Emerging superstar Bryan “The Beast” Baker and Russian striker Alexander “Storm” Shlemenko both scored semifinal-round victories while heavyweight Eddie Sanchez pulled off a stunning comeback win to gain entry into Bellator’s upcoming Season 3 Heavyweight Tournament during a stirring night of fights at Bellator 20 in San Antonio.
The victories by Baker (13-1) and Shlemenko (29-4) set up an intriguing final round matchup between two vastly different fighters, who both played to their strengths to defeat formidable opponents before a raucous crowd at San Antonio’s Majestic Theatre on Thursday.
Shlemenko, making just his third appearance in the U.S., won his fight against former all-American wrestler Jared Hess in gruesome fashion.
After Hess controlled the first two rounds, Shlemenko landed a sharp flying knee to Hess’s chin early on in Round 3, knocking him to the ground awkwardly and severely dislocating Hess’ left knee. Remarkably, Hess kept fighting for more than a minute afterwards, holding Shlemenko at bay as he tried to finish the fight. But when Hess (10-2) tried to stand up, the dislocated knee buckled under his weight and the referee wisely stepped in to stop the fight.
“It never ceases to amaze and humble me the level of courage and heart that our fighters display here in the cage and Jared Hess showed that yet again,” Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney said during the post-fight press conference. “At the same time, I have to congratulate Alexander Shlemenko, who fought hard against the 185-pound tournament favorite and was able to get the win.”
While not nearly as dramatic, Baker’s win over Las Vegas native and former competitive powerlifter Eric Schambari (12-2) was far more dominant. Baker — who entered the tournament saying that he was gunning for reigning Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard’s belt — backed up the talk by using a tight triangle choke to finish Schambari just 2:29 into Round 1.
“I knew he was going to come out and try to take me down,” Baker said of Schambari afterwards. “He’s a strong, strong dude, but on the ground I knew I could finish him with a submission. I’m looking all the way to Hector now. I’m looking to get my title … I’m looking to get my belt.”
Earlier, in the first televised fight of the night, Sanchez pulled off one of the most thrilling come-from-behind wins of the year to defeat Marcus Sursa by TKO at 0:23 into Round 3.
After an evenly matched first round, Sursa came out swinging to start Round 2, dropping Sanchez to the canvas with a solid right hand just a few seconds after the opening bell. For a few moments, it appeared as if Sursa would finish the fight easily, but Sanchez somehow regained his composure, took the dominant position and wore Susa down with a relentless ground-and-pound as the round ended. A rejuvenated Sanchez then came out with a vengeance in Round 3, knocking Sursa to the mat after just a few seconds before finishing him with a flurry of blows to the head.
“He caught me pretty good there and dazed the [expletive] out of me, but I’ve got a tough chin and I came back,” Sanchez told Bellator color commentator Jimmy Smith immediately after the fight. “I knew if I just hung in there I could finish him off.”
Afterward, Rebney announced that, with the victory, Sanchez had earned his way into Bellator’s Season 3 Heavyweight Tournament, which begins in August.
“He put on a great fight, made a great comeback and showed some huge heart,” Rebeny said of Sanchez.
In the final televised bout of the evening, a Bantamweight Feature Fight, Wyoming native Nik “Garfield” Mamalis used a rear naked choke to finish Hawaiian standout Mark Oshiro at 1:29 into Round 2.