"I'm still asking myself what I just watched. I doubt I am alone." -Former Bloody Elbow Editor-in-Chief Luke Thomas
Bellator 138 has come and gone, and in it’s wake we're left scratching our heads possibly even more than before this whole thing happened. Scott Coker took us further away from mainstream MMA as we know it, and towards something much… stranger. They're offering a different product altogether at this point, and last night blurred the lines between sport and spectacle more than we’d seen before. The fact that they put a non-title fight in the main event slot over a long time champion speaks volumes, but who could blame them? For all the jokes made at Ken Shamrock’s expense, he really has become one of the most enduring names in the sport, albeit at the cost of also being a hugely cautionary tale. As for Kimbo Slice, or Kevin Ferguson should we drop the stage name, he may be the only person that could hold his own in quasi-pseudo-name-value opposite Shamrock. Tons of my friends knew about the fight, and when asked about it, it was most commonly referred to as "the Kimbo fight." The event had enough projected viewership that the UFC themselves even invested in some commercial time during the program.
When doing staff picks, Zane Simon made a joke of how many words folks were actually writing about these fights. I messaged him, agreeing, telling him I thought it was funny, and I myself didn't participate in the picks. I wasn't planning on watching it live, let alone analyzing and breaking it down, piece by bizarre and hypnotizing piece. But here I am, and here it goes...
The night begins with a nice Michael Chandler showcase match, as his opponent Derek Campos is credible enough for it to not be a squash match. Chandler dismantles him with ease though, delivering a flawless victory for his hometown and reminding us all once again that he is not just a wrestler.
Daniel Strauss is next. He and his opponent Henry Corrales trade barbs in the pre fight segment. Corrales says he’s coming in with a chip on his shoulder. Strauss reminds him that he one time had to cut off all his dreads to make weight, and that he’s still pissed about that shit. Just kidding about that last part, but Strauss says his shoulder is also not chipless.
We realize shortly into the fight just what Strauss had warned us, that a 12-0 record does not mean much when forced into a sudden, steep rise in competition. Corrales is afforded the opportunity to fight on a platform with huge viewership only because of who he is fighting, and it shows from the first few seconds who is there to win. Strauss has his way with him, before confusingly taking a break in the middle of a first round fight-ending TKO fury. Playing with his food a bit before he eats it perhaps, but he goes on to scrape his plate in the second.
The production continues at a decent pace, enough for them to squeeze in matches from earlier in the night. The first to be shown is Justin Lawrence vs. Sean Wilson. I didn’t even realize Lawrence was still competing. Turns out he has strung together three wins since his UFC release, and is working his way back up. As a fighter, you hear of training stories about other fighters, usually when they kick everyone’s ass in the gym. Justin Lawrence is one of these. I heard once that Justin was one of very few MMA fighters getting paid to do specialized sparring at a certain MMA camp. I heard stories from folks on The Ultimate Fighter 15, of Dominic Cruz having to put in fresh guy after fresh guy in order to offer Lawrence any challenge at all. He always reminded me of Chris Horodecki, but better. Anyway, he beats up Sean Wilson, it’s exciting, fight over.
We see lots of commercials of Jake Gyllenhaal in an orthodox stance advertising a film named Southpaw. My guess is the namesake hails from the antagonist in the story, rather than Gyllenhaal’s. One can hope. We see King Mo, Chandler, and McGeary, visiting a children’s hospital. I like stuff like this, segments humanizing fighters, and it’s nice that they sacrificed commercial time to fit this in.
We pan back to the fights, and show Bellator’s growing collection of MMA personalities not attached to Zuffa. Fedor looks like he has been drinking Russian vodka and wants no part of a camera. Fans take pictures with Herschel Walker. Will Brooks shoots t-shirts out of a cannon. We hear about a bearded man with the best entrances in an MMA fight as if Tom Lawlor doesn’t exist. Royce makes an appearance. That would be another money matchup with Shamrock, eh? Speaking of Ken, he is now on camera backstage in the locker room, warming up as if you’d might expect a 51 year old to warm up, in slow motion.
Bobby Lashley is up next. Before they get in the cage, Lashley’s opponent Dan Charles calls Bobby an "old lion." Bobby no like being called old lion. In the most unsurprising, foregone conclusion of the night, Bobby wrestlefucks and beats on his opponent until it becomes apparent that the "anything can happen in an MMA fight" defense probably doesn’t apply for Dan in this fight, and he won’t be providing much more resistance than an occasional cage grab. Dan has now got a giant guy behind him kneeing the shit out of his legs in between suplexes, as well as another giant guy in the cage with him, yelling at him about something he may or may not do in the near future to avoid catching any more airtime than he’s already gathered. Poor guy couldn’t catch a break; shitty night for the self proclaimed "new lion."
I met Bobby at a local show once, and he was so surprisingly nice, he struck me as shy and boyish almost. He is a very likable guy, as some noted after his post fight speech, and I’d like to see his continued success, but there’s no reason to think that it will come in any other form than the one in which we saw in this bout. His body style will never be suited for anything else, and frankly I was surprised that he had as much gas as he did in the second round. If he could make some progress on his ground striking I think he really could pose threats for many heavyweights , but until then it may just be the same few takedowns and safe striking, over and over, or pressing the same three buttons on a video game, as Tim put it.
