Bellator 61 took place last night from the Riverdome in Bossier City, Louisiana. The intended heavyweight headliner of Eric Prindle vs. Thiago Santos was transferred to next week's Bellator 63 card at the last minute, which fixed the spotlight on the four match ups that set the 2012 middleweight tournament in motion.
The MTV2 broadcast began with two returning competitors from last year's tournament. Brian Rogers, who knocked out Victor O'Donnell but was swarmed by Alexander Shlemenko in the semifinals, squared off with BJJ world champion Vitor Vianna, a Wand Fight Team member who advanced to the finals (split decision over Sam Alvey, TKO over Bryan Baker) but eventually fell to Shlemenko as well.
Vianna came in as a slight favorite and had an obvious edge in submission grappling, though he's quite a capable striker as well. Rogers, who has a reputation for first-round ballistics, was more patient than usual and methodically established his low kicks and straight one-two on the fringe. Vianna twice attempted the duck-under double leg when assaulted with punches but Rogers, an athletic specimen and former four-year collegiate linebacker, was noticeably on-balance while needling combinations. Rogers' strong base and poise allowed him to evade the takedown attempts with ease and force Vianna to trade on the feet.
After a little over four minutes of controlling the action and walking Vianna down, Rogers cracked off an airtight one-two that wobbled Vianna, then exploded into a flying knee that landed square on Vianna's chin and turned his lights out before he even hit the floor. In a classic walk-away KO, Rogers raised his arms in celebration after landing the home-run instead of bothering to pounce with more punishment, knowing Vianna was already counting sheep. "The Predator" extended his record to 9-3 and continues to evolve at an alarming rate. Each of his wins have been first-round thrashings and this was his second by flying knee.
A video highlight and further review of Bellator 61 can be found after the jump.
Exciting new acquisition Maiquel Falcao, a one-time UFC middleweight who defeated Gerald Harris, saw his Bellator debut upgraded to the main event after Prindle vs. Santos was nixed. Falcao drew Norman Paraisy, a French fighter who was defeated by James Hammortree in the TUF 11 elimination match.
Like Rogers, Falcao is heralded for his imminent violence (24 stoppages via strikes, 23 in the first frame) but broke form by taking Paraisy down early rather than unloading leather like everyone expected. He slithered into Paraisy's half guard but was bucked off as soon as he attained the full mount. Falcao persisted with takedowns and closed the first with a near fireman's carry that Paraisy was able to counter. He fired a short knee at the bell that prompted a late left-hook retaliation from Paraisy, but Paraisy apologized and they touched gloves out of respect.
Falcao was content to stay standing in the second and started to sting with low kicks from outside. The last minute unfolded with Falcao's trademark aggression. He cornered Paraisy twice and flurried with menacing combinations, the second of which staggered Paraisy. "Big Rig" put it all together in the third, nailing an inside trip from the clinch and showering furious ground-and-pound with strong posture. Paraisy was able to reverse position when Falcao pursued a guillotine with a few minutes left, but the Frenchman couldn't do much from the top as Falcao's hips were too active and he smashed effective hammer-fists off his back.
While it wasn't the satisfying first-round devastation that many were hoping for, Falcao took a commanding 30-27 decision across the board and cemented his diversity as a mixed martial artist. No longer with Chute Boxe, he's hooked up with the Luta Livre based Renovacao Fight Team to bolster his grappling under Marcelo Brigadeiro, and the results showed last night.
Two Bloody Elbow Scouting Report prospects met in the third middleweight quarterfinal, as Victor O'Donnell was paired with Russian newcomer Vyacheslav Vasilevsky, who demonstrated that he was a worthwhile acquisition. After an evenly contested first round, Vasilevsky enforced his slick boxing prowess and thoroughly clobbered O'Donnell throughout the closing ten minutes. The beatdown was a fitting application of MMA boxing finesse, as Vasilevsky's crisp and precise punches, stellar in-and-out motion and uncanny timing turned it into a blowout.
Though O'Donnell was hanging by a thread and absorbing nonstop punishment, the man deserves serious credit for his heart and spirit. Every time the one-sided shellacking became gruesome enough to potentially warrant a stoppage, referee Jason Herzog, who also performed admirably, demanded intelligent defense and O'Donnell responded. Amazingly, he continued to sling counter punches, scramble to break free or threaten with takedowns, even rolling for a legit kneebar in the third that Vasilevsky wriggled out of.
The Russian was awarded a unanimous decision and made a huge statement in his promotional debut, though the lack of any 10-8 scores for his undeniably dominant second and third rounds was mildly concerning.
The last pairing of the tournament saw two Brazilians collide, as Giva Santana welcomed the undefeated Bruno Santos to Bellator. Santos, another Scouting Report entry, is a broad-shouldered monster with a penchant for control-oriented decision wins. Santana's stellar guard tactics seemed a lively test for Santos' stifling top game, but much of the bout played out on the feet with Santos shucking off takedowns and keeping things standing. He finally overpowered Santana with a pair of takedowns to win the third round decisively and take a unanimous albeit mediocre decision win.