Rad Martinez has become more than just an inspirational story. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
By now, most of those who populate the mixed martial arts community -- and plenty of those outside of it -- have familiarized themselves with the heartwarming narrative attached to Rad Martinez.
Balancing his burgeoning career with round-the-clock care of his brain-damaged father, Martinez will meet Shahbulat Shamhalaev in the Bellator Fighting Championships Season 7 featherweight tournament final at Bellator 83 on Friday at Caesars Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. The winner will receive a $100,000 payday, along with an eventual crack at the promotion’s 145-pound championship.
Martinez has proven to be for more than just a feel-good story. The 25-year-old West Jordan, Utah, native will carry a five-fight winning streak into the cage. Martinez ousted Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Nazareno Malagerie and former International Fight League champion Wagnney Fabiano to reach the final. He was an NCAA All-American wrestler at Clarion University, the same Pennsylvania institution that produced 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle and former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Martinez has paired those trusted wrestling skills with a punishing left hand and stout chin, scoring five first-round finishes in his first 16 fights.
Shamhalaev has no plans to play the bridesmaid. Unbeaten in his past 10 appearances, the 29-year-old Russian punched his ticket to the tournament final with first-round stoppages against Cody Bollinger and Mike Richman. Shamhalaev suffered his lone defeat in November 2009, when he tapped out to a kimura from current UFC lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov under the M-1 Global banner in St. Petersburg, Russia. Nurmagomedov is 18-0, with 13 finishes.
Beyond the high-stakes Martinez-Shamhalaev showdown, here is what to watch for at Bellator 83, which airs live on MTV2 at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT:
Champion on the Mend
Bellator women’s 115-pound champion Zoila Gurgel will compete for the second time since reconstructive knee surgery, as she tackles Jessica Eye in a non-title affair.
Gurgel returned from a lengthy absence at Bellator 78 in October, defeating Casey Noland by unanimous decision at the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio. The 28-year-old tae kwon do black belt has rattled off seven consecutive victories, but the last five of them -- including a five-rounder with Megumi Fujii that brought her Bellator gold in October 2010 -- have gone the distance.
A 26-year-old Strong Style Fight Team representative, Eye last appeared at a North American Allied Fight Series event in August, when she recorded her fifth win in a row with a unanimous verdict over Angela Magana. She holds a perfect 6-0 mark in bouts that reach the judges.
Zach Makovsky won his first six fights inside Bellator, a run of success which included his becoming the promotion’s inaugural bantamweight champion in 2010. The Philadelphia Fight Factory export could not have entered his April title defense against fast-rising Brazilian Eduardo Dantas with more momentum, and the result could not have been more devastating.
A little more than three minutes into the second round of his ill-fated Bellator 65 encounter with Dantas, Makovsky lay unconscious, the victim of an arm-triangle choke. In an instant, his title and all the perks that went along with it were gone.
The man they call “Fun Size” must now get back on the proverbial horse, beginning the arduous task of reclaiming what once belonged to him. In his first outing since surrendering his belt, Makovsky will lock horns with resurgent World Extreme Cagefighting and Strikeforce veteran Anthony Leone in a bantamweight showcase.
The 25-year-old Leone has righted his ship after a four-fight skid, winning two of his last three bouts.
Darrell Horcher made quite the first impression.
In his promotional debut at Bellator 77 in October, the 25-year-old Blackman MMA representative needed just 21 seconds to dispatch the previously unbeaten E.J. Brooks at the Sovereign Center in Reading, Pa. With the knockout, Horcher effectively graduated from the regional scene and became an immediate person of interest in Bellator’s lightweight division.
The next hurdle figures to be equally difficult to clear, as Horcher toes the line against the seasoned Chris Ligouri. The well-traveled Ligouri has trained under Renzo Gracie and former middleweight King of Pancrase Ricardo Almeida. He will enter the cage on a modest string of three consecutive wins. Submission victories against “The Ultimate Fighter” alums Matt Brown and Dorian Price anchor the lengthy Ligouri resume.
The burden of expectation often weighs heavy.
Hailed not long ago as one of the bantamweight division’s top prospects, Claudio Ledesma has to this point failed to fulfill those lofty forecasts. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace has yet to win more than three fights in a row, his ascent interrupted by frustrating decision losses to Leone, undefeated Team Bombsquad prospect Aljamain Sterling and King of the Cage champion Jimmie Rivera. Still, Bellator talent evaluators like what they see.
The New Jersey-based Ledesma will climb into the Bellator cage for the third time when he squares off with David Harris in an undercard duel at 135 pounds. Harris last fought at Bellator 75 in October, when he dropped a unanimous decision to onetime WEC titleholder Chase Beebe.