Alexander Shlemenko faces an upstream swim in a division he once ruled.
The former Bellator MMA middleweight champion will welcome Gegard Mousasi to the promotion when they square off in the Bellator 185 headliner this Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Shlemenko carries a five-fight winning streak into the cage, though he has not competed under the Bellator banner in nearly a year. One of the most prolific fighters in the sport, the 33-year-old Russian last appeared at an M-1 Global event on June 1, when he put away Brandon Halsey with a first-round body kick and follow-up punches. He needed just 25 seconds to get the job done. Shlemenko has delivered 40 of his 56 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
Mousasi represents one of Bellator’s biggest coups in terms of luring talent away from the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The former Strikeforce, Dream and Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder agreed to terms with the Scott Coker-led organization on July 10, becoming an immediate person of interest at 185 and 205 pounds. Mousasi won his final five bouts in the UFC, beating Thales Leites, Thiago Santos, Vitor Belfort, Uriah Hall and Chris Weidman in succession. Like Shlemenko, he has proven to be a devastating offensive fighter throughout his career: 30 of Mousasi’s 42 professional wins have resulted in first-round finishes. His list of victims includes Dan Henderson, Mark Munoz, Renato Sobral, Mark Hunt, Ronaldo Souza and Melvin Manhoef.
The Shlemenko-Mousasi showdown ranks as one of the must-see fights on the Bellator 185 lineup. Here are four more:
Chosen to carry the flag for MMA’s First Family, Gracie has thus far fulfilled expectations.
A great grandson of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu founder Carlos Gracie, the two-time World Jiu-Jitsu Championships bronze medalist will put his undefeated record on the line when he confronts Bucia in a three-round welterweight showcase. Gracie, 28, has raced out to a 6-0 start with five submissions. He last competed at Bellator 180 on June 24, when he dispatched Dave Marfone with a rear-naked choke in the second round of their encounter at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Bucia replaced the injured Javier Torres on short notice. The 33-year-old King of the Cage and Strikeforce veteran finds himself on a three-fight winning streak that includes a May 20 decision victory over Bobby Voelker. Bucia has secured nine of his 18 professional wins by submission but figures to have his work cut out for him if and when the action against Gracie spills onto the mat.
Hardy wants to build on a strong opening act.
In her second appearance since transitioning from boxing to MMA, the 35-year-old Brooklyn, New York, native will take on Kristina Williams in a three-round women’s flyweight feature. Hardy compiled a 20-0 record as a professional boxer, capturing WBC championships as a featherweight and super bantamweight. She made her MMA debut at Bellator 180 in June, when she took care of Alice Yauger with late third-round punches at Madison Square Garden.
Williams, 28, has not yet competed as a professional. The Oklahoma-based flyweight appeared as an amateur under the Legacy Fighting Alliance banner on April 14, earning a unanimous decision over Rachel Young.
Another boxer turned mixed martial artist, Julaton touches down in Bellator following a four-fight run in Singapore’s One Championship organization yielded mixed results.
The former WBO and IBA super bantamweight champion will collide with Lisa Blaine in a main-card pairing at 125 pounds. Julaton, 37, compiled a 2-2 record in One Championship but has not fought since losing a unanimous decision to Irina Mazepa nearly two years ago. She owns a 14-4-1 mark as a pro boxer. Three of Julaton’s four MMA bouts and 17 of her 19 boxing matches of have gone the distance.
Blaine made her professional debut at a Premier Fighting Championship event on June 10, when she wiped out Tammy Worrick with second-round punches in Agawam, Massachusetts. The 38-year-old has trained out of the same Ultimate MMA gym as Bellator and CES MMA veteran Blair Tugman.
Quinn appears to have the requisite tools for sustained success but has yet to fit all the pieces together.
The 30-year-old American Top Team export will try to leave his inconsistency behind -- he has never won more than three fights in a row -- when he locks horns with the unbeaten Surin at 155 pounds. Quinn holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and owns a July 2015 submission victory over UFC veteran Waylon Lowe. He last fought at Bellator 178 in April, when he wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision against Saad Awad. It marked Quinn’s first lost in eight Bellator appearances.
Surin has zipped out to a 4-0 record that includes two wins in the Cage Fury Fighting Championships organization and another under the World Series of Fighting flag. The 36-year-old has linked arms with the C3 Athletics outfit in Stamford, Connecticut.