Almost a million people watched Bellator's Spike TV debut last week, a card with two title fights and some serious action. Fans who stuck with it got a heck of a show.
How could the promotion possibly equal that introduction?
To give it a shot, they enlisted their big gun free agent, former wrestling champion "King" Mo Lawal, who made his Bellator debut as part of the light heavyweight tournament and made his unknown opponent look like a chump as expected.
The welterweights were also on display, with Douglas Lima and Ben Saunders advancing in the latest tournament and champion Ben Askren looking better than ever in his title defense over Karl Amoussou.
That, of course, isn't the the entire story. In mixed martial arts, unlike traditional ball and stick sports, winning and losing is often a little gray. A fighter can win on paper, but lose respect by fighting in a boring fashion. Likewise, a loser can walk away with his head held high if he gives it his all and shows fire and fighting spirit.
So who were the real winners and losers tonight on Spike? Click on to find out.
Ben Askren, to put it kindly, is not beloved on the MMA internet. Even fighters, like opponent Karl Amoussou, have gotten into the act, calling Askren a "p@ssy" and proclaiming to the world that he didn't even consider the wrestler a real fighter.
If the talk bothered Askren, he never showed it. He just went out to the cage and proceeded to beat the hell out of Amoussou. Calm, cool and collected, Askren was on top for the entirety, opening a cut with an elbow and landing some improved ground-and-pound throughout.
By the end, Amoussou looked like raw hamburger meat. After the third round, the doctor had seen enough. The largest glob of Vaseline in the world wouldn't be enough to close his cut and the fight was stopped.
Askren walked away with title belt in hand, rocking a classic Everlast t-shirt. The idea of anyone in the promotion beating him seems further and further from reality after every bout.
Poor, Ben Askren. All he's done is win every fight he's ever been in. For the collegiate wrestling legend, that isn't always enough in the world of mixed martial arts. Askren's wrestling based style has angered some fans who consider it boring and cheap.
Unfortunately for him, one of them knows how to use Photoshop.
"King" Mo Lawal was less than 30 seconds away from representing America in the Olympic games. I preface the following with that tidbit to let you know right off that bat that he's an athlete on a different level than Bellator's other light heavyweights, including opponent Przemyslaw Mysiala.
A wrestler by trade, Lawal never needed to shoot for a single takedown. He told me before the bout he intended to test his stand-up game, built to new heights in recent weeks by boxing trainer Jeff Mayweather, and was as good as his word.
After controlling almost the entire first round, he put a stamp on the night with a right hand that put Mysiala down for good. Next on the victim list? Emanuel Newton in the light heavyweight tournament semifinals.
I don't expect fighters to make the right call in the heat of the moment. A fighter doesn't want to quit on the stool. But, sometimes, that's the only call that makes sense. And it's up to the athlete's corner, in that situation, to protect him from himself.
Michail Tsarev was injured by a kick to the knee as the first round came to an end. Just a few seconds into the second, it was obvious he couldn't stand. But instead of throwing in the towel, Tsarev's corner allowed Douglas Lima to kick him over and over again.
It was brutal, ugly and completely preventable carnage. The corner owed more to the fighter than that.
The official for the Ben Saunders-Koffie Adzitso fight was enforcing a set of rules with an iron fist. Unfortunately they weren't the Unified Rules of MMA. Saunders survived the horrible officiating to win the fight, luckily, because Hatley's mistakes could have easily changed the outcome.
I watch a lot of fights and see some seriously terrible officiating on a regular basis. But I'd be hard pressed to name someone worse than Kerry Hatley, a man who didn't seem to understand that this wasn't modified kickboxing. ESPN's Josh Gross said it best:
Kerry Hatley's allergic to grappling.— Josh Gross (@JoshGrossESPN) January 25, 2013
Marius Zaromskis, the Lithuanian striker who made his name doing crazy things in Japan, brought that "anything goes" ethos with him to America. At times, it has led him to serious success, including three wins in a row in Bellator.
But, in truth, it's a double-edged sword.
As cool as it is to see him try to pass guard with a backflip or to land a Jushin Lyger style rolling kick, those may not be the smartest plays against a fighter like Brent Weedman who will never stop coming, no matter how esoteric the technique you hit him with is.
Weedman, thanks in part to a point deduction after a Zaromskis illegal knee, moves forward in the welterweight tournament with a decision win. The lightweight runner-up last year, he's a real threat to advance all the way to a title bout.
No, Zach Church wasn't able to pull of the bizarre hammerlock/choke he was trying to rip Damon Jackson apart with. But he did challenge the MMA community on twitter to come up with a proper name. It wasn't easy, but Middle Easy may have had the best take on it:
Inverted triangle + reverse kimura? RT @mmaencyclopedia: The damndest submission attempt just failed in Bellator. No idea what to call it.— MiddleEasy (@MiddleEasy) January 25, 2013
Unfortunately for Church, he must have drained himself completely in the attempt. Jackson finished him a few heartbeats later with a rear-naked choke. But a rear-naked choke? Who's going to remember that? It's Church we were talking about after the fight. And that counts for something, right?