A trumpeted striking phenom and exciting up-and-comer made his Bellator debut last night, did exactly what he's done to earn that reputation -- KO his opponent in highlight-reel fashion -- and ... some fans are calling it "fishy."
London Shootfighter Michael Page shined in his promotional debut last night, having entered Bellator with a 3-0 record that consisted of all 1st-round finishes (2 KO's, 1 submission via armbar) after crossing over to MMA from a point-based kickboxing background.
But there was more to it than that.
Videos and gifs of Page had been circulating around the internet, depicting an ultra-confident and -- let's just say it -- a cocksure and showboating style of fighter. Page doesn't just not keep his hands up, he purposely straightens his arms toward the floor and lets his hands rest far below his waist, that is, when he's not employing them to quasi-breakdance or lend his best Genki Sudo impression.
In his first professional MMA fight, Page flat-out styled on Ben Dishman, walloping him with a Tornado kick and then freezing in place the moment it connected for his own take on the beloved "walk-away knockouts" that respected vets like Joachim Hansen and Mark Hunt have treated us to in the past. This blatant disregard for traditional defense combined with his obvious assuredness and unquestionable potential rendered Page as a prospect to tune in for on the eve of his first foray on a bigger stage.
On the Spike.com preliminary card, Page drew (then 4-3, now 4-4) local fighter Ryan Sanders. Though "local fighter" always raises some eyebrows, Sanders had played in a bigger sandbox before, as Gil de Freitas (14-5, competed against the UFC's Erick Silva and Pride/Chute Boxe fighter Daniel Acacio) and Mike Winters (a 7-2 Team Bombsquad product) accounted for 2/3 of his career defeats. Here was the result:
The sensational part of the story comes into play when many fans and onlookers -- even some media outlets -- raised the red flag by deeming the finish above as "fishy" or reminiscent of a worked match.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and here's mine: what we see is a smart strategy being adopted by Sanders but with very inadvisable execution. From the onset, it was obvious that Sanders wanted to stay out of kickboxing range and engage the electric striker in the clinch or at phone-booth range. Since the man's entire highlight reel consists of toying with his opponent out in open space or on the fringe of striking distance, a gameplan intending to jam his lengthy striking or counter it with takedown attempts by shrinking the gap was a sensible one. Just behold the effectiveness of Fedor Emelianenko's tight-quarters strategy against Mirko Filipovic in Pride.
However, barging into the pocket to throw a low kick leaves something to be desired in the realm of strike selection and Fight I.Q. The results of the fight support exactly why that strategy is hazardous. I'd wager that Sanders, who's also a fairly inexperienced fighter and susceptible to the first-time jitters of a huge step up in status and exposure, regrets that decision and will learn from it.
In addition to the clear evidence of Page's right hand landing flush on the kisser, which has somehow been disputed, we've also seen former K-1 kickboxer and current UFC heavyweight Mark Hunt, who has just as much of a claim to the "MMA's best chin ever" title as anyone else (and also ate the same CroCop "Cemetery Kick" that flatlined a pile of Pride heavyweights like he was munching on a Dorito), suffer the only KO loss of his career in similar fashion. Notable striking whiz Melvin Manhoef clipped "The Super Samoan" with a short and altogether standard right hand that crumpled the brick-bearded gamer instantly.
I'm not a physics expert, but I feel confident stating that the force of a punch that lands directly on your face is dramatically increased when you're jogging straight into it, especially when the thrower plants his feet and sits down on the punch to add oomph.
And ... dare I just inject some common sense here? Bellator's tournament format and the whole "where titles are earned" philosophy hasn't always actualized the way the fans and promotion would prefer. But that's the whole point.
UFC lightweight contender Roger Huerta, who'd rattled off an impressive 6-2 sequence on the Octagon, was a premiere acquisition for Bellator and widely expected to overtake the title, but was out-hustled by reigning featherweight champion Pat Curran in the Lightweight Tournament semifinals and finished by juggernaut (and then lightweight champ) Eddie Alvarez in a non-title affair. More recently, Muhammed Lawal, the sole centerpiece of hour-long Bellator features on Spike TV, was clipped with an errant spinning back-fist by the under-appreciated Emanuel Newton in the 1st round of their Light-Heavyweight Tournament semifinal, along with another reputable veteran in Renato "Babalu" Sobral, who fell to Mikhail Zayats by KO in the quarterfinals.
Is it reasonable to even conjecture that Bellator would undergo those unexpected results with potential poster-boys only to orchestrate a fake fight for a 3-0 newcomer on the undercard that 9 out of 10 MMA fans have never heard of?