Bellator 162 takes place Friday at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. In the main event, former Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko returns to the cage against TUF 3 winner Kendall Grove. The main card airs live on Spike TV, while the undercard can be seen at Spike.com.
Middleweight: Alexander Shlemenko (53-9) vs. Kendall Grove (23-15)
Shlemenko will return to Bellator for the first time since knocking out Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 133. That night's win was later overturned due to a positive test for a banned substance. During his three-year suspension, which was eventually reduced, the former Bellator middleweight champion fought twice for M-1, picking up a pair of victories over Vyacheslav Vasilevsky. Excluding the "no contest" against Manhoef, the Russian fighter has now won three fights in a row since dropping his middleweight title to Brandon Halsey in 2014.
Grove joined Bellator 2013 and has gone 4-2 in the promotion. Last year, he challenged Halsey for the middleweight title but fell via fourth-round knockout. He has bounced back nicely with a pair of victories over Joey Beltran and Francisco France. Over the course of his career, the TUF 3 winner has also scored signature wins over Derek Brunson, Alan Belcher and former UFC champion Evan Tanner.
On the feet, Shlemenko should have a big advantage. He is a much more diverse and dynamic striker. Also, Grove's inability to stand up against major fire power has really hurt his career. If the Hawaiian is able to drag his opponent to the ground, he might be able snatch a submission. However, Shlemenko has always showed an ability to avoid damage on the ground and get back to his feet.
Heavyweight: Bobby Lashley (14-2) vs. Josh Appelt (12-5)
Lashley is currently riding a seven-fight winning streak that dates to 2013. In Bellator, he has gone 4-0 and avenged one of his two career defeats against James Thompson. The promotion appears to have parted ways with former heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov, so the division is wide open. Lashley has not faced the toughest competition during his career, but the only other viable contenders are Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Cheick Kongo and Matt Mitrione. It is entirely possible that with an impressive win here, Lashley fights for a title in 2017.
Appelt was originally set to be the debut opponent of Sergei Kharitonov. However, after an injury to Kharitonov, he gets to face Lashley instead. The California native previously fought four times for Bellator from 2012-2014. He went 3-1 with victories over Ed Carpenter, Josh Lanier and Manny Lara. His lone defeat during the stretch came against Freddie Aquitania at Bellator 115.
Over the last two weeks, Lashley has had six professional wrestling matches for TNA, which might not be the best way to train for an actual fight. However, he is still a prohibitive favorite in this fight. Appelt's peak ranking per Fight Matrix is No. 83, which is well behind Lashley's last two opponents Thompson (No. 18) and Dan Charles (No. 65). The saving grace for Appelt could be his durability. In 17 professional fights, he has only been stopped twice. Lashley has struggled in the past when he is unable to finish a fight early. However, he has scored finishes in his last four bouts.
Middleweight: Hisaki Kato (6-2) vs. A.J. Matthews (8-5)
Bellator seemingly unearthed a gem with Kato. After scoring an upset in his promotional debut over Joe Schilling at Bellator 139, he has also scored a victory over Yuta Watanabe for Rizin and duplicated his win over Schilling in the Bellator Kickboxing ring. Melvin Manhoef will challenge Rafael Carvalho for the Bellator middleweight title for the second time in December. Kato will likely earn a shot at the winner if he is able to defeat Matthews here.
Matthews began his career with a 6-1 record. However, since defeating Charlie Rader at Bellator 70, he has gone only 2-4. His only two wins during the stretch have come against Kyle Bolt and Emiliano Sordi. The "Pinoy Punisher" enters the cage coming off back-to-back losses against Anatoly Tokov and Ben Reiter.
This could turn out to be an interesting fight. Matthews recent struggles have mostly come against fighters who take him down and work from the top. That is not Kato's game. With that being said, on the feet, Kato should still have the advantage. He is much more aggressive, while Matthews has a tendency to wait for his opponents. Look for Kato to get the better of the exchanges in a back and forth fight.
Lightweight: Goiti Yamauchi (19-3) vs. Ryan Couture (10-4)
Yamauchi will move up to lightweight after spending his entire Bellator career at featherweight. During his run in the promotion, he has gone 4-2. In his last fight, he lost for only the third time in his career as he dropped a decision against Bubba Jenkins. Despite not having the highest profile, Yamauchi's victories over Mike Richman, Martin Stapleton and Isao Kobayashi are impressive. He has been ranked as high as No. 27 featherweight by Fight Matrix.
It would be easy to look at Couture's 0-2 record in the UFC and write him off as simply the product of nepotism. However, he actually has a fair number of big wins on his resume. Conor Heun and Dakota Cochrane are both solid fighters, and K.J. Noons is a former Elite XC champion. With that being said, Couture has really struggled when he has been unable to score takedowns.
In a stand-up contest, Yamauchi will have the clear advantage. He should be able to land combination at will against Couture. Before his last fight against Jenkins, Yamauchi never really seemed to struggle with wrestling, but it was definitely an impediment there. If he can keep the fight standing, he should be able to dominate Couture.
Kevin "Baby Slice" Ferguson Jr. will make his professional MMA debut against Rick Bing.
In a battle between top-ten ranked women's featherweights, Julia Budd's striking should be too much for Arlene Blencowe.
UFC veteran heavyweight Chase Gormley will look to make it two in a row against Bobby Brents.
Virgil Zwicker has gone 3-2-1 in Bellator, but he will be at a size disadvantage against legitimate heavyweight Dan Charles.
Mike Wessell, of TUF 10 fame, returns for the first time since 2014 against Frank Tate.