Bellator 79: Finalists emerge in Hale, Shamhalaev (full event results withs gifs)

Aided by Zombie Prophet's animated gifs, Dallas Winston recaps last night's action-packed Bellator 79 event.

Bellator 79 went down last night from the Casino Rama in Ontario, Canada. Tournament semifinal bouts took place in the heavyweight division with Richard Hale vs. Thiago Santos and in the featherweight division with Shahbulat Shamhalaev vs. Mike Richman. The lower half of the main card featured welterweights with Season 5 tournament winner Douglas Lima, who met Kobe Ortiz, and Ryan Ford taking on Kyle Baker.

It should come as absolutely no surprise that only one fight went to a decision on both the main and preliminary card offerings -- the rest were finishes.

Richard Hale defeats Thiago Santos by TKO (punches), Round 1.

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The show's centerpiece was Hale vs. Santos with the winner advancing to the heavyweight finals. Santos leapt into the driver's seat early by head-hunting with a medley of whirling meat-hooks. Hale appeared to lose his faculties for a moment amidst the barrage but wisely clinched up to stem the tide and gather his composure.

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In an odd turn of events, Santos, suddenly looking gassed out and flat footed, lunged forward with a sloppy combination. Hale landed a retreating uppercut, dodged the rest of the onslaught while snatching the single collar tie and chipped Santos with two right hands that didn't seem to pack any mustard. However, Santos crumpled into the turtle position and didn't move again until the referee stepped in due to the stream of unanswered blows.

Hale improves his record to 21-4 with the TKO victory and advances to the heavyweight finals, awaiting the winner of the upcoming Vinicius Queiroz vs. Alexander Volkov match.

Shahbulat Shamhalaev defeats Mike Richman by KO (punch), Round 1.

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In a featherweight semifinal bout, Richman, who's been on a TKO-tear with 3 1st-round strike stoppages in his last 4 fights, unrolled some ultra-crisp boxing early and looked sharp on the feet. No momentous blows were landed but Richman was cementing himself as the quicker and rangier fighter while Shamhalaev, a once-beaten Russian prospect, tried to time counters.

Richman's pace and confidence was steadily increasing, yet was probably also to blame for the fatal mistake that ended things. Richman continued to walk Shamhalaev down and finally cornered him; he hesitated for a split second while leaning in and sighting in his next combination, which was the small window Shamhalaev needed to pull the plug with a slicing right hand down the middle. Shamhalaev moves to 11-1 with the lights-out KO and into the featherweight finals, and will eventually face the winner of the Wagnney Fabiano vs. Rad Martinez bout.

Douglas Lima defeats Kobe Ortiz by TKO (head kick and punches), Round 3.

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Lima vs. Ortiz turned out to be a definitive mismatch. Lima had blasted his way through last season's welterweight tournament with violent knockouts over Ben Saunders and Chris Lozano but had no answer for Bellator champion Ben Askren's astronomical wrestling. In this bout, Ortiz rarely lifted his hands above his waistline and his defense consisted of ducking down with his arms outstretched or turning away from the incoming strikes.

The kid was game -- don't get me wrong -- but didn't belong in the cage with a killer like Lima, who teed off on Ortiz at will. Ortiz was floored with blistering punches in the 1st round, had his legs chopped out from underneath him by a low roundhouse kick in the 2nd round and was flattened by the knee and high-kick sequence shown above in the 3rd. The gap in skill between the two was monumental -- I had the first two rounds scored 10-8 -- and Ortiz' admirable display of heart and valor wasn't enough to compensate.

Regardless, Lima chalks up another brutal TKO, extends his record to 22-5 and has now won 10 of his 11 fights.

Ryan Ford defeats Kyle Baker by unanimous decision.

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In the vein of Griffin vs. Bonnar 1, the primal voracity of Ford vs. Baker made for an exciting scrap. Ford came out like a man possessed and put it on Baker with a frenetic outpour of massive punches, then a big double-leg takedown, then more heavy leather. Perhaps aided by mythical powers swelling from his epic handlebar mustache, Baker showed unbelievable durability and somehow sloshed through all the punches, scored a takedown and ended the 1st round on top.

Ford kept the heat on in the 2nd round but Baker just refused to go away. At times, it seemed Baker was on rubber legs and about to topple over unconscious, but then he'd explode with punches or a takedown attempt. Their active pace finally slowed in the last frame: Ford hit a takedown but couldn't do anything with it, Baker once again assumed the top position late in the round and scored with some moderate ground-and-pound but it was Ford who was slugging away when the bell sounded.

It wasn't a sophisticated display of technique but Ford vs. Baker was definitely a down-and-dirty slug-fest with respectable determination being displayed from both competitors. One judge gave Baker a round but the other two had it all Ford, giving him the unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27 x 2).

The preliminary results follow below.

Vitaly Minakov defeats Vladimir Starcencov by TKO (punches), Round 2.

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