On Saturday, Bellator will crown two Season 5 tournament winners at Bellator 57. One divisional competition has featured wild finishes where every fight but one has ended with stoppage while the other has involved a wild and enthusiastic personality taking on a slightly more reserved fighter who ended his last fight with a huge exclamation mark. Today, I’m going to take a look at the middleweight tournament before breaking down the welterweight pairing tomorrow.
Middleweight Tournament Final: Vitor Vianna vs. Alexander Shlemenko
Wanderlei Silva prodigy Vianna literally punched his ticket into the finals with a jaw dropping knockout victory over Bryan Baker. Baker was the emotional favorite coming in – a longtime Bellator fighter who overcame cancer and shared his personal life with fans. However, MMA is not a fairy tale, and thus Vianna stepped in to end Baker’s tournament hopes in less than a minute and established himself as the one to beat in the process
That is, until Shlemenko stormed through Brian Rogers minutes later. Rogers had seven straight first round knockout wins coming into the fight, and, after weathering a certain degree of punishment, Shlemenko took control in the second round and sent “The Predator” packing. The victory, which shocked many in the audience that night, left the tournament with no clear-cut favorite and what I imagine can only be a Cheshire Cat-esque grin on CEO Bjorn Rebney‘s face.
In typical Bellatorian fashion, both men bring in experienced backgrounds in contrasting disciplines, but will any of that be tested? Vianna is a second-degree BJJ Black Belt while Shlemenko is an experienced wrestler who has power as well. It’s savvy Muay Thai that have brought both to this stage, however, and it would be foolish not to think this is the way that fight will go. Both fighters have a penchant for devastating strikes, and will be looking to make it a quick and painful night.
Shlemenko has won 20 of his last 22 coming into this fight, while Vianna’s won nine of ten (though those are spaced out over a longer period of time, having barely fought in the last five years.) The majority of the Russian’s victories have from via KO, or TKO, including a body shot finish over journeyman Sean Salmon. If there is an innovative way to knock an opponent out Shlemenko probably has done it. He’s also tasted tournament victory before, having won the Season 2 Middleweight Tournament only to lose to champion Hector Lombard in a fight which saw him maintain pace with Lombard and take a round too. He has not fallen since.
After breaking his arm in a 2006 fight against Thiago Silva, Vianna has only fought five times, with two of those coming in the last 60 days. As the head BJJ trainer for Wand Fight Team, his appearances in a cage have been sporadic, but he has looked impressive every time out racking up four first round stoppages. His best asset was not even tested against Baker and he’s probably prepared to put on a clinic come Saturday night.
Now let’s take a look at some of the important tools coming into this fight, and who holds the edge in which area:
Experience Edge: Shlemenko
You wouldn’t expect a 27 year old to hold an experience edge that often, but the Russian has been nothing but active in his young career. Saturday marks his 50th pro fight, and 23rd since Vianna’s original injury. Vianna is fighting for the sixth time in five years and fourteenth time overall. Shlemenko has the clear edge here, having fought more diverse disciplines than the Brazilian.
Striking Edge: Tied
An explosive fire fight can be expected from both fighters if it stays standing. Both men can give and can take punishment. While Shlemenko has far superior body striking and kicks than Vianna, the Brazilian has crisper striking overall and pinpoints his shots with better precision. Call it quality over quantity if you will. He may hold the overall power edge as well. In a technical striking match, I would take Shlemenko. In a brawl, I would take Vianna. Thus, this one’s a bit of a push.
There’s no doubt when you’re the head of a world class academy your skills are second to none. Watch Vianna’s past fights and watch the way he is capable of dominating foes with his transitions, how quickly he can attempt submissions, and from which angles. Vianna’s best asset in this fight will be his experience on the ground, and if he gets Shlemenko down there the fight could be over mere seconds later. How many times have we seen a fighter’s momentum end in the blink of an eye because they were caught? Vianna’s ability to press an opponent into a vulnerable position could very well be the deciding edge in this fight.
Sometimes the hot hand feeds the confidence a fighter brings into their fight and gives them a psychological edge. There isn’t a big one here per say but Shlemenko has looked slightly more explosive getting to the final with devastating stoppage wins. That’s really the long and short of that.
When it all comes down to it, this might be the fight of the night over and above Douglas Lima and Ben Saunders or anything else on the card. Be sure not to miss it, whether you catch it live, or on tape delay once you’re finished with UFC on Fox 1.
Bellator 57 airs live this Saturday night on MTV 2 in the US, and The Score in Canada. Make note of the new start time which will be 7:00 PM Eastern.
See you cageside!