Bellator’s sophomore venture into pay-per-view territory had tremendous ambition, and it brought together an impressive amount and variety of talent. The online prelims and the televised portion on Spike delivered very heavily on action aside from the light heavyweight title fight. Then it was followed by a very strange collection of bouts, or fights that were perfectly fine but with odd circumstances surrounding them.
And truth be told, this really felt like a major event. Their first event in New York took place in the heart of New York City at the world’s most famous arena. They pulled out all the stops to make sure that the event felt historic and grand. In return it actually accomplished the very difficult task of bumping any and all discussion of Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor to the backburner for a bit.
Bellator - The success of the event in terms of buyrates can’t be predicted now. The attendance numbers were impressive, and viewership for the online and televised portions have yet to be tallied. But the one thing that has been made clear is that this was the biggest push to break out of the old Bellator mold. Does this mean that everything has changed and will now be perfect? Absolutely not, but they’ve built something and it has led to the kind of positive PR you just can’t buy. Much like the UFC’s first NYC event, we can’t expect future efforts to be massive cards stocked with star power like this one. Yet it was impressive to see that it all came together without a hitch. The only fights that fell apart were Ryan Bader vs Muhammad Lawal and Keri Anne Melendez vs Sadee Williams. Think about that. Bader got bumped up to a title fight and the Melendez fight gets pushed for a later date. That’s not the worst set of outcomes. They ended up with ten finishes on a 14-fight card. Also, let’s discuss how they’ve built this card...
Bellator Undercard fighters - These fighters from New York and the New Jersey scene absolutely killed it on the prelims. Hugh McKenna with the quick sub, Matthew Rizzo with the funky grapplefest against Sergio da Silva, the brutal bout between Nate Grebb and Bradley Desir and the crazy fun of Jerome Mickle fighting Anthony Giacchina - all were really fun fights to watch, and all had some serious talent involved. They set the tone early for a big night of fights and kept the rabid crowd satisfied.
Matt Mitrione - When Mitrione and Emelianenko both hit the ground I thought for a split second that it was a double knockout. Would have been wild, huh? But Mitrione somehow sprung back up and pounced on Fedor, leading to a sequence where he put him out cold. We mentioned on our preview that it was a matter of who connected first, and it turns out they both did. Matt just had a quicker recovery. Mitrione did a stellar job of recovering to earn that win, and finished one of the greatest to ever do it in the process. He had the crowd eating out of his hand after that fight, and Bellator seems primed on capitalizing on him.
James Gallagher - Call him whatever you want - arrogant, ostentatious, a McGregor wannabe, etc. The kid is for real, and he’s absolutely fearless. Gallagher got the kind of treatment from the crowd that heroes get. Making relatively short work of a Machida and finishing with a submission may not be career-changing, but it’s a signal that he’s poised for bigger things. Taking on a fighter twice your age that has been a martial artist since infancy is actually impressive. He showed he has some star power of his own and could make big waves for Bellator in the future.
Zach Freeman - This man came into a torrent of boos and got an absurd amount of fanfare after the win. He was obviously brought in as a test for a debuting fighter and was the night’s most pleasant surprise. After stunning Pico with the uppercut, he slapped on the submission and didn’t let go. He’s been funny, odd, charming and engaging with everyone in the lead up to the fight, and he could really be an asset for Bellator as well. He’s not a very powerful striker, and his game is all in the orbit of his Jiu-Jitsu. That’s fine, though. He can still win fights and do impressive things, and with Coker’s penchant for characters, he should realize he’s got something good on his hands.
Heather Hardy - I thought that there was a very real possibility she could have been behind on the scorecards, given the unpredictability of judging and Yauger’s stiff knees. After she let it all hang loose late in the third, it was a marvel to watch. First, she knocks Yauger down and refuses to follow her to the ground. She stands and waits, then brutalizes her against the cage for the late stoppage. Another fighter that charmed fans and media backstage alike, Hardy makes a big splash with this win. She wants to continue boxing as well as doing MMA, so we’ll see where this goes.
Brent Primus - Primus really knew how to maximize this chances at winning with leg kicks and was smart about them during the fight. It wasn’t just a random injury, Primus set things up and made it happen, and it’s not his fault that a lot of people would rather see a more decisive outcome. He seems open to the idea of a rematch and has some options as to who to fight. Congratulations to him. And on the flip side of that...
Michael Chandler - First, it was hard to watch him eat one leg kick after another and hobble around the cage. But it was worse when the doctors checked his leg and he stood up to rally for a return to action only to fall on his butt. Yet something happened there: he became a darling to the crowd. The audience cheered harder for Chandler after he had his leg checked out than when he came out to the cage. Yes, Chandler lost on paper. Yet he got so much respect and popularity that it overshadowed that by a tremendous margin. Not only that, he gains something new in the process: a rival. Primus in a rematch would be excellent for both of them and for Bellator as well. His stock goes up not because of the fight itself, but how he handled the aftermath and what the picture looks like for both men.
Douglas Lima - Still surprised Lima didn’t knock out Larkin with that brutal punch. That fight had a lot of calculation, a ton of technique and two guys that didn’t want to make a mistake. Not for everyone, but not a bad fight.
Ryan Bader - His boxing got the job done, his takedown defense was excellent and he scored some takedowns of his own. Again, not for everyone, but that’s the fight game. Bader and Davis are always going to look like this, so let’s make peace with it. Bader finally climbs the mountaintop and has a championship to his name. Ben Kohn is definitely proud.
Neiman Gracie - He wasn’t supposed to be on the PPV, but he ended up there anyway and did very well. He keeps his undefeated record intact against a larger hard hitter, giving him more cage time and experience to move up in his career.
Fedor Emelianenko - The best thing we can say about this fight was that at least it was quick. It wasn’t some prolonged beating where Fedor takes a terrible amount of damage. At the same time, I still worry about his willingness to continue to go out and face such heavy hitters at this point. He has nothing to prove and his status as greatest heavyweight ever or at least of his era remains unchallenged. Why do we insist on this? He should retire. Plain and simple. Grow older, nurture your family and contribute to the sport in other ways.
Wanderlei Silva - Yeah. You’re thinking “surely we can’t be too hard on someone that hasn’t fought in four years....“ Oh, yes. Yes, we totally can. Silva had no answer for Chael’s takedowns, which is acceptable given that Sonnen is very good at them. Silva couldn’t do anything from bottom end of side control and the crowd heckling Tito got more attention than the fight itself. I mentioned in the Vivisection and staff predictions that we had already seen this fight on TUF Brazil, and I hate the fact that I was mostly right about it. At least it was only three rounds.
Aaron Pico - Pico has been wrestling and boxing since childhood, and had Eddie Bravo and Bob Cook in his corner. He truly can be the future of this sport, and it may seem harsh to lump him in here. But if it’s true he asked for an experienced opponent, that’s the mistake that lands him here. I feel bad for the next guy he faces, and he’s smart enough to know to keep his head down and learn from this.
Chinzo Machida looked rather lost on the ground after a bit. He’s admitted he’s got other things that take priority over his MMA career right now, so that may require some attention.
New York Audiences - People were impatient and rude at the slightest hint of inactivity. Wanna watch guys that just throw hands? Save yourself the money, stay home and watch LiveLeak videos from Eastern Europe.
Chael Sonnen - Meh. He won, sure. He even admitted after the fight that he had to win because at some point all of the witty banter will get stale if there’s nothing to back it up. It wasn’t a fun fight save for some good shots Wanderlei landed, but none of the fireworks that were promised went off. He didn’t even seem to have put the promotional muscle he can bring into overdrive. It is what it is. This doesn’t do much else but put him just above water.
Phil Davis - Yes, we also had seen this fight take place. He fights ugly. It happens. Punisher Bass had it right - together Davis and Bader are like peanut butter and motor oil. Other than Linton Vassell, I see very few contenders for the next shot. Davis could easily rebound and get another crack at Bader. Not comforting, but whatever.
Lorenz Larkin - Lima was the better fighter, and Larkin is still a top fighter. Much like Davis, it won’t take much for him to get another shot at the belt. He was tough and couldn’t establish the kind of pace he prefers, and he’ll be back to fight another day.
Haim Gozali - He ran out of gas, but he kept going. As a guy in his 40s with little name recognition, he knew he wasn’t the favorite here. He aimed at moving up and fell short. It’s not the worst thing that can happen, and he may stick around to get another shot in Bellator.
Alice Yauger - Yauger is another one that knew people expected her to get steamrolled. She made sure that didn’t happen by throwing Hardy off her rhythm and making the most of her clinch game. She got beat at the end, but did far better than many expected her to, myself included.