(Photo taken by Cliff Nelson)
This weekend, Caesar's Atlantic City Hotel & Casino was host to Bellator 44. The night was full of fairly exciting fights, a little controversy sprinkled in here and there, and the next step in the slow but steady progression of Bellator as an organization.
In the first televised matchup of the night, Brett Cooper took on Alexander Shlemenko in a qualifier fight to see who would get a spot in next season's middleweight tournament. The fight was fast paced all the way throughout. Cooper never stopped coming forward. He also never stopped getting hit with precision spinning backfists and spinning back-kicks. I say that not to take anything away from Cooper, who was able to open up a cut over Shlemenko's left eye, and do some other damage as well with some strikes of his own. It was a very entertaining fight, but "Stone" was able to get the victory by landing more strikes, and appearing to cause more damage. Cooper did say afterwards (in the post-fight press conference) that he was recovering from a recent shoulder injury, as well as a bout with the flu (which he said landed him in the hospital this last Tuesday).
In the next fight, Giedrus Karavackas went up against local fan favorite Sam "Sammy-O" Oropeza. Sammy (who is from nearby Briarcliff, PA), brought with him what seemed to be hundreds of fans wearing orange "Sammy-O" t-shirts. The place was electric as they cheered on Oropeza in what was also a very exciting fight. Oropeza seemed to feed off the crowd and their energy, as he landed many strikes, and was able to score a few takedowns as well. Unfortunately, Sammy appeared to gas near the end of the fight, and Karavackas jumped all over him. Karavackas mounted a very tight crucifix with almost 2 full minutes remaining in the fight. Oropeza took a ton of punishment, but it was clear he had no way of getting free. Finally, at 3:59 of the 3rd round, Oropeza tapped to an armbar. The crowd was clearly very disappointed, but Karavackas earned a nicely done submission win.