This past Friday featured possibly the biggest main event in Bellator history, matching up the two biggest lightweight fighters outside the UFC in a fight with very real implications not just for Bellator, but also for the lightweight division itself.
So it’s a shame that the fight itself was something of a disappointment. In less than 3 minutes, Eddie Alvarez avenged a 2008 loss to Japanese submission expert Shinya Aoki in devastating fashion.
It was a signature win for Alvarez, but it wasn’t exactly the clash of titans that some fans were expecting.
Now, I’m not one of those fans who blames fighters every time a fight doesn’t live up to expectations. With some exceptions (looking at you, Mr. Starnes) I usually chalk that sort of thing up to the randomness of the game. As Gus Johnson once famously said, “these things happen in MMA.”
But there is undeniably a bad taste left in one’s mouth when a glaring fighter error is the reason for a fight ending unsatisfyingly.
As expected, Aoki began the contest by lunging for Alvarez’s legs, looking to drag the former Bellator lightweight champion into his world on the mat. That didn’t work, so Aoki decided to throw a strange elbow strike with no setup. Alvarez countered with an uppercut that stunned Aoki, then followed up with a vicious barrage of strikes to force the stoppage at 2:14 of the first round.
It was a great, confidence inspiring win for Alvarez, coming off the surprise loss of his lightweight title to Mike Chandler in his last outing. This should also translate into a big win for Bellator, for whom the Philadelphia-based brawler has always been a staple, but not so. Post-fight, the talk turned to the inevitable offer that is likely coming Eddie’s way from the UFC, and if Bellator is interested in matching said offer.
This is the nightmare scenario for Bellator that I discussed when this fight was first announced. The UFC is adept at booking fights that they “win” from a promotional standpoint no matter who wins, something Bellator seemingly did not do here. Now with this fight, they’ve given their biggest homegrown star more bargaining power in contract negotiations, while gaining (if they even have) a very damaged brand in Shinya Aoki.
This was also a disappointing showing for Aoki, who was showing such promise and evolution in his game since moving to Evolve MMA in Singapore. Aoki was riding a 7-fight winning streak coming into this fight, and a win here would have likely launched him back into the ranks of MMA’s elite lightweights, a pasture he’s been absent from since the crushing Gilbert Melendez loss in Strikeforce.
Now there will be many a fan who will write off Aoki as being too one-dimensional to compete at the highest levels in MMA. They may, sadly, be right.
Speaking of Strikeforce, Friday’s event was also marred by an in-cage brawl slightly reminiscent of the famous Diaz bros/”Mayhem” scrum.
In an exciting middleweight semi-final tilt, Andreas Sprang came back from the brink of defeat to floor Brian Rogers halfway through the second round. That should have been the headline, but instead, most folks were talking about the impromptu match that erupted between Sprang and the night’s other middleweight winner, Maiquel Falcao, during the post-fight interview.
Normally, this is the stuff of promoter’s dreams. But judging by crowd reaction, most folks weren’t too happy with Sprang’s display of poor sportsmanship. Sprang will face disciplinary action from the Ohio State Athletic Commission for his actions, owning to the fact that he shoved Rogers at the weigh-ins the day before.
You’d think the act of being in an absolute war of a fight would ease the anger out of just about anyone. I guess that’s not true in Andreas Sprang’s case.
For his part, Falcao looked highly impressive in his middleweight semifinal, overcoming plenty of adversity in a close fight against previously undefeated Vyacheslav Vasilevsky. This fight was as back and forth as it gets, with both guys turning in some gutsy performances. In the end, the judges saw it for Falcao, a UFC veteran who advances to his first Bellator tournament final.
In a highly-anticipated lightweight tournament semifinal, Rick Hawn stopped Lloyd Woodard with a stinging right hand and solid gameplanning.
Ignoring Woodard’s attempts to goad him into a brawl, Hawn employed a Randy Couture-esque strategy of clinch work against the cage for much of the first round. The Olympic Judoka took down Woodard at one point, but couldn’t do much with the takedown. The same was true of a Woodard sweep towards the end of the round.
Ten seconds into the second round, Hawn switched things up in a major way. With Woodard charging forward with a knee, Hawk uncorked a right hand bomb that immediately laid Woodard cold and stopped the fight. It marks the second time Rick Hawn has advanced to the finals of a Bellator tournament.
He’ll face off against Brent Weedman, who squeezed past Thiago Michel in the opening bout of the night in large part thanks to his wrestling and takedowns. This fight was ugly, but it showcased the more versatile game of Weedman, who used the threat of the takedown to pressure Michel and survive some adversity in the 3rd round.