For the first time ever, Hindsight comes to Bellator. I can honestly say, too, that this is probably the first time that I've really taken the time to look back at the repercussions of a Bellator event with an eye for what might be next for the fighters involved. Sure there have been individual fights to give me pause before, but never a whole card to mull over. Bellator 120 was something special. Whether it's ultimately a success or a failure is somewhat immaterial. This show was a big deal in MMA history and something worth spending some time reflecting on.
Disclaimer Time: I kind of doubt that there's a serious Bellator betting public out there. So this disclaimer may fall on deaf ears. That said, I would have bet almost anything that Tito Ortiz was going to get crushed last weekend. The fact that he didn't is exactly why I didn't bet anything. But, I like talking about odds and picks and whatnot, it's a fragile dichotomy that occasionally keeps me up at night. I'll be using BestFightOdds for this event and taking the mode on each fighter.
*As a brief note, I'm not going to be talking about the online prelims. Two were blacked out, the rest might as well have been.
- Mike Richman did not look good. Even in a fight contested almost entirely on his terms, striking at range, he often looked lost and puzzled by the variety and accuracy of Yamauchi's attack. Richman has been a strong fighter for Bellator for two years now, but his last two performances have looked notably weak. He's seemed underprepared for two good, but not elite fighters in his division. It may be that he needs to make some training changes, or it may be the wear of the tournament structure. But something has to change if he wants to get back to winning fights.
- This was exactly the performance Yamauchi needed after a terrible showing against a very underrated and unknown Will Martinez. Yamauchi is ridiculously young and has a lot of talent. And showing that he can bounce back against another experienced vet, stay composed, and not just match, but win the striking battle on more than raw power and speed is a great sign for his future.
- Sometimes MMA really is as simple as one bad mistake. Shamhalaev got taken down by Guerreiro (which was bang alongside Guerreiro's plans) but when he had the opportunity to scramble out, he latched onto a single leg and decided to try his luck on the mat. A broken arm was the cost of that mistake. And a reminder that many of the Russian prospects are not the cleanest grapplers was the reminder for fans.
- Guerreiro is definitely a prospect in development and this was a big win toward that development. He can't outstrike the best, but he showed here that he can hang out on the feet without getting tooled by a very good striker. The fact that he can then move to create and exploit his own opportunities suggests that he may have a very bright future.
- For a brief minute or so, it looked like Nate Jolly was all set to put the odds to waste and make it 3-0 for underdogs to start the "big fight" portion of the event. But, Held proved that he can take a shot and that the submission specialist willing to stick to their game will always find opportunities in MMA. Jolly was game, but Held is a special fighter for Bellator, who can provide the kind of fun that only the leg lock experts of the world bring.
- Nate Jolly was not brought in to win his fight at Bellator 120. Whether it was Will Brooks or Marcin Held, he was there to provide filler and the opportunity for a rising star to keep building their name. This was his first fight for the Viacom promotion, so they'll probably bring him back, but he has a lot to prove if he wants to stay there.
- Speaking of massive favorites giving the fans a show for their money, Cheick Kongo had several moments where he looked like he was going to give up the TKO to the entirely unregarded Erick Smith. Smith proved that he could be a fun light heavyweight for Bellator, given the option to get in shape, by blasting Kongo early and often.
- For his part Kongo surprised in his willingness to fight a less than safe fight. He came out looking to exchange, and even after getting cracked a few times stuck to his gameplan. The fact that he would have to go through another tournament to get a title shot, may mean that he doesn't have a whole lot to lose and is going to be a bit more active going forward. Of course it could also just mean that he was expecting to walk through an overmatched opponent and was given all he could handle. Time will tell.
- As expected Page showed up and put on a fun show. He's brash, he's cocky, but he's also wrecking dudes and a ton of fun to watch. Rainey showed that Page can be crowded and hit a bit by fighters with solid footwork, movement, and hand speed. But even then this was a completely onesided show of domination from MVP. The fact that a lot of people can't stand the kid, is proof that MMA just can't have nice things.
