Bellator 83 went off last night from New Jersey in what was an atypical show. To accommodate a special on MTV2, the event aired an hour earlier than usual and only featured 3 bouts (instead of 4) on the main card.
Disaster struck halfway through the card when it was revealed that main-eventer Shahbulat Shamhalaev was battling with food poisoning, and his ongoing vomiting resulted in the upstanding crew of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board deeming him unfit to compete. It was announced that the Featherweight Tournament final match between Shamhalaev and Rad Martinez would be pushed back to next week's Bellator 84 event, but that's become an uncertainty.
The nixed main event was supplanted by an undercard bout between Chris Ligouri and Darrell Horcher but, before we get into that, let's discuss the person who stole the entire spotlight.
Much of the main broadcast was centered on what appeared to be a genuine grudge match between female 115-pound champion Zoila Gurgel, who has been plying her trade as a flyweight (125-pounds), and Jessica Eye. The promotion really hung their hat on marketing the bad-blood angle for this pairing; a slant that can often come off as forced or cliche. This one didn't.
After expounding with liberal detail on their dislike for one another in the pre-fight promo, the ref signaled for action to begin and the ladies charged to the center of the cage and promptly began to throw down with palpable intensity.
Eye sat down on alternating 1-2's, the second of which clipped Gurgel and seated her firmly on the canvas. Gurgel recovered quickly and got back to her feet, but Eye was relentless and stayed all over her.
Showing uncanny diversity, skill and aggression, Eye steered Gurgel to the fence and transitioned from a body lock to a standing arm-triangle. This is a low percentage finish in MMA because the standing position offers more opportunities for movement and escape, but Eye addressed that by staying chest to chest with Gurgel to suck out any open space and drove her into the cage corner to suppress her motion. Gurgel fought it off for a moment but eventually slumped to the canvas unconscious.
In a breakout performance, Jessica Eye defeats Zoila Gurgel by submission (standing arm-triangle), Round 1.
The most disappointing part of the quasi main event between Ligouri and Horcher is that not one judge accurately quantified the one-sided beating Horcher laid on Ligouri throughout the 1st round. Horcher was pinging his straight left through Ligouri's guard all night and scored a handful of knockdowns in the opening frame; the version above was coupled with an unanswered succession of hammering ground-and-pound.
Now, there's no question after last night that Ligouri is one of the toughest guys in MMA. He not only took the punishment like a boss but continued to attack with strikes and takedown attempts. The 2nd round looked to be following the 1st with more dominant striking and knockdowns from Horcher, but Ligouri stabilized himself better and made it a little closer despite handily losing the stanza. In a laudable demonstration of grit, Ligouri came back to win the 3rd round with game striking and wrestling but couldn't overcome the earlier deficit.
Darrell Horcher defeats Chris Ligouri by unanimous decision (29-29 x 3).
Former WEC competitor Anthony Leone took on Bellator's inaugural bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky in a back-and-forth, high-paced war. The match was split between stand-up exchanges, in which Leone established himself early wit Makovsky regaining ground later, and grappling encounters with frenzied positional changes and submission attempts.
Leone edged out the 1st round but Makovsky evened things up going into the 3rd, and Leone capitalized fully on a takedown attempt and held his underhooks tight to control (and only control) Makovsky for the last 2 minutes of the fight. It was enough to earn him the split nod, as one judge had it 29-28 Makovsky but the other two penned it the same for Leone.
Anthony Leone defeats Zach Makovsky by split decision.
Preliminary Card results: