Brett Cooper wants a third crack at Alexander Shlemenko. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Brett Cooper wants to make one thing clear: He is not looking past his delayed Season 10 middleweight tournament final against Brandon Halsey at Bellator 122.
If he doesn’t win that fight, there is no chance of a third showdown with reigning Bellator middleweight ruler Alexander Shlemenko. To the bracket winner goes the spoils – at least until the promotion phases out the tournament entirely under its new regime.
“He brings it, obviously,” said Cooper, who faces Halsey in Friday evening’s main event at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif. “He’s strong, and he’s a formidable opponent. But I’m looking to use my experience and a lot of movement to hopefully get the finish.”
Of course, the long-term goal is another crack at Shlemenko. Cooper dropped a three-round verdict to “Storm” at Bellator 44 in May 2011 and then lost a five-round decision to the Russian at Bellator 98 this past September. In neither bout does the 27-year-old Reign MMA representative feel like he performed to the best of his abilities.
“Hypothetically I think I can fix the errors I made in the past,” Cooper said. “He seems to have very good luck against me. He’s a tough guy. Maybe his wife’s a voodoo witch doctor or something. The first time I fought him I got sick the morning of. I needed a fight and still rallied up and went in there. That was a pretty damn rough night.”
Cooper wasn’t even supposed to get a title opportunity last year. After losing to Doug Marshall in the Season 8 final, “Fudoshin” was preparing for another go-round in the tournament when he got the call to replace an injured Marshall.
“Last time was on about four week’s notice because I was training for a tournament fight. I got the call that I was gonna fight [Shlemenko] for a five-round fight. I think I miscalculated things I needed to do for that fight. I think I won the first two rounds, and I only had to win one more, but I don’t think I was in shape,” he said.
While Shlemenko’s last outing arguably drew more attention than any of his previous fights with the promotion, it had no bearing on the middleweight picture. At Bellator’s inaugural pay-per-view event, he was submitted 2:27 into the opening frame of a cross-divisional matchup against former UFC champion Tito Ortiz. Shlemenko was the favorite heading into the bout, but in the end, the Rusfighters Sport Club product had no answer for Ortiz’s significant size advantage.
Cooper calls such spectacle a “stupor” fight.
“A stupid super fight,” he explained. “You don’t want to take value away from one of your main guys. I guess it wouldn’t take value away from him but it didn’t necessarily do anything for him. Even if he beat Tito Ortiz, people were expecting him to because Tito was somewhat on his way out of the sport.”
Even so, if everything fell into place, Cooper wouldn’t mind a shot at the former “Huntington Beach Bad Boy.”
“If I beat Halsey I wouldn’t mind fighting Tito -- shut his big mouth up,” Cooper said. “But I just think it wasn’t a well-placed fight. I guess people wanted to see it so maybe it was one of those freak-show fights that kind of worked out, but I don’t think it was the greatest decision. The pay-per-view did pretty well, a lot better than most people thought it would, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
One decision that pleases Cooper is Bellator’s plan to do away with its tournament format. When Scott Coker replaced Bjorn Rebney as the head of the promotion, one of his initiatives was to gradually get rid of “The Toughest Tournament in Sports.”
Although Cooper has had his share of success in the bracket, he believes the idea was flawed.
“Tournaments were great in theory. You could make a good amount of money in three months or so, but it’s a not a fun experience,” he said. “You got eight guys, and at the end of the tournament you’ve got one guy that gets notoriety. So you pretty much waste seven other guys.”
Regardless of his opinion on the old format, Cooper knows he has at least one more bracket to win to help him achieve his goals.
“[My plan is to] be champ and make lots of money. That’s what I hope. I gotta beat this guy on Friday or none of that’ s gonna happen,” he said. “Things will fall into place. I think [Scott] Coker can take Bellator to the next level, and I’m looking forward to it.”