Bellator 145 begins with an English lesson.
Vengeance, we are told, is retribution exacted for a wrong, and three of these mofos need it tonight.
I’m watching with an unusual lack of skepticalness, considering the promotion’s recent televised outings. Most of tonight’s scheduled bouts have an element of competitiveness, and a few have an actual seat at the table of deciding what the landscape of the sport’s elite looks like.
We are outside the Scottrade Center, and it begins. With a vengeance.
Justin Lawrence kicks off the televised portion against Emmanuel Sanchez, who is mean mugging as soon as the camera pans to him. Lawrence with a shuffle step dance during introductions, and we are off.
Fireworks as the first round begins. Lawrence with fast one-twos, flashy kicks, and even a couple attempts at some Sweet Chin Music. The pace of the bout slows after a few exchanges, as Lawrence becomes content to move backwards as he looks for counters.
I tune in every time I see Lawrence on a card, hoping to see something special, and every time I’m left wanting more. To me, if there is one glaring example of how high level striking competition doesn’t always translate to stand up dominance in MMA, it’s Justin Lawrence. Sanchez, a Roufusport Academy student, is as equipped as any to stifle Lawrence’s offense, and even drops the kickboxing prodigy with a right high kick at the end of the second. We see a close fight go to the judges after an entertaining 15 minutes, and Sanchez wins a split decision that could have gone either way.
We see Kurt Angle sitting cageside with Jimmy Smith and Sean Grande now. They’re teasing viewers at home who are hoping to hear news of the wrestler’s debut in the promotion.
In the next bout we have a wrestler who has already made the switch, as Bobby Lashley attempts to settle the score against James Thompson, who took a split decision last time the two met. I wouldn't have remembered a first fight had I not just been told about it. They’re running a pre-fight promo with no narration, instead choosing captions to tell the story on screen. Maybe the narrator wasn’t available.
I’m heading to Sherdog now, and find two interesting realizations: Thompson hasn’t lost a fight in five years and six fights, and Bobby Lashley is 39 years old. Maybe this won’t be as one sided as I thought?
Takedown, face smash, face smash, fight over.
We learn afterwards that Thompson blew his knee in the first round. I’d be willing to bet he had that injury before the fight.
Speaking of Thomsons ("p" removed), Josh is on screen now. It’s just as strange seeing him on a Bellator production as it was Phil Davis. I suspect that will subside as more make the switch.
David Rickels is on screen now, pimping an Onnit hat and a leopard skin sportcoat. Chandler is being polite, Rickels defiant. His defiance is short lived, as Chandler reminds him who he’s in the cage with as soon as the fight starts. Rickels puts up a tough fight, but is thoroughly outclassed. The former champion’s wrestling looks to be the deciding factor, and he chains it together well with submission attempts and ground & pound to get a stoppage halfway through the second round. I count 10 Monster Energy Drink logos as Chandler asks for a fight with the winner of the lightweight title. I imagine he’ll get it.
Commercials, commercials, then bam! Bellator announcement. This is what I’ve been waiting for all night. Probably not because of what they’re announcing, but because of the hilarious execution. There are few things in MMA that we know for certain are going to be good for a laugh, and Bellator’s staged announcements are on the top of the list.
I’m convinced Sakakibara has nude photos of Spike execs, because he is the worst English attempting person to ever be given so much microphone time on US television. He cuts a promo that will never be used, and is joined in the cage by Gabi Garcia, King Mo, Babalu, another very large woman, and what appears to be one of the goons from the WAMMA (or M1?) days.
Gabi and giant lady (her name is Lei’d Tapa) do a faceoff, cutting a promo as effective as Sakakibara’s, before King Mo does his best Sholler impersonation. King Mozilla is handed a giant check that says "tournament qualifier." He looks unsure of what to do with it. Announcement over. That couldn’t have been all.
Will Brooks and Marcin Held are onscreen now, showing highlights of Brooks’ dominance, and video of Held’s various footholds. The leadup to this fight was mild, but provided context as to what to expect.
The walkouts for the event really are great. I enjoy the big show feel, with large fighter poses on each side of the catwalk. The OCD in me wishes the font to be uniform though.
Walkouts done, bell rings, suspense ensues. Jimmy’s "keys to victory" prompt Brooks to stay off the ground. Will Brooks never got that memo. He spends the first round on his butt, looking disinterested, before spending the following 20 minutes risking his world title as he rebelled against the notion that BJJ specialists should be avoided on the mat.
Takedown after takedown we see Brooks engage with Held in the Polish combatant’s area of expertise, and it really is impressive stuff. Commentator Sean Grande nails it here. "If you’re a fan of Will Brooks, this has been a white knuckle fight." I didn’t even enter the fight a Will Brooks fan, and it’s been a white knuckle affair. I'm becoming a Will Brooks fan with each passing minute. Championship level grappling, and the story to me here is the potency of Brooks’ composure in the face of limb destruction.
Afterwards we hear the champion injured his knee early, which explains the curious strategy. It’s nice to see in fight adaptations being made, and Brooks retains his belt because of it.
Coker is on screen now. I knew there had to be more.
We’re going to find out who Fedor is fighting, finally. Right?
Instead, we’re introduced to the co-main event of Bellator 149:
Kimbo Slice and Dada 5000.
While I imagine the cast of Dawg Fight in Miami going nuts, the crowd in St. Louis gives zero fucks. The silence is echoing, and if there was a noise, it would be the sound of confusion. The bout will no doubt go down as a tactical battle for the ages.
Angle is out now. I knew he’d be back. Shamrock is next to him. It can’t be this easy. Ken is feigning surprise, smiling. Something else is coming.
"Ken Shamrock the legend vs..."
Don’t do it. Don’t do it.
They did it.
Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie. Jesus. All the same age, those three.
Ken goes for hand shake. Royce opts for fist bump. This is painful to watch. I’m sad that I was excited for this. I hide my shame by fast-forwarding to the next fight.
I press play in time to see Straus watching video of his last fight with Pitbull.
"He bout to get smashed. I’m bout to beat Pitbull’s ass. Flat out."
I have to admit he’s convincing.
The fight begins and Patricio is moving much. Straus is doing a great job taking small steps, always facing him. Open stance, takedowns to flying knee. Good action as we head past the first round. Straus starts finding a home for his left in the second, and stuns Pitbull several times. Patricio as a very sleepy look in his eye. FINISH HIM. Straus is over committing now looking for the end. Pitbull’s chin proves to be too tough.
Commercial break, and we are donned with the awesomeness that is Bellator 149 poster. Gracie has a gi on. Kimbo has a do-rag on. Shamrock is wearing some facial surgeries. And Dada has.. a sledgehammer..? Wtf.
We come back to see Strauss slowing down. He’s shaking out his left hand now, and he’s been throwing it hard enough to have broken it several times over. He’s resorting to elbows and backfists, and has almost certainly broken his hand. The fourth round ends, and I’m no longer convinced he’ll be getting the W.
Five more minutes with Patricio Freire coming after you is a long time. While another come from behind story would be compelling stuff, I’m rooting for Straus here. I yell at my TV for him to move away from the cage as he gets battered the whole end of the fifth round. He makes it to the final bell, and I think he’s done enough to win.
I’m watching on a delay and my DVR cuts out at the exact moment the broadcast comes back. Bernie Sanders is now talking to Rachel Maddow on my screen. G'damn it.
I’ve been avoiding internet and social media all night to enjoy the fights, and I’m now having to resort back to it for main event results. It’s a bit anticlimactic, but Straus takes the win, and I’m left feeling satisfied. Sort of.
Digesting Bellator’s plans moving forward is kind of tough, because it can’t help but feel like they’re moving backwards at times. Chasing nostalgia has proved to work well for them on some fronts, while falling flat as can be in others.
The announcements were a letdown, for more reasons than one. What will be Bellator 149 may irk me for no reason more than the fact that I’m the go-to for my friends that are casual MMA fans. Fighting is a conversation piece for acquaintances and strangers to icebreak with. And when stuff like this is in the headlines, I spend the next two months explaining what a Dada 5000 is. Yes, friend, I know it sounds like a weapon out of a video game. No, friend, he’s actually a fighter co-headlining what may be one of the most watched cards on TV.
Don’t get me wrong. I like this for the fighters. I love seeing guys and gals in the sport get the chance to compete on such a huge stage, and there’s a part of me that enjoys seeing living legends getting a chance to do what they love to do, what they’re known for doing. But there is still a guilt in watching it. Having Royce and Shamrock headline an event just feels.. Cheap. Leading into it with Kevin Ferguson and Dhafir Harris serves as a multiplier to the weirdness.
If bouts like Shamrock/Gracie and Kimbo/Dada are used in conjunction to draw attraction to legitimate fights like there were tonight, then have at it. What I’m not a fan of is the alternating back and forth between meaningful cards, and ones that could be mistaken for pro wrestling events. It perpetuates confusion in the fans, and doesn’t do justice to the actual champions that they do have.
The sentiment is best summed up with a text message I receive from a friend who is watching at home.