It feels like the first time in a long time that Bellator was putting together a card that fans cared about. Not only were they kicking off the long-anticipated welterweight grand prix with a rubber match between two former champions in Andrey Koreshkov and Douglas Lima, but the middleweight title contest between Gegard Mousasi and Rory MacDonald went down. Clearly the latter was the more pressing contest as it was not only a title fight, but it was a champion vs. champion fight. In the end, MacDonald fell short in his quest to be the first dual champion in Bellator history as Mousasi dominated.
While the action in the cage went well, it wouldn’t be a Bellator event without something weird going down. No, I’m not talking about the fourth contest between Wanderlei Silva and Rampage Jackson; even though the Senior Circuit contests usually feature plenty of oddities. This time, it was all on the technical side. Here’s the gist of how things went down.
Gegard Mousasi: After a couple of shaky performances upon his arrival in Bellator, Mousasi finally looked like the fighter Bellator thought he was getting. His striking was on point, piecing up MacDonald with jabs and straight rights. When MacDonald opted to take the fight to the ground, Mousasi didn’t have any issues with the change in where the fight took place. He methodically found the mount and beat down the welterweight champion. Outside of a Uriah Hall-like fluke, there doesn’t appear to be anyone on the Bellator roster who can pose a legitimate threat to Mousasi’s title. Mousasi expressed his belief that Rafael Lovato deserves the next shot. While Lovato isn’t a bad choice, does anyone see Mousasi falling to him? Mousasi should reign over the middleweight division as long as he wants.
Rampage Jackson: I know a lot of people are questioning my putting Jackson here. I get it. He’s fat. Guess what? That also means he didn’t have to cut weight, something he has long griped about. Then again, what hasn’t Jackson complained about? Nonetheless, Jackson hurt Wanderlei on several occasions before getting the finish about 30 seconds before the end of the second round to even up their series. Given they are now tied at two wins apiece, the question is whether Scott Coker will try to line up a fifth contest. I may have been entertained by this contest, but I really hope he doesn’t.
Douglas Lima: So his one-sided victory over Koreshkov wasn’t the most exciting contest in the world. It was smart, methodical, and more than enough to pick up him up a victory. In fact, he put the Russian to sleep in the final round to put a stamp on the trilogy between the two. The biggest key – aside from Lima’s low kicks of course – was Lima’s surprisingly stout takedown defense. Lima has always been a dangerous striker. Not that he was ever a dumb fighter, but he’s become one of the most intelligent fighters in the sport.
Aaron Pico: Bellator has been called out for protecting their young prospects for years, Michael Page being the most notable example. They have done no such thing with Pico. In just his fifth professional contest, he was facing a dude in Leandro Higo who was scheduled to compete for the Bellator bantamweight title just last year. Pico just demolished that guy. This is a 22-year old kid who is still young in his career. Calling him the LeBron James of MMA may induce an eye roll, though no one is immediately dismissing the comparison. That in itself should speak volumes about how good this kid is.
Gaston Bolanos: He isn’t a household name yet by any means – at least by MMA standards – but Bolanos has been progressing at a pace that is pleasing to the Bellator brass. Every one of his fights he’s won, he finished well within the distance in impressive fashion. The next step for the Peruvian is to beat an opponent people have heard of. Seriously, who the hell is Ysidro Gutierrez? Regardless, I don’t fault Bellator for taking it slow with the youngster.
Rory MacDonald: Unlike Mousasi, MacDonald’s performances since arriving in Bellator have progressively gotten worse. Then again, his competition has progressively gotten better. Regardless, MacDonald did nothing of significance to make the contest remotely competitive. Used to being the bigger man in the cage, he couldn’t get his jab going. After eating several hard shots to the nose (remembering that MacDoanld’s nose has been badly damaged in previous contests), MacDonald opted to go to the ground. Had he tried utilizing his wrestling, I would have agreed with that strategy. Instead, MacDonald went with… an Imanari roll? Really? Yeah… Mousasi had no problems turning that into an advantage.
Fortunately for MacDonald, he’s still the welterweight champion. Unfortunately for fans, it looks like we might be waiting a while for MacDonald to participate in the welterweight tournament. The two previous occasions he had his nose busted up, he was gone almost a year. If his nose was similarly damaged this time around, we could be waiting until next summer.
Andrey Koreshkov: Remember when Koreshkov looked unstoppable? Plowing through Benson Henderson after taking the belt from Lima in their first contest? While it may have only been two years ago, it feels like a distant memory. Koreshkov looked like a deer in the headlights, afraid to do anything besides clinch up and shoot takedowns. Was his KO loss to Lima from their second contest stuck in his head? Who knows. Regardless, Koreshkov needs a rebound in the worst way.
Leandro Higo: Higo didn’t look bad. He landed some heavy kicks on Pico while looking like he should be able to handle himself at featherweight. But he got trucked by Pico when it came down to it and took a lot of unnecessary damage in the process as Mark Smith was late in stopping the contest. While Higo may not be all that old at 29, he’s been fighting as a pro since 2006. He’s got a lot of miles underneath him and could very well be on the downside of his career.
Mark Smith: It seems there is at least one contest per card where a referee allows the action to go too long. This time, Higo was the victim and Smith was the culprit. Smith isn’t one of the better known referees in the sport at this point, though I’d imagine most who follow the sport closely are at least familiar with him. At this rate, there isn’t going to be a referee left in the sport whom fighters are going to feel comfortable with to protect them.
DAZN: The streaming service didn’t exactly endear itself to fans as many had issues getting the service to come through clean. Given this was the first time it streamed a Bellator show, some bugs would probably be expected. Not to this extent though. It may not have been as catastrophic as the streaming issues produced from McGregor-Mayweather last year, but this wasn’t a good start.
British viewers: Once the time turned to 6:00 AM in the UK, Channel 5 – who was showing the event – cut to regularly scheduled Peppa Pig… right as the main event was getting underway. Many fans tweeted angrily at Channel 5 and Scott Coker. The NFL has the Heidi Game, now MMA has the Peppa Pig Fight.
Wanderlei Silva: Sure, it was a loss. A TKO loss at that. Let’s be fair though. Silva didn’t look as bad as many thought he would. He hurt Jackson a couple of times, proving he can still put on a fun contest… so long as he’s matched up appropriately. Given those factors, most would agree Silva’s stock went up after this contest. There aren’t any future contests I can think of for him in the future, but there’s nobody better at dragging up someone for the Senior Circuit than Coker.
Keri Melendez: A close split decision over a fighter without a single professional contest isn’t what the Bellator brass had in mind when they pit her against Dakota Zimmerman. Melendez showed a weak ground game as Zimmerman’s triangle attempt in the first round should have been avoidable. Melendez secured finishes in her two previous MMA contests and picked them up in a hurry. Either Zimmerman is a lot better than we all believed or Melendez isn’t what we thought she was. Most likely, it’s a combination of both. Nonetheless, she walked out with a win, preventing the night from being a disaster.
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