- For Rainey, much like Jolly, he was fodder. Given that he was better than anyone else Page had fought to this point, he made the best of it and fought a more competitive fight than any of Page's previous opponents. He exposed some flaws, got a couple licks in. Hopefully Bellator brings him back and gives him an opportunity to pick up a win, because this is no way to be remembered.
- I really do think that Blagoi Ivanov is a solid, exciting heavyweight, even if he's a bit undersized for the division. But, the simple truth is that he's also been a pretty sloppy fighter and gotten away with a lot of mistakes due to a lack of top competition. Volkov was Ivanov's first real test. His first top heavyweight opponent. And the sloppiness he'd been able to recover from in the past came back to bite him.
- Alexander Volkov is really a decent heavyweight. And although I picked him to win here, he's better than I gave him credit for. The bulk of his talent really lies in his ability to move his feet well and strike on the outside with his height and length. Most of the really huge MMA big men have either been freak show fighters, or more tellingly, infighting brawlers. Their size was impressive, but the tools by which they tended to operate were brawling into the clinch and using their height as leverage. Volkov is a rarity as a big man who works comfortably at range.
Tito Ortiz (+325) vs. Alexander Shlemenko (-415) (I picked Shlemenko, I was wrong)
- For about a minute this fight looked exactly like I thought it would. Shlemenko realized that Ortiz couldn't even start to catch up to him standing and began outstriking Ortiz with authority. Then, suddenly, he let himself get backed up against the cage and taken down. This gets back to a number of sloppy habits that Shlemenko has on the feet concerning his footwork and strike selection. Against the class of opponent he generally sees, he gets lots of time and room to recover from errors. Ortiz was just too experienced and well trained to let that go to waste.
- Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much shine Tito really gets off this. His win was kind of amazing, super improbable, but not ultimately meaningful. He got beat up, took advantage of some poor distance control, and got the takedown and the submission win. Is a 39 year old Ortiz now ready to face the best in the world? No. Could he maybe win a couple more fights, if he stays healthy? He just might.
- At some intrinsic level I feel like this was a kind of meaningless fight. Not just because Chandler may not have exactly lost (I was fine with the Brooks win) But because both fighters were coming in with so little prep and Chandler just looked off. Brooks, to his credit, fought the fight of his life against the best opponent of his life and made it clear early and often that he was every bit as capable of a dominant athletic performance as Chandler was. But Chandler just looked like he wasn't ready. Like his head wasn't right. Short notice has somewhat tainted that fight for me.
- Of course, where they go from here now looms large. Eddie Alvarez could demand Michael Chandler, it's still a bigger fight for him than Will Brooks (though not as big as it was before this loss). It's also exactly the kind of fight that would further taint yet another Bellator title. It's hard to escape, but almost all of Bellator's belts live or have recently fallen under some controversy. Eddie Alvarez passing over Brooks for Chandler would only further add to the idea of the Bellator lightweight title as a somewhat meaningless belt.
- King Mo fought a smart fight. The smartest fight he could have, but he looked terrible doing it. I'm not sure if part of his time at ATT is the rebuilding of his style from the ground up, but he looked like he came straight out of the wrestling room into the cage. His boxing (in either of its past iterations) was gone, his footwork was a mess. None of his experienced showed in this fight... And yet he still almost won it.
- Without question, Rampage did more damage, landed the better shots, and got taken down a bunch. But fortunately for him, in the current Bellator 205 landscape there aren't any other fighters who wrestle like Mo can and did. The fact that he doesn't seem to have much interest in fighting for the title, however, means that there just aren't too many other 205ers period. A rematch with Mo may be inevitable, but nothing about that fight made me want to see it.
That's all my thoughts for this week. In a rare move, I have to admit that hindsight hasn't sorted all that much out for me about Bellator. So often I feel like the upset wins were the result of some major mystery or shocking under-performance, rather than the ability of two well matched opponents to get a win on any given night. But, I've soldiered along ahead anyway and hope to bring more clarity next week, in the aftermath of UFC 173, where I will be shocked if I'm talking about T.J. Dillashaw, bantamweight champion.