, rarely even changing expression as left after left landed flush.
The fight, likely, came down to the final minute. Bezerra had the advantage for much of the third round but was unable to do much damage on the ground. When the two made it to the feet, Richman unloaded, landing multiple punches, thereby stealing the round and the fight.
Frodo Khasbulaev defeats Marlon Sandro by TKO (hammerfists), Round 3.
Doug Marshall defeats Sultan Aliev by split decision.
Brett Cooper defeats Dan Cramer by TKO (punches), Round 3.
Mike Richman defeats Alexandre "Popo" Bezerra by split decision.