Bellator 183 is in the books, and it was a pretty fun show. Unfortunately, the main event between Patricky Freire and Ben Henderson was not particularly exciting. Fortunately for Patricky, he was able to get the split decision win in a fight that was destined to have scorecards all over the place. I had it 30-27 for Pitbull on account of Henderson just not doing enough to clearly win any rounds. All three judges and Bellator MMA analyst Jimmy Smith (whom I respect greatly) somehow scored round 2 for Henderson, who wasted more than half the round going for a takedown which he never got. I don’t see that as actual good offense, and he ended up eating a flying knee for his troubles and getting briefly taken down in the final seconds. Henderson’s best moments came off of his thudding body kicks, but I felt Pitbull otherwise was getting in the cleaner shots, particularly with his boxing.
Whatever your scores are, I thought Henderson looked sloppy and largely ineffective. Pitbull’s takedown defense was very impressive and he picked his shots well, admittedly not setting a high-pace himself. He’s definitely in the best form of his career, having now beaten both Josh Thomson and Ben Henderson in consecutive fights. The fact that he got a split nod against Henderson is arguably more amazing than knocking Thomson out, if you consider Henderson’s history of favorable judging. Patricky can’t be that far off from another title fight, even though tonight was neither a thriller nor did it feature a spectacular knockout that Patricky is definitely capable of pulling off.
More thoughts on tonight’s card:
- It’s been a really long time since Paul Daley managed a truly great win against a top welterweight contender, and he scored the upset KO win over Lorenz Larkin in round 2. I didn’t see it live, but evidently Daley clipped Larkin with a spinning backfist just before his trademark left hook put Larkin on queer street. A couple more punches, including another left hook, put Larkin down and out. That’s a really devastating loss for Larkin, who is now 0-2 after leaving the UFC on such a high-note as a top-10 contender. It’s conversely a massive win for Daley, and I have to think Bellator is going to push hard to make the Michael Page fight happen. That was a vintage “Semtex” knockout fans witnessed tonight.
- Roy Nelson’s Bellator debut was a successful one, as he used his wrestling and jiu-jitsu to defeat Javy Ayala in a fairly entertaining bout. Ayala was definitely winning the majority of the striking exchanges, and while Nelson’s chin is always praised for being notoriously sturdy, Ayala showed he could take Nelson’s power punches. What he couldn’t handle were the takedowns, and his ability to get back to his feet went away in round 3, thus costing him the fight. This is the “Big Country” you’re likely to get for the rest of his career. He cannot rely on the right hand to melt opponents anymore, and he’s worse than ever defensively, so at this stage of his career, he’s reminding everyone that he actually comes from a jiu-jitsu background.
- The judge who had it 30-26 for Nelson... yeah, I don’t see a 10-8. Not the first time I’ve taken issue with Wade Vierra.
- Aaron Pico’s MMA debut may have been disastrous given the hype he received as “the greatest prospect in MMA history,” but his second fight was spectacular. Pico walloped Justin Linn with a crushing left hook to pick up his first career win in outstanding fashion. We saw his elite wrestling on display, as well as his fast hands and boxing abilities, but he was a little wild at times and got caught cleanly by Linn on more than one occasion. All that said, he’s still a 21-year-old with huge potential, so ideally he’s going to keep on learning and we’ll see even more convincing performances along the way.
- How will Bellator book Pico from here? Will he be pushed towards higher-end competition at featherweight within these next 12 months? Or will Bellator give him a bit of a slow roll, just so he can build up his highlight reel without taking more of those dangerous Zach Freeman type of matchups? That’ll be fascinating to see, and the matchmaking will go a long way towards determining Pico’s path to the top of the sport.
- Goiti Yamauchi is one hell of a grappler to watch. He put AKA prospect Adam Piccolotti away with a vicious rear-naked choke just over three minutes into round 1. The back take that set up the finish was so slick, as is his great ability to chain different submissions together. This was a big win for the Japanese standout, and he shouldn’t be too far away from a lightweight title shot.
- Spike’s “tentpole” shows are scheduled for three hours, which made for a painful night in terms of event pacing. The first two fights ended quickly, then we got a prelim, and it was just extended stalling to not end the show early. Maybe 2 1⁄2 hours works better. Three hours just makes the card move like molasses.