Marlon Sandro is a warrior!

Marlon Sandro is a warrior!

The Clinch Report by Jonathan King Photos by: John Walsh

Bellator MMA Championship tournaments have been on an exciting run of late showcasing some of the best MMA fights ever to be seen on live television. Since the company has moved over to Spike TV, the organization has seen a revolving door of exciting fights, and stunning upsets, most of which have ended in highlight real KO’s. Can this trend continue?  The Bellator matchmakers seem to think so, but maybe that is because they are sitting on a “Golden Goose” so to speak.

Since Bellator joined the foray on SpikeTV, filling the vacancy left by the UFC, it seems almost ever single fight has been an exciting one. One reason for that is the matchmakers at Bellator seem to have discovered a hidden vault of  vicious unheard of fighters from the “New Brazil” as Bjorn Rebeny said. Where is the “New Brazil”? It very well could be Russia.

For years the Heavyweight division in MMA was dominated by one man. Fedor Emelianenko may be the most popular Russian mixed martial artist of all time, but following him are a cadre of talented fighters, with varying styles. Most of these fighters seem to be ending up in Bellator.

With Bellator’s debut on SpikeTV the world became exposed to this Russian invasion for the first time, and many including most ring side reporters were shocked. Heading into that night MMA legend Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral was the favorite to win the light heavyweight tournament. That night he was supposed to run through his unknown opponent, however Mikhail Zayats had other plans. The heavy handed Russian dispatched ‘Babalu’ with vicious strikes that left the legend in a crumpled heap, and the fans with their mouths agape. The only people who were not surprised, were the Bellator match makers who all week were lauding the power and skill of the underdog Zayats.

Last nights Bellator 92 featherweight and Middleweight tournament Semi finals featured more of the same. Akop Stepanyan started the Russians contingent off on the right foot, by laying heavy hands on Chris Saunders early and often. Eventually finishing the fight with a liver splitting kick that Saunders complained caught him low. After the ref said fight on, Stepanyan dropped some academic ground strikes that forced the stoppage, but the highlight reel kick is what finished the fight.

Sultan Aliev was next set to face Doug Marshall in a battle for the Middleweight Tournament Finals. Aliev used his impressive wrestling and sambo skill, to smother the explosive Marshall. With the crowd booing and Marshall complaining to the Ref, Aliev seemed content to grind out a decision against the heavy handed striker. However, he stopped advancing positions, and began to receive warnings from referee Herb Dean.  As the second round wore on, several times the ref stopped the action to restart the fighters standing. On the restarts, Marshall showed his explosive power often landing heavy hands before again being dragged to the mat. The third round saw a much more aggressive Marshall swinging for the fences. As the round came to an end, Marshall dropped some heavy hands on Aliev as he pulled guard. Once the split decision was read in favor of Marshall he seemed more surprised than anyone. Aliev, although dominant like his fellow Russians, fell short on the judges score cards, but most who saw thought he won the fight.

The headline fight of the evening featured Marlon Sandro vs ‘Frodo’ Khasbulaev. The winner of the fight would move on to the featherweight semi finals. For Sandro, this is a familiar position. In the past he had come up one fight short, in tournaments past. His return to the finals, was being blocked by a relatively unknown fighter, once again from Russia. Both fighters were extremely strategic, with their positioning, and soon it became clear that a Sambo v BJJ clinic would ensue. An inadvertent early low blow by Sandro almost stopped the fight, as Khasbulaev rolled in agony for several minutes. But after 5 minutes he was able to continue.

Both fighters used effective sweeps to gain control, Khasbulaev at one point used a kimura sweep to put Sandro in deep trouble as he cranked the arm. Sandro however used his own sweeps to attack a triangle that ‘Frodo’ escaped quickly. The second round saw more take downs by Khasbulaev but again Sandro seemed to escape every precarious situation including a crucifix position, that saw multiple right hands bounce off of his forehead. The third round was more of the same, but now Sandro seemed to be tired. Khasbulaev controlled the Brazilian on the ground, and again secured an arm that left Sandro defenseless against several right hands, prompting Referee John McCarthy to stop the fight.

With the win, Khasbulaev secures his spot in the featherweight finals, and for a chance at the 100,000 dollar prize for winning the most exciting tournament in all of Mixed Martial Arts. With Khasbulaev, and Zayats in the finals of their tournaments, and with Alexander Shlemenko as a champion, Bellator may have found the new Brazil buried in the arctic landscape of Russia.

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