Bellator 97: Real Winners and Losers from the Stacked Card
Bellator 97 looked incredibly promising on paper with two title fights and Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal on the card Wednesday night from Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M. Add in Patricio Freire and a heavyweight tournament final and the card had built a bit of hype in the MMA world.
Well, for those who actually tune in to Bellator that is.
For those fans tuning in, the card had a few bright spots but had to leave most feeling disappointed. Freire kicked things off in impressive fashion as he dominated Jared Downing from bell to bell, and Vitaly Minakov controlled the pace in his fight with Ryan Martinez.
Jacob Noe and King Mo seemingly forgot they hated each other and showed some respect for one another before King Mo decided to use his wrestling to outclass Noe for nearly 15 minutes.
In the evening's first title bout, Ben Askren put on another Askren-like performance with his wrestling skills. The champion even took time in the final seconds of the third round to taunt his opponent and check out the fans in attendance.
Michael Chandler would enjoy no such luxury as he wiped the floor with David Rickels in the first round. The knockout was a great way to end the show after Askren's dominant snoozefest.
In perhaps the evening's biggest moment outside the cage, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson announced he'll be facing Tito Ortiz in Bellator's first ever pay-per-view bout in November.
Although a few winners found their hands raised inside the cage, some of them find themselves under the loser category in this list. Who's the real winner, and who's the real loser? Step inside the world of Bellator 97 and find out.
Loser: Jared Downing
Not too many people gave Jared Downing much of a chance against Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, and for the most part, this fight went according to plan.
Downing was playing defense for nearly every second of the fight. The fact he managed to survive into the second round could arguably make him a moral winner.
Downing scores some brownie points with fans for withstanding that much punishment, but drawing Freire is always a tough fight for anyone in the featherweight division.
Winner: Patricio Freire
Now that's how you make a statement. Freire was coming off of a split-decision loss to Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran back in Jan. and believed he should've won.
It looked like Freire was determined to take out his aggression for American judges on Jared Downing. Freire controlled nearly all of the action in the first round and could've been awarded a 10-8 round. He continued to launch the assault in the second round and secured the TKO finish soon after the round began.
We'll get a test of how Freire stacks up with the UFC featherweights when he takes on former UFC fighter Diego Nunes in September.
Loser: Vitaly Minakov
Vitaly Minakov was being hailed as a super-prospect, the next Fedor Emelianenko and a future champion in Bellator among other things. He didn't look the part against Ryan Martinez at Bellator 97.
Minakov did enough to score points on the judges' scorecards to take home the victory, but against less-than-stellar competition, Minakov failed to deliver the goods. I know Martinez is a tough guy, but there's no reason why he should've made it nearly all three rounds if Minakov is as good as everyone makes him out to be.
Luckily for the Russian, he scored a TKO victory in the final round to prevent it from going to the judges after a crazy example of an overzealous ref. Taking a point away for one accidental knee to the groin? Nowhere near a reason to take a point away.
I'll give the Russian credit for being able to utilize his length and land some nice straight punches and utilizing a well-rounded set of skills to take the victory. Minakov has looked great thus far into his MMA career, so let's hope this fight is more of the result of Martinez being an incredibly durable fighter.
Winner: Ryan Martinez
I know Ryan Martinez lost the fight, but I'll slide him into the winner's slot based on a technicality. Martinez wasn't even supposed to be in the tournament as he entered it as a last-second injury replacement against Rich Hale.
After knocking out Hale, the tough fighter was only one win away from completing a Cinderella-type story. Unfortunately, the story didn't have an happy ending, but he showed a lot of heart in going nearly 15 minutes with Minakov.
Looking at Minakov's accomplishments outside of the cage and what he's done inside it, you'd never guess the fight would've been even the least bit competitive. Martinez got pot-shotted quite a bit by the taller Russian but was able to give some good shots in return.
He'll likely be getting a call from Bjorn Rebney about appearing in a future heavyweight tournament.
Loser: Jacob Noe
Jacob Noe had a few things going for him in his Bellator 97 contest with Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal. He was much taller and bigger than King Mo and had the confidence of retiring a legend like Renato "Babalu" Sobral in his last outing.
None of that would matter as King Mo controlled the action from nearly start to finish. Noe couldn't stop any of Lawal's takedowns and couldn't land anything of worth when the fight was on the feet.
Once Noe was on the ground, he failed to do anything except hold on for dear life. Credit to Lawal for a heavy top game, but it didn't look like Noe even attempted to move his hips or come close to attempting a submission outside of the armbar attempt in the second round.
After talking all that trash prior to the fight you'd think Noe would be a little more motivated to do something. Instead, he looked like a fish out of water once he was on the ground; something that he'll need to fix if he wants to enjoy long-term success in MMA.
Winner: Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal
Lawal is still one of the poster boys of Bellator and had a great performance against Jacob Noe.
