Bellator 92 on Thursday night at Pechanga Casino and Resort in Temecula, Calif., featuring both semifinal bouts of the featherweight and middleweight tournaments.
Frodo Khasbulaev vs. Marlon Sandro
Sandro was trying to make it his third trip to a Bellator tournament final, but it wasn’t to be.
Sandro started aggressively, holding his own in the stand-up, but when the two came together and exchanged knees, Sandro landed an errant knee to Khasbulaev’s groin, leaving the Russian reeling in pain.
Given time to recover, Khasbulaev came back strong, tripping Sandro to the mat. Sandro attempted and omo plata, but couldn’t secure it.
They returned to the feet and Khasbulaev cracked Sandro hard with a right hand. Sandro tried to take Khasbulaev down, but the Russian turned the tables and secured a deep armbar, but Sandro escaped. They scrambled and Khasbulaev caught Sandro in a Kimura, but the BJJ black belt wouldn’t tap and eventually escaped again.
Khasbulaev didn’t relent in round two, chasing Sandro down with kicks to the body and head. Sandro tied him up, but Khasbulaev scooped him up and tossed him to the mat with a fireman’s carry, although Sandro landed in a half guard/half mount position. Sandro went for an arm triangle, but Khasbulaev defended well and escaped back to his feet.
Khasbulaev again took Sandro down, punishing him with ground and pound before moving to full mount. Sandro escaped the mount, but Khasbulaev punished him with some big ground and pound shots before the bell.
One of the blows may have broken Sandro’s nose.
Khasbulaev opened the final round with another leg-trip takedown and as he started landing shots to the face, it was clear that Sandro wanted nothing to come close to his nose, doing everything he could to cover his face or turn it away from any punches.
As Sandro’s focus on protecting his face grew, he left himself open for more attacks and Khasbulaev took advantage, eventually finishing the fight with a tenacious ground and pound assault.
The win carries Khasbulaev into the featherweight tournament final.
Doug Marshall vs. Sultan Aliev
This was supposed to be an explosive battle between two of Bellator’s most powerful middleweights.
Realizing it's a numbers game if two knockout artists go toe to toe, Aliev came into the cage with a different game plan, taking Marshall to the canvas in an attempt to negate his punching power.
The plan worked well in round one, Aliev using his Sambo background to keep Marshall on the mat for most of the round, although he did little damage.
Marshall, frustrated by his opponent’s tack, landed a head kick early in round two, and became very aggressive in going after the knockout. Aliev again put Marshall on the mat, but was doing little offensively once the fight was down and got stood up by referee John McCarthy.
Marshall kept up his aggressive approach, walking Aliev down, and swinging for the fences. Aliev kept trying to score the takedown, but found it a little more difficult in he second round.
If possible, Marshall was even more aggressive in the final stanza; Aliev continually backing up, while Marshall chased and leapt in with power punches.
Aliev again scored the takedown, but did little with the position, other than cause Marshall to smirk with frustration. The Rhino clearly wanted to test his power against Aliev’s, but the Russian stayed true to his takedown-heavy game plan.
Marshall quickly tied Aliev up on the mat, forcing the standup, and going right back to trying to take Aliev’s head off.
The judges favored Marshall for his aggressive approach, awarding him a split decision victory.
Marshall looked truly surprised to win the decision, clearly expecting the Russian’s takedowns to trump his aggression.
“He was a whole lot better wrestler than I gave him credit for,” said Marshall after earning his spot in the middleweight final. “He hit like a little girl, but he hit me about 800 times, so it kind of built up.”
Brett Cooper vs. Dan Cramer
Cramer opened the fight strong, dropping Cooper with a right hand just seconds into the first round. He followed Cooper to the mat, dominating with ground and pound and taking Cooper’s back for most of the second half of the round, but didn’t really come close to finishing the fight.
Cooper tried hard to take Cramer down in the second round, but mostly ended up eating numerous knees and punches for his trouble.
Cramer was well ahead in the fight going into the final frame. He looked like he might coast to a decision victory, once again dominating the striking game. Cooper finally scored a takedown a couple minutes into the round, but Cramer quickly returned to his feet.
As time was slipping away from him, Cooper dug deep and landed a huge uppercut that left Cramer wide-eyed. Cooper didn’t let up, pressing with a series of combinations before landing a right cross that sent Cramer reeling into the fence. Not letting the moment escape him, Cooper followed with another right cross that sent Cramer falling to the canvas for the win.
Cooper was extremely emotional after the fight, barely able to speak, but happy to be moving on to face Doug Marshall in the middleweight final.
Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra vs. Mike Richman
Bezerra’s strategy was obvious from the opening bell: get Richman to the mat and go for the submission. That’s exactly what Bezerra did in round one, taking Richman to the mat and keeping him there for the duration. He worked his ground and pound attack, took Richman’s back, but couldn’t sink the choke.
Bezerra seemed content to stand and trade with Richman in round two, but that didn’t seem to be the smartest strategy. Richman, while not dominant, had the edge on the feet, and bloodied Bezerra’s face, which is often the tipping fight for a judge in a close round.
They traded shots again to open the final round, Richman again edging ahead, but Bezerra took the fight to the mat less than two minutes into the round. Bezerra immediately passed to side control, peppered Richman with ground and pound, and once again took his back and secured the body triangle, like he did in round one.
This time, however, Richman reversed position and forced Bezerra to stand with a little over a minute left in the fight. The former Marine dominated the remainder of the bout with his boxing.
Richman earned a split decision victory from the judges to make his way into the featherweight final opposite Frodo Khasbulaev.
Bellator 92 Results
-Frodo Khasbulaev def. Marlon Sandro by TKO (Strikes) at 2:38, R3
-Doug Marshall def. Sultan Aliev by Split Decision (27-30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
-Brett Cooper def. Dan Cramer by KO (Punches) at 3:19, R3
-Mike Richman def. Alexandre Bezerra by Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
-Nick Piedmont def. Cleber Luciano by TKO (Strikes)at 0:55, R1
-Ricky Legere def. Sabah Homasi by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 2:52, R2
-Akop Stepanyan def. Chris Saunders by TKO at 3:55, R3
-Keith Berry def. Richard Rigmaden by Submission (Kimura) at 1:31, R1
-Josh Appelt def. Manny Lara by Unanimous Decision (30-24, 30-24, 30-24)
-Aaron Miller def. Shad Smith by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
-Brandon Halsey def. Rocky Ramirez by Submission (Arm Triangle Choke) at 0:50, R3