Redemption was the theme of the night as Bellator kicked off its 2013 Summer Series in Thackerville, Okla.
Highly touted light heavyweight contender Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal returned to action for the first time since his stunning knockout loss to Emanuel Newton back in February. The former Strikeforce champion was a shoe-in to run the table in the 205-pound tournament. After his misstep in the second round, Lawal came into Bellator 96 looking to not only get back into the win column, but make a statement in the process against Seth Petruzelli.
And that is exactly what he did. While the king may have stumbled previously, on Wednesday night, he returned to the throne with a thundering knockout over the "Silverback."
The other half of the redemption theme was carried by Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Unfortunately for the savvy veteran, he wasn't able to stop the backslide, and Sobral came out on the business end of his tilt with Jacob Noe.
Plenty of action of all varieties were to be had at the Winstar World Casino, and let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from the event.
No fighter under the Bellator banner needed a big win more than Muhammed Lawal. The organization has pumped a significant amount of time and money into promoting the former All-American wrestler, and the pressure was on "King Mo" to deliver.
When the cage door closed and the action got underway, Lawal once again proved why he is the fighter to watch on the Bellator roster. After putting Petruzelli on his back, the former Oklahoma State wrestling standout clipped his opponent's power switch with a brutal left hand from top position.
Petruzelli received a stiff case of the "robot arms," and Lawal got back into the win column.
While Bellator's heavyweight division is typically the basis for chuckles around the MMA community, two bright spots were on display on Wednesday night.
Undefeated Russian Vitaly Minakov kept his record untarnished as he knocked the stuffing out of Ron Sparks on the televised portion of the card. The Kentucky native charged forward and paid the price as a blistering right hand from Minakov laid Sparks flat on the canvas. With the victory, Minakov will move on to face a fighter who has been a pleasant surprise inside the Bellator cage in Ryan Martinez.
Following his upset knockout victory over Travis Wiuff back in March, the heavy-handed 25-year-old stepped up on short notice to fight Rich Hale at Bellator 96. While the fight started with a brief feeling-out period, it didn't take long for Martinez to complete his night of work as he pounded out Hale on the canvas.
The victory over Hale makes it three consecutive wins under the Bellator banner and eight out of the past nine for Martinez.
The final entry into the category comes courtesy of War Machine. The mercurial veteran finally made his long-awaited debut inside the Bellator cage on Wednesday night, and after shaking off the rust of a year-long layoff, the 31-year-old made good on his debut by scoring a stoppage victory over Blas Avena.
With everything he's been through outside of the cage, the victory over Avena should lift the weight off War Machine's shoulders for the time being.
There was no hiding the fact Renato "Babalu" Sobral had a lot on the line going into his fight with Jacob Noe. The 37-year-old Brazilian was coming off a disappointing knockout loss to Mikhail Zayats back in January and needed to a victory at Bellator 96 to keep the pulse on his career.
While "Babalu" started out with solid footwork and landing clean shots, he was also taking bombs as well, and those punches began to take their toll early in the third round. Despite his opponent showing major signs of fatigue, Sobral continued to wade into heavy punches and eventually ate one too many midway through the round.
After catching a left hook from Noe, Sobral took his eyes off his opponent to look at the fight clock just as a right-hand bomb from Noe found its mark. The punch caused Sobral to stumble around the cage, and because of his condition, the referee stepped in and called off the fight.
The loss makes it two straight for Sobral and three of his past four. While it wasn't shown on the broadcast, cageside commentator Randy Couture announced the former PRIDE and UFC veteran ceremoniously retired after the bout.
Although Seth Petruzelli wasn't included in the night's ongoing redemption theme, he was certainly in need of a big showing on Wednesday night.
The 33-year-old Florida native has competed in nearly every major MMA promotion to hit the states in the past decade and has failed to gain traction in any of them. Coming into his bout against Lawal at Bellator 96, Petruzelli had an opportunity to make his mark on Bellator in a major way.
Despite mocking Lawal's king theme at the weigh-ins and putting forward strong words in the pre-fight build-up, Petruzelli had little to offer once the action began. Lawal was able to put him on the canvas with ease, and after one huge shot with Petruzelli's back on the mat, the "Kimbo Killer's" night ended violently.
I'm all for hyping up different aspects of a fighter for promotional reasons, but touting Sobral as an "MMA legend" is a tough bit to swallow. Don't get me wrong, Sobral has absolutely stepped into the cage with a collection of the best fighters to ever compete in mixed martial arts, but losing to great fighters doesn't make you a legend—at least in my opinion.
Following his loss to Zayats, Bellator could have easily dropped said tagline from his promo and the world would've been right again. But that didn't happen, and once again, Sobral failed to advance in the light heavyweight tournament, leaving Bellator's promotion of him as an MMA legend to serve as fodder to be written about.
Also, it is never a good thing to shove a referee inside the cage, and Sobral's post-fight antics and fight night showing were a bad look to end his MMA career.
One of the key missions for Bellator's production on Wednesday was to promote its new fighter-based reality program Fight Masters. Throughout the broadcast, the show's four coaches sat in as guest commentators and called the action alongside the regular team.
While the revolving cast did a solid job during the bouts, the camera shots in between fights left something to be desired. Showing coach Frank Shamrock with a cocktail in hand as he cut it up with his fellow coaches was certainly something that could have been avoided.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a good time, but when you're on location to work—even intermittently—maybe you instruct the stars of your new series to wait to enjoy an adult beverage or two until after the live television broadcast is over.