Bellator 222 featured four main card finishes, with both title fights going the distance. While bantamweight standout Kyoji Horiguchi made history by becoming a two-promotion champion with his win over Darrion Caldwell, Rory MacDonald was able to defend his welterweight title with a decision victory over Neiman Gracie. It wasn’t an overly dominant showing by the Canadian, but he survived multiple submission attempts from Gracie and did enough to get himself across the finish line with his own grappling and wrestling skills, as well as well-timed strikes and spurts of ground-and-pound.
MacDonald certainly seemed in better spirits in his post-fight interview compared to his draw with Jon Fitch, and he performed better than what transpired in April. That said, it’s also hard to see him getting the better of Douglas Lima in the welterweight tournament final. He beat Lima in a grueling battle last year, but I have to think that the Brazilian is the favorite when they do square off again.
More thoughts below:
- Shoutout to women’s flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane for being insightful, humorous, and interesting as the guest analyst for Bellator’s broadcast.
- Lyoto Machida retired Chael Sonnen with an electrifying performance, twice catching Chael with a flying knee. Somehow Sonnen survived the first one, but he was unable to recover the next time he was rocked. Sonnen may have never won a major title, but he was a top fighter at his peak (admittedly aided by illegal substances) and did a hell of a job selling fights and becoming one of the sport’s bigger and more controversial personalities. Whether you thought his act was great or obnoxious — frankly I side with the latter — he did his job damn well for years and became Anderson Silva’s first massive-selling foil. Hopefully Chael stays retired because he’s been taking some beatings lately.
- Dillon Danis overcame the Drake curse and the Eminem walkout song curse to submit +1000 underdog Max Humphrey with a first-round armbar. He improves to 2-0 in his MMA career, and uh... yeah, I doubt he’s getting Rory MacDonald or Jon Jones down the line, despite his call-outs.
- Patrick Mix had a phenomenal debut, submitting Ricky Bandejas with a rear-naked choke in just 66 seconds. The bantamweight turned a takedown attempt into taking the back, locking up a body triangle, and the rest is history. The Jackson-Wink talent is one to watch, as he’s a slick submission specialist who just quickly dispatched a solid opponent.
- Juan Archuleta made a huge statement by knocking out former Bellator bantamweight champ Eduardo Dantas with a monster right hand just before the end of round two. That’s 18 straight victories for him, and he called out Kyoji Horiguchi in a great promo. This was only at 145 lbs because it was short notice, but otherwise Archuleta has a strong case for a title shot. He looked great in there.
- Thankfully, Dantas was able to get up and walk out of the cage under his own power, as that was a scary KO with a violent fall.
- I have no problem with the scorecards for Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Darrion Caldwell. Yes, Caldwell had the control off takedowns and scrambles for much of the fight... but he did almost jack shit outside of round one. Horiguchi basically won three rounds throwing strikes from his back — some with serious intent and others just to stay busy — and offense > lay-and-pray. Caldwell was clearly exhausted from round three onward, and he really only has himself to blame for yet another defeat against the Japanese sensation. Horiguchi is now a two-promotion champion, and he’ll be able to defend both the RIZIN and Bellator titles as part of the deal.
- The most notable part of the preliminary card was Aaron Pico getting knocked out by an Adam Borics flying knee after largely outclassing Borics with his wrestling. All it took was one opportunity for Borics on the feet for Pico to get stopped for a third time in his seven-fight career. That’s a major concern given the damage he’s taken already. He’s not lived up to the hype thus far. Shortly thereafter, Heather Hardy was stopped in round one by Taylor Turner, dropping her to 2-2. It’s not been an easy transition from boxing to MMA for her. Japanese kickboxing star Rena Kubota also suffered a shock loss in her Bellator debut, getting choked unconscious by Lindsey VanZandt.