Bellator 54 took place last night from the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The event was headlined by the action-packed middleweight tournament semifinals and also featured the return of bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky.
Alexander Shlemenko, the winner of last year's tournament, engaged Brian Rogers in a rousing, back and forth brawl in the main attraction of the evening. The pair touched gloves and proceeded to bury one another under a steady hail of vicious strikes, both effectively finding the mark in alternating intervals, resulting in an electrifying see-saw battle throughout the opening five minutes.
Rogers seemed to score with a slightly higher count of more effective stand up in the first, putting him in the driver's seat by a very narrow margin. The Russian opened up the second round with unwavering resolve, penetrating Rogers' defense with a crisp combination and then swarming the stunned fighter with a ruthless series of knees against the fence.
Visibly out of sorts, Rogers showed a big heart in trying to weather the onslaught, even placing one hand on the mat to render himself grounded to prevent Shlemenko from kneeing his head. Shlemenko showed icy composure by maintaining the pressure while altering his attack, fixing his cross-hairs on the midsection with big punches and more knees to elicit the referee stoppage.
More results and gifs of the action in the full entry.
In the first, Rogers wisely employed his straight right hand with impressive timing to counter Shlemenko's unpredictable kickboxing.
It was a simple of case of holding his ground and rifling leather straight to Shlemenko's chin when he closed the distance aggressively.
The sequence to the right depicts Rogers' best flurry in the first frame, hurtling an overhand right through the pocket to drop Shlemenko.
"The Predator" was quick to pounce every time he landed clean blows, but Shlemenko was eerily resilient and recovered quickly to return fire.
The sense that Rogers was getting a firm grasp on Shlemenko's rhythm and footwork continued into the second round.
Rogers ducked under the wicked spinning back-fist that has wreaked havoc on many a middleweight to gather up a deep double-leg to kick off the second.
The size, strength and wrestling advantage of Rogers was again expertly repelled by the veteran fighter, who coolly controlled posture and scooted himself back to the standing position.
The beginning of the end was ignited by the Russian's signature spinning back-fist, which was unleashed precisely and complemented by a stiff left hook.
Rogers would never regain his footing.
Shlemenko tenaciously swarmed and never loosened his trigger-finger, cascading a volley of lefts and rights before hammering down the succession of brutal knees that steadily sapped Rogers and sealed his fate.
Shlemenko extended his record to forty-two wins and notched his twenty-sixth TKO with the stoppage.
In the second middleweight semifinal bout of the evening, the feeling that Bryan Baker was determined to make a strong statement was evident immediately.
His opponent, BJJ black belt and Wand Fight Team member Vitor Vianna, patiently side-stepped the incoming barrages and circled out into open space, biding his time.
Baker was a little too focused on the home-run shot, offering glimpses of vulnerability at the conclusion of his aggressive combinations.
Shuffling hard left, Vianna sailed an enormous haymaker over the top of Baker's left hook, dropping him to the canvas.
Barely whiffing what could have been a dangerously aimed kick when Baker was down, Vianna overwhelmed his dazed opponent with a shower of hammerfists.
Whether a conscious decision or faltering from the impact, Baker posted on his right arm instead of shielding the strikes, persuading the referee to intervene after they connected freely.
With only one loss to the UFC's Thiago Silva in 2006, Vitor Vianna's stock shoots up with his fifth consecutive win and fifth career TKO, setting up a showdown with Shlemenko in the finals for a crack at Hector Lombard's middleweight crown.
Zach Makovsky, Bellator's bantamweight champion, competed for the second time in 2011 against newcomer Ryan Roberts in a non-title affair.
Despite his lack of activity, the 135-pound technician was in top form.
Makovsky easily snared a leg to wrest Roberts to the floor almost immediately, firing up his uncanny guard-passing skills to advance to side control.
Roberts was crafty in locking up Makovsky's head with the leg-scissor position, eventually getting back up.
"Fun Size" proved to be a load on the feet as well, cracking Roberts with stiff punches before repeating the previous sequence of landing a takedown on a Roberts kick.
This time the slick top-player slithered all the way to north-south where he secured the choke in the waning seconds of the round.
The submission victory keeps Makovsky undefeated in Bellator and stretches his streak to eight in a row. He'll await the outcome of the stacked bantamweight tournament, the semifinals of which are slated for Bellator 55 next weekend.
Nazare, a BJJ world champion unbeaten after ten outings, looked sharp in the first with a nice sprawl and sweep from the bottom to counter Kirwan's takedown prowess.
Though Kirwan nailed a double leg to close out the first, Nazare had opened up a cut and seemed to be holding his own.
That changed in the last two frames.
Kirwan timed his level drop on a Nazare kick and shifted the tide, scoring two takedowns in the second. Though he didn't mount much offense from the top, he did contain Nazare, preventing submission attempts and pursuing a few of his own.
Nazare put Kirwan on his back late but didn't have enough time to implement anything of significance.
The third saw more top control from Kirwan but with more activity, knifing down ground-and-pound to the head and body and passing to half and even side control briefly.
One judge saw all three for Kirwan while two gave Nazare the first round, resulting in a unanimous decision and a commanding first showing. Two of Kirwan's three losses are to respectable opposition in Bellator's Marcos Galvao and the UFC's Jim Hettes, so the new acquisition bears promise for the future.
After some jousting on the feet for the first two minutes, Carpenter keyed into Contaldi's habit of dropping his head and tagged him with a short uppercut.
Though Contaldi dropped like a stone, he appeared to be lucid and had his hands up, but no follow up blows were allowed by the referee, who halted the fight immediately.
Full Bellator 54 Results:
Alexander Shlemenko defeats Brian Rogers by TKO in Round 2
Vitor Vianna defeats Bryan Baker by TKO in Round 1
Zack Makovsky defeats Ryan Roberts by submission in Round 1
Jacob Kirwan defeats Rene Nazare by unanimous decision
Tim Carpenter defeats Ryan Contaldi by TKO in Round 1
Joey Kirwan defeats Lewis Rumsey by submission in Round 1
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com