Bellator-114Bellator goes high altitude for a title fight, as well as the semi-finals of their Featherweight and Middleweight tournaments at Bellator 114. While this is going down in Utah, the vibe is decidedly New England, with Brennan Ward, contesting for the Middleweight strap, and Desmond Green and Matt Bessette fighting on opposite sides of the Featherweight bracket.

So, let’s all grab our oxygen tanks and talk some Bellator 114 combat from Utah.

Alexander Shlemenko vs Brennan Ward: Long time champion Alexander Shlemenko will be in for a nasty fight, as he takes on surprise tournament champion Brennan Ward. Ward came into the tournament as a late replacement, but his dynamic takedown style and murderous punching power allowed him to storm through the bracket to victory. Shlemenko left that tournament style behind years ago and has been sitting atop the division and crushing all opponents.

This fight has some serious X-factors as Shlemenko is on the downturn of his career, with age and injury beginning to slow him down. What he’s implemented in the last year is a bit more wrestling, which allows him to take away opponent’s space and pace the fight in a way he wants, giving him time to recover and threaten attack via multiple avenues.

Against Ward, this new trait talent will prove useless, as Ward’s best moves come off a clinch set-up. This leaves a striking match that Shlemenko is well-equipped for, though his chin is proving to be less-than-indestructible as of late, and Ward’s power isn’t something he’ll want a taste of. This has potentially to be very close, yet I have to give Shlemenko the edge in terms of technical striking and pure power, giving Ward a small margin of error. I don’t feel Ward is ready to dance on that razor’s edge of danger just yet, and suspect his championship hopes are dashed in the second round after a sharp combination from Shlemenko.

Kendall Grove vs Brett Cooper: Long-time road warrior Kendall Grove will take on Bellator veteran Brett Cooper in their Middleweight semi-final bout. Grove has been around the block and fought well consistently throughout his career, having sharpened his striking skills for years and having his submission savvy to fall back on. Cooper is himself a well-traveled battler with a style of “clean brawling” being tough but smart in his scraps.

On paper, one might be tempted to take Cooper due to his big punch and Grove’s notoriously faulty chin, but one thing Cooper has never been good at is avoiding getting hit himself. Grove tends to get KO’d by clean punchers who counter him, yet with his size and skill, I feel it will be Grove doing all the countering. With nothing to fear from takedowns, look for Grove to pick his spots and lump Cooper up throughout this fight, taking a clear decision win on virtue of offensive output.

Desmond Green vs Will Martinez: Anyone that likes a work ethic has to like Desmond Green, who jumped head first into MMA and has taken every fight he can get. While learning on the job is incredibly difficult in this sport, Green seems to have taken to it well, ironing out flaws as they surface, and turning his wrestling footwork into smart striking movement. This ability to move allowed him to beat Mike Richman last time out, engaging and disengaging at ease while busting his opponent up with probing strikes and counters.

His opponent is a tough nut to crack, as Will Martinez comes in this off the biggest win of his career and a substantial win streak. A hard-nosed grappler with an aggressive style, Martinez packs power into every movement, operating as a truly physical fighter. Against the much-hyped Goiti Yamauchi, he showed the difference between a man’s power and a boy’s, sending the budding superstar packing and walking into another tough fight with Green.

This should be the best bout of the night, as Green is always working and Martinez doesn’t give an inch in the cage. The grappling will be interesting as Martinez should be able to control Green on the mat if he can get him there. That “if” is paramount however, as Green’s footwork and own wrestling skills will make that takedown troublesome and costly considering the amount of space Martinez will have to cover to get it. Judges may be a big factor here, but I think Green can work from the outside and keep Martinez busy with strikes, sounding outpointing Martinez for hopefully accurate decision win.

Daniel Weichel vs Matt Bessette: Two fighters coming off impressive wins in the opening round, Weichel and Bessette will clash in Utah. Weichel is an outstanding fighter all around, who made short work of legitimate threat Scott Cleve on virtue of his precision striking and killer instinct. Now against Bessette, he fights a different style of fighter all together.

Bessette shocked the world with his win over Diego Nunes, showing natural power, a highly functional bottom game, and the kind of endurance that breaks a weaker man’s will in a grueling fight. Against Weichel he faces a superior striker with more experience, but with a limited scope of opponents, having contested much of his career in Europe.

There is a serious X-factor in play for this fight, that being the altitude of the arena and both fighters relative preparedness for it. While Bessette has been in Denver (1,000 feet higher than Utah) for several weeks, Weichel has spent his camp at sea level, and doesn’t appear to be in a rush to get to altitude to acclimate. At Weichel’s age, it’s recommended someone spends two weeks at altitude before they’re in reasonable condition to fight, yet at five days out, he’s yet to even get on a plane. In that, Weichel faces too opponents in the tournament: Bessette and his own lungs.

Weichel is the better technical striker with some serious power, but this is a case where Bessette can pull this off once his opponent begins to flag due to this lack of preparation. As Weichel slows, look for Bessette to continue his rampage and batter the German fighter, taking a late TKO or decision win.

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