Thursday night, downtown Louisville, Ky., played host to another fantastic night of fights to cap off Season Two of Bellator Fighting Championships.
To begin the evening, Zoila Frausto (6-1) scored a huge upset with a first-round knockout of top-ranked 125-pound female fighter, England's Rosi Sexton (10-1).
At two minutes in to the first round, Frausto landed a huge knee to Sexton's jaw, which put her down and out.
Frausto wanted to make sure the fight was over, so she followed up with three solid right hands to Sexton's jaw before the referee jumped in and stopped the fight.
Look for that knockout to show up on YouTube shortly. It was a very impressive performance by Fraustro, who has only been a pro for five months.
Up next was the finals of the Season Two Middleweight tournament, which pitted Alexander Shlemenko against Bryan Baker.
Shlemenko (29-4) got to the finals by winning a majority decision over Matt Major and scoring a third-round TKO victory over Jared Hess.
Baker (13-1) paved his road to the finals by scoring victories over Sean Loeffier via TKO and Eric Schambari via submission.
Coming in to the tournament, many believed that Baker was one of the heavy favorites to win it all. Shlemenko, on the other hand, was the "dark horse"—the European that nobody knew about.
Known for his unorthodox striking style, Shlemenko stayed true to form by throwing spinning back fists, wild hooks, and push kicks. Baker stayed light on his feet and was throwing the much more technically sound strikes.
Just as it appeared that Baker was going to control the fight with his superior striking, Shlemenko suddenly figured out how to throw conventional strikes.
About halfway through the round, Shlemenko landed a right hook and knee to the body that didn't seem to hurt Baker initially, but once Baker tried to clinch and subsequently fell to the ground, it was clear that the strikes were more effective than they appeared.
Once Baker hit the ground, Shlemenko started dropping bombs to Baker's head. At first it seemed like Baker was trying to defend himself, but when it appeared he was blocking the punches with his face, the referee jumped in and put an end to the bout.
Alexander Shlemenko pulled off what could be considered the third upset of Season Two, collected a huge (literally) check for $100,000, and earned a shot at Bellator Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard.
"We had heard that Alexander Shlemenko was one of the best Middleweights in Europe and he definitely proved that here tonight," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said at the Post-Fight conference.
"He beat a very, very talented fighter in Bryan Baker and he's more than earned the right to face our champion, Hector Lombard, later this year."
Shlemenko said his win was a statement on behalf of all the pure strikers in MMA today.
"This victory means that strikers soon will be all over MMA and that Bellator Fighting Championships will be owned by the strikers," Shlemenko said through his translator.
The next fight of the evening was Joe Warren vs. Patricio "Pitbull" Freire in the finals of the Featherweight tournament.
Warren (4-1) defeated John Marriot and Georgi Karakhanyan—both by way of unanimous decision—to earn his spot in the finals.
Patricio Freire (14-0) got to the finals by submitting William Romero in the first round and by defeating Wilson Reis by unanimous decision.
Many had "Pitbull" favored in this bout, given his edge in experience and submission skills, as Warren's lone career loss came by submission against Bibiano Fernandes in the DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix Final less than a year ago.
The first round of the fight was all Pitbull. He controlled Warren on the ground and got the better of the stand up and clinch exchanges.
Towards the latter part of the round, Pitbull dropped Warren a beautiful right cross, went to town with some vicious ground-and-pound that had Warren in some serious trouble, and slapped on a rear naked choke.
Fortunately for Warren, he was saved by the bell. Seriously, if Pitbull had 10 more seconds, he would have sank in the rear naked choke and ended the fight.
In the second round things got interesting. Warren was pressing the action, but Pitbull was nullifying Warren's offence, mounting some decent offence of his own, and controlling the round.
Even when Warren got a takedown, Pitbull defended himself and took little to no damage from his back. Staying busy on the ground may have given Warren the edge in the round.
In the third, Warren was finding a home for his strikes, got the takedown, and was much more effective on the ground than he was in second round. Warren landed clean punches and elbows as Pitbull seemed like he was running out of gas.
Pitbull was able to get the fight standing again with a little more than a minute left in the round, but Warren got the fight back to the ground very quick. Pitbull managed to get back to