I would've liked to have seen Lawal finish Noe earlier, but I'll take a dominant performance. Lawal took a lot of flack in his first few appearances in the Bellator cage for focusing too much on his stand-up, but at Bellator 97, he showcased what he's known for—his wrestling.
Lawal used wrestling to not only take Noe down but also used his top control to leave Noe with very little room to maneuver. For only having one arm (he was using the other to control Noe's arm) King Mo landed some decent shots as well.
King Mo is now set up to face Attila Vegh but seemed to be more interested in facing Emanuel Newton once more. If Bellator wants the ratings, they'll go with a Lawal-Newton rematch as the trash talk could be pretty good, but it's hard to imagine Lawal passing up a title opportunity.
Loser: Ben Askren
There's the good ol' Ben Askren that we all love to hate watching.
After a surprisingly aggressive showing in his last title defense, Askren followed that up with a controlling victory against Andrey Koreshkov. Askren did exactly what he said he would do by moving straight forward and taking the Russian down. He then used his top game to keep Koreshkov on the mat, completely wearing out the title challenger.
Yes, Askren looked dominant, but he's a loser for a few reasons.
With speculation circling that this was Askren's last fight on his contract, he did little to gain any bargaining chips with the UFC. He's come out in the past against Dana White, and at this point, the UFC welterweight division doesn't need Askren. His performance did nothing to make White or UFC fans want him in the Octagon.
He's also a loser because as great as Askren is as a wrestler, his style obviously doesn't translate to excitement. With Bellator looking to gain ratings with its new partnership with Spike TV and possibly venturing into pay-per-view more after November's event, Askren doesn't represent a main draw.
How can Bellator have any confidence in putting Askren in the main event or on a pay-per-view card? Askren's style could lose them viewers rather than gain them.
Loser: Andrey Koreshkov
Give Bellator credit; it hyped up Andrey Koreshkov the best it could. It wasn't on the level of hyperbole that the UFC employs, but it still did a decent job to portray the Russian as Ben Askren's toughest title challenger to date.
It all went down the drain in 20 seconds when Askren gave us a preview of the whole fight as he took Koreshkov down.
Koreshkov literally offered nothing off his back. He barely moved, he covered up and didn't threaten with any submissions. Considering how pitiful Askren's ground-and-pound was, it was pretty bad to see Koreshkov turtle up in the fetal position.
The Russian is an intriguing prospect, but there's no way he belonged in the same cage as Askren. He'll go back to the drawing board and hopefully work on his grappling skills to avoid having a repeat performance in his next outing.
Loser: The Russian Invasion
Remember Spike/Bellator's special about the "Russian Invasion" into Bellator? I'm not sure how potent that invasion will be after Wednesday night.
Koreshkov looked like a boy among men against Askren, and Minakov looked like just another prospect at Bellator 97. Bellator tries to push the whole nationality thing in the fights and went all-out in backing the young Russians.
Alexander Shlemenko may still hold the Bellator middleweight title, but it's clear the rest of his counterparts have some catching up to do before we begin to take them as serious contenders.
Winner: Michael Chandler
Somebody needs to check Michael Chandler's hand wraps because he likely has dynamite hidden under those things. Known as a wrestler, Chandler came in against David Rickels and blasted him with right hands in the first round.
Chandler showcased some awesome looking speed and power as Rickels is a notoriously tough fighter. There's not really much to dissect from Chandler's performance at Bellator 97 because other than him landing a powerful right hand, there wasn't much else going on.
He recently re-signed with Bellator and rewarded the promotion by giving the fans an explosive ending to their night. By finishing in devastating fashion, Chandler also helped separate himself from Bellator's Big Three (Ben Askren and Pat Curran being the other two) in terms of likability and marketability.
Loser: David Rickels
Sometimes it's just not your night, and for David Rickels, it just wasn't his night.
Rickels is a tough guy with a beard full of magical powers (self-proclaimed), but that didn't help him combat Michael Chandler's speed and power at Bellator 97. He looked to be two steps slower than Chandler in the opening seconds, and it proved to be the difference as he got blasted by a straight right from the champion.
He gained some momentum by winning the eighth season of the Bellator lightweight tournament, and although he got beaten badly by Chandler Wednesday night, I don't expect him to drop too far in the Bellator rankings.
Loser: Bellator's Strategy
Bellator teased a big announcement from Quinton "Rampage" Jackson all night. Then we saw Roy Jones Jr. at cage side. It looked like the rumors were true and that "Rampage" and Jones Jr. were set to collide in a boxing match.
Then Bellator threw us a curveball with a WWE-like (or should it be TNA?) entrance with Tito Ortiz stepping out.
Instead of seeing a somewhat relevant match between a MMA fighter who thinks he's a boxer and a former world champion boxer, we get a MMA match between two guys who are 2-3 and 1-4 in their last five fights. And we're expected to pay for it?
Bellator has issues getting people to tune in for the free shows. Now it expects fans to pay their hard-earned money to watch a fight that wouldn't even main event a free UFC show?
Bad move, Bellator.