Next up is Pitbull defending his title against Daniel Weichel. For all of the forced storyline surrounding this card, it was refreshing to have the most dramatic moment of the night come from sport rather than spectacle. Organic drama is the best drama. Weichel had all but won the fight in the final moments of round one, in about as close as you can get to defeating an opponent without actually winning. The magic moment to follow was the culmination of Pitbull’s tenacity and some excellent refereeing, as Pitbull comes back in the second round to brutally KO his opponent. It, to me, was reminiscent of the Romero-Kennedy fight, in which we had one fighter think that he had won the fight, only to come back and get quickly finished in the opening frames of the next round. Poetic maybe, that John McCarthy was also refereeing in that fight, in what I don’t consider to be one of his finer moments.
Next up we see TUF 17 teammate Adam Cella in a match from earlier in the evening. He hands the guy his ass for two rounds, right before also handing him his arm to lose the fight with less than a minute left in the round. Adam won his fight to get into The Ultimate Fighter with an armbar that he always joked that he pulled out of his ass, and perhaps this was the Fight Gods making things right in the world. Either way, he looked amazing leading up to the submission, and he’s got me excited about his fighting career again.
We cut next to the Coker announcement. The "announcement" has already been announced earlier in the day, when they announced a four man tournament, and some other stuff. See how many times I used "announce" there? That’s how many times Coker uses the word "event" in about 1.5 seconds when handed the microphone. Coker has always seemed collected on camera; he looks unusually frazzled here. He welcomes two fighters into the arena, McGreary and Ortiz, forgetting to mention that this is for the light heavyweight championship of his own promotion. Jimmy Smith picks up the slack, and both fighters walk in.
British guy talking, Tito talking, British guy looking at Tito like he’s a nut when Tito says he’s bringing the belt back to America. McGreary trains in New York. Tito says something about making McGreary famous... What? They continue talking in the background, and we finally find out what may be eating at Scott Coker.
He reveals a four man tournament, and three men walkout. Where the fuck is Phil Davis, the fourth participant, and highest profile fighter in the tournament? Well, Mr. Wonderful himself was admittedly taking a dump, and I imagine this will remain the funniest thing that has happened at a Bellator event until Bellator 139.
Finally, the main event, right after 10 more minutes of video to make sure we’re really ready and excited for this thing. Kimbo assures us it doesn’t matter if he has diarrhea, he’s going to win the fight. I would like to shake the hand of the post production guy that decided to include that. We see Shamrock with an unusually short trainer, holding pads at about Kimbo’s chest hairrow level. We see a video of Shamrock sparring without headgear. Yikes. Ken Shamrock has one message to Kimbo: "Don’t tap." Umm...
Ken brings some friends from his pro wrestling days to introduce him. There’s a lip synching opera singer. This is fucking weird. The whole night I've tried to avoid looking up the url on his shirt. I give in. It’s depressing. If that’s the cost of becoming a legend, sign me out.
Kimbo comes out. 305. I live here. There’s street fighting footage being shown on the obnoxiously big screen behind him. I’ve watched that video dozens of times. That video is probably not best suited for national television. I guess that’s what he is billed as though, the street fighting MMA combatant. "Here, have some proof."
Before the fight I think that Ken may really be the one that wants to win. I think he will win. I see Kimbo and change my mind immediately. He walks in the cage and he is more confident than usual, taunting Shamrock from the beginning. They show a list of Ken’s notable finishes as he is introduced. The latest fight on that list is over a decade old. He’s lost eight of his last ten. What was I thinking?
Fight starts. Ken gets a takedown. Scramble, scramble. Ken has Kimbo’s back. He gets his hooks in. He sinks the choke in. The fight is over, right? Right? Wrong. Ken Shamrock, a lifelong grappling martial artist, with 23 submissions in 28 wins, fails to get the submission on a fully flattened out opponent, one who has a forearm directly on his jugular.
The unthinkable happens. Kimbo escapes. One punch, two punch, three punch, floor. The bout is over, with street fighting hero Kimbo Slice victorious. Everyone that was supposed to win wins. The event is covered all over ESPN. The Fight Gods at work again, righting the wrong of Seth Petruzelli’s flicking jab that fell a whole company? I’m not so sure.
Calling a fight a "work" or a "fix" is a bold, dangerous, arguably irresponsible act that more than a few on social media suggested last night. I don’t think that is what happened. I’m just noting that when we are being so forcibly fed storylines that appear to be contrived, the rest is naturally going to seem disingenuous.
Scott Coker is truly great at what he does. He has taken a stale, worn product, and injected life into it like I did not think possible. The show very much had the feel of a Strikeforce card, which is not a bad thing. I think the separation between UFC and Bellator is important, and both parties seem to be doing their best to not be confused with the other. While the UFC continues fighting for legitimacy with uniforms and stringent drug testing, Bellator marches onward into the more experimental, as evidenced by their upcoming kickboxing/MMA hybrid card. My question, is how long will it be before we see a pro wrestling/MMA hybrid card? Will there ever be a time where we seriously have to question whether the outcome of a bout was truly legitimate or not?
And how 'bout that King Tut show?