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Fight Festival 31: Kenny Robertson KO's Lucio Linhares, Marcus Vanttinen Announces Bellator Deal

Ff31p_mediumThis is a guest post by Joona Pylkäs from Beatings from the North. Keep an eye out for more updates on the Scandinavian and European mixed martial arts scenes from Joona in the future.

Fight Festival 31 offered a long and entertaining night for the fight fans on October 1st at the Töölö Sports Hall in Helsinki, Finland. Even though most of the fights on the card went to distance, the night was filled with exciting back-and-forth battles between evenly matched fighters.

In the main event of the evening, UFC veterans Lucio Linhares and Kenny Robertson were hunting for their ticket back to the biggest show on the planet. Early in the first round, Robertson landed a heavy right on the jaw of Linhares, but the Brazilian-born Finn pressed forward with punches. Linhares was able to crack Robertson with couple shots of his own before the American countered with takedowns.

In the closing seconds of the first round when the fighters broke off from the clinch, Robertson exploded with a spinning back fist that landed clean and knocked Linhares out cold. A spectacular win for the high school teacher from Illinois whom we'll probably see back in the UFC soon.

In the co-main event, Finnish lightweight powerhouse Niko Puhakka took on experienced Xtreme Couture team member John Gunderson. Gunderson started strong, landing a quick combination and taking Puhakka down where he was able to take the Finn's back. Puhakka kept his calm and defended well.

In the second round, the momentum switched to Puhakka's side as he was able to get dominant position on the ground and land strikes. Puhakka also had Gunderson in a very tight anaconda choke, but the American did a great job at defending.

Puhakka was able to set the pace as Gunderson begun to fade away in the third. After three rounds of grueling ground fighting, the judges awarded Puhakka with an unanimous decision. This was probably Puhakka's biggest win of his career, so it'll be interesting to see where his next fight will take place.

Rest of the recap and results after the fold...

In the light heavyweight action, top Finnish prospect Marcus "Caveman" Vänttinen dominated France's Malid Merak. Vänttinen was clearly the stronger fighter and took his opponent down easily from the clinch. On the ground, the long-limbed Frenchman quickly tried to apply a kimura on Vänttinen, but the Finn tucked his hand deep and punished Merak for the rest of the round.

In the second, Vänttinen again took his opponent down from the clinch and started raining down elbows and punches. Eventually, Vänttinen moved to mount and hit Merak with couple of brutal elbows that cut and possibly broke something in Merak's face, leaving him no choice but to tap.

In the post-fight interview, Vänttinen announced that he had signed with the Bellator and will participate in the promotion's light heavyweight tournament that starts in early 2012. Excellent news for the talented young Finn, and also for the entire Finnish MMA scene. It has historically had trouble getting its top fighters into major promotions.

Finland's JP Vainikainen and American Steve Lopez fought to a draw in an exciting lightweight bout. Lopez scored points early by taking Vainikainen down and spinning to his back, but the young Finn defended skillfully. In the second and third rounds, Vainikainen was able to hit Lopez with heavy shots and the American was in survival mode for latter part of the fight.

With a few seconds left in the fight, Lopez broke the rules by upkicking a grounded Vainikainen from the bottom and received a yellow card from the ref. The fight was scored as a draw, a controversial outcome considering Lopez's yellow card. After the fight, Vainikainen's team issued an official protest about the decision. The protest was then processed by the Finnish MMA Federation's jury (five judges) who re-evaluated the fight under FMMAF rules. The jury decided that Vainikainen won the fight based on effective striking, aggression and the point deduction to Lopez.

Another controversial draw decision was ruled in a welterweight fight between Bellator signee Janne Tulirinta and France's Sebastien Garguier. The fight was true slugfest in which both fighters were landing heavy shots on the feet without backing up an inch. The Frenchman got the better of the striking exchange after Tulirinta, who had been sick the week before the fight, began to gas out. The majority of the crowd seemed to think that Garguier won the fight, but the judges thought otherwise, concluding the fight was a draw.

Finnish featherweight prospect Joni Salovaara extended his winning streak to seven consecutive wins by beating American Jeremy Pender. Salovaara got the better of the striking on the feet and scored numerous takedowns. In the third round, Salovaara cracked Pender with a shattering shot and finished the job on the floor with strikes. Salovaara, currently at ranked 10th on the European featherweight top ten, has improved by leaps and bounds during the last two years. It will be interesting to see if he gets matched up with a big name 145'er for his next fight.

Fight Festival 31 Results:
Catchweight 80 kg / 178 Lbs: Kenny Robertson def. Lucio Linhares via KO (spinning back fist), Round 1.
Lightweight: Niko Puhakka def. John Gunderson via unanimous decision.
Light Heavyweight: Marcus "Caveman" Vänttinen def. Malid Merak via TKO, Round 2.
Welterweight: Janne Tulirinta draws Sebastien Garguier 
Lightweight: Juha-Pekka Vainikainen draws Steve Lopez 
Featherweight: Joni Salovaara def. Jeremy Pender via TKO, Round 3.
Bantamweight: Janne Elonen-Kulmala def. Donatas Karlonas via unanimous decision.
Bantamweight: Mikael Silander def. Perttu Paatola via unanimous decision.