Those watching Bellator 88 from afar had to be impressed by Mike "The Marine" Richman's knockout victory over Mitch Jackson. The win moved him onto the second round of the Bellator Season 8 featherweight tournament for the second straight season.
But for those who have followed the rivalry between these two top-level 145-pounders from Minnesota, the victory meant much, much more than that.
The rivalry between Richman's team at The Academy and Jackson's team at American Top Team in Savage has been percolating. Trash talk from both sides began years ago when these fighters were just beginning their careers, and continued all the way up until just minutes before the fight on Spike TV.
“He doesn’t even deserve to be in Bellator. Just because you’re 19-2 doesn’t mean s***," Richman told Bleacher Report MMA earlier in the week.
Jackson's supporters and teammates naturally predicted a win for their fighter who was making his Bellator debut.
On Thursday night, all the talk finally ended in a one-on-one confrontation in the cage.
Richman, a three-fight veteran of Bellator coming into Thursday's card, did exactly what he said he was going to do, tagging Jackson repeatedly before finally finishing him off with just seconds left in the first round. The first-round knockout was Richman's third in four fights for the promotion, but perhaps his most impressive performance to date.
After suffering a knockout loss in his previous fight, Richman toned down his overly aggressive style a bit. He kept the pressure on, but rather than pushing for the finish, Richman stayed calm and looked for the right opportunity to put away his opponent.
His ability to stay cool under pressure in this bout was particularly impressive given the longstanding rivalry between he and Jackson. It would have been very easy for him to come out and make a mistake by trying to create a highlight reel finish early on, but by staying patient, he was able to inflict maximum damage and ended up getting a brutal knockout anyway.
Up next for "The Marine" will be his second-round bout against Alexandre Bezerra in the Season 8 Bellator featherweight tournament.