Bellator Fighting Championships put the spotlight on its middleweight division tournament during Bellator 16 Thursday night with four dominant quarterfinal performances that saw, Las Vegas powerhouse Eric Schambari, judo black belt Bryan “The Beast” Baker, all-American college wrestler Jared Hess and Siberian striker Alexander Shlemenko advance to the tournament’s semifinals.
The action-packed event played to a boisterous sellout crowd on a warm and windswept spring night at the Kansas City Power & Light District, an open-air entertainment venue in the heart of Kansas City’s resurgent downtown.
Afterwards, Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney revealed that Schambari will face Baker in a rematch of a split decision victory for Baker and Hess will take on Shlemenko during the tournament’s semifinal round on May 27th.
“We had another great night, in a magical, electrifying venue here in Kansas City,” Rebney said. “The four fighters who advanced will now face each other to determine who earns their way to the Final round of our Middleweight tournament and who ultimately earns the right to face our champion, Hector Lombard, for the middleweight title.”
One of the nights dominant performances belonged to Baker, the former WEC standout, who took opponent Sean Loeffler (18-5) to the ground early on in Round 1, neutralized him with a series of body shots, forced him to give up his back and then finished him with an impressive ground-and-pound just 2:43 into the fight. It was Baker’s seventh consecutive first round stoppage victory.
Afterward, the Victorville, Calif., native said he’s gunning for a rematch with Schambari, who Baker defeated via a controversial split decision during a WEC fight in December 2007.
“I want to see what he’s learned,” Baker (12-1) said of Schambari. “I’ve beat him once and I’m gonna beat him again.”
In his fight, Schambari, a former competitive powerlifter and childhood Jr. Olympic level swimmer, used his tremendous strength to submit former TUF contestant Luke Zachrich (10-2) via arm triangle just 3:34 into Round 1, improving his pro record to 12-1.
“I was driving my shoulder and my bicep into his carotid artery,” Schambari told Bellator color commentator Jimmy Smith after the fight. “I could hear that he was starting to choke so I just squeezed as hard as I could. Now I’m looking forward to facing Bryan again. It’s my chance to set right what once went wrong.”
In the nights most unorthodox fight, Shlemenko, who signed with Bellator last week and arrived stateside on Sunday, used a powerful spinning back-fist to open a cut on the bridge of Matt Major’s nose early on in Round 1 and never turned back, putting on a striking clinic and dominating a three-round standup fight that ended with a clear-cut unanimous decision victory.
Afterward, Shlemenko, who improved his pro record to a remarkable 28-4, said he is already looking forward to his semifinal round matchup with Hess.
“I’m going to prepare to knock the guy out,” he said through his translator.
Hess, a former standout wrestler at the University of Central Oklahoma used a crafty guillotine choke against the cage to submit former University of Iowa wrestler and IFL champ Ryan McGivern (13-7) at 1:54 into Round 2. It was Hess’s second straight win since his loss to reigning Bellator Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard in the Bellator Season 1 finals last June.
“I knew [McGivern] was a wrestler too, so I knew it was going to go to the ground,” Hess (11-1-1) said afterward as his parents looked on from cage-side seats. “The guillotine just felt right. I cinched it up and waited for him to tap.”
The evening marked the conclusion of Bellator’s Season 2 quarterfinal round. Only four fighters now remain in each of Bellator’s eight-man tournaments at featherweight, lightweight, welterweight and middleweight.
The semifinal round begins in the lightweight division next Thursday at Boston’s historic Wang Theatre where UFC veteran and MMA fan favorite Roger Huerta takes on emerging star Pat Curran and “Submission of the Year” title holder Toby Imada faces former all-American college wrestler Carey Vanier. The night will be punctuated with a Super Fight between Bellator World Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez and tough UFC veteran Josh “the Dentist” Neer. Tickets are available at citicenter.com.
Fans who missed Thursday night’s action can watch all the best moments this weekend during special highlight shows on NBC, Telemundo and the cable network mun2. Check your local listings for exact dates and times.