The 2011 welterweight tournament came to a controversial conclusion last night at Bellator 43 in Newkirk, Oklahoma. The highly anticipated showdown between finalists Jay Hieron and Rick Hawn headlined the card and went the distance in a razor-thin, back and forth striking war.
Olympic Judoka Hawn fired up his Sityodtong striking arsenal and assumed the role of the aggressor right off the bat, leading the exchanges and stalking Hieron for all three rounds. The first frame unfolded with Hieron looking comfortable in a sharp counter-punching rhythm, snapping off leg kicks and finding the mark with stiff flurries while circling out and controlling distance. Hawn was assertive and landed his fair share, but seemed to have a little trouble finding his range while Hieron cut unpredictable patterns and mixed in a high kick, flying knee, and a spinning back kick for memorable first round moments.
Hawn got a bead on Hieron in the second and found success by leading with a short right hook, then pieced his jab and left hook together to shift the momentum more in his direction. Hieron continued to cut angles and counter; Hawn methodically pursued while steadily improving the accuracy and volume of his kickboxing repertoire. The Judoka slipped a stiff uppercut through followed by a quick combination toward the end of the round, which closed with Hieron catching Hawn off-balance with a takedown that was immediately reversed and negated.
Measuring distance well with a pawing left hand, Hawn appeared to mark up Hieron's face with an accumulation of long jabs and right crosses throughout the third, all the while walking him down and clearly commanding the aggression aspect of the contest. The same elusive strategy was upheld by Hieron, who pivoted back while trying to sight-in his boxing game, but Hawn continued to dab him up with jabs and hooks, even casting a body kick and spinning back-fist to his retreating opponent. Hieron's eye was a little roughed up, but he hung tough and kept stringing his punches together until the bell sounded.
The bout was close, competitive, and exciting throughout, with a second round that could have gone either way. The result was a split-decision for Hieron, who earned a 29-28 vote from two judges, while the third had the same score in Hawn's favor. The Xtreme Couture fighter advances to 22-4 and a shot at champion Ben Askren's title, pocketing a cool $100,000 in the process.
Check the remaining Bellator 43 results in the full entry.
Bryan Baker refuses to be just another face in th crowd: He kicked leukemia's ass, turned the lights off on Joe Riggs with a beautifully placed left hook, then made MMA's first high profile marriage proposal.
The tall and gangly Baker threw hands with southpaw Riggs to a near stalemate until the latter half of the opening round, where he bombarded a head kick and a volley of flying knees. Riggs connected with the small amount of straight punches he threw, but played a passive first round without much luck with anything else.
Baker finally cornered him in the second. Riggs stopped angling backwards and leaned against the fence, covering up and staying stationary to defend a flurry from Baker, who then hit the bullseye with a left on the button when Riggs dropped his hands trying to explode with a counter.
The very vocal and animated duo of Baker's mother and girlfriend were cageside, cheering their support. In the post-fight interview, Baker invited his girlfriend in and popped the question. Baker leaves Bellator 43 with an impressive 15-2 record and a wedding and honeymoon to plan.
In a late heavyweight entry when Neil Grove vs. Zak Jensen was canceled, the heavy handed kickboxer Ron Sparks added the first win via submission to his flawless record. Sparks blasted a brutal low kick that chopped Vince Lucero down to the canvas, then immediately pounced, moved to side control, and latched the Americana. Sparks stays unbeaten and improves to 7-0.
Jose Vega put up a good fight against former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe, who was relentless with guillotine attempts, eventually clamping one shut in the final minute of the first for a submission win. This was 18-7 Beebe's Bellator debut and a qualifier match for the upcoming bantamweight tournament.
The broadcast included an undercard fight between David Rickels and Richard Bouphanouvong, which was a frenetically paced tilt ending in a second round submission for Rickels.
The train rolls on next weekend with Bellator 44 on May 14, featuring middleweights Hector Lombard vs. Falaniko Vitale, the lightweight tournament finals between Patricky "Pitbull" Freire and Michael Chandler, along with
Lyman Good vs. Dan Hornbuckle and Alexander Shlemenko vs. Brett Cooper.
*Lyman Good has withdrawn from the fight with a hamstring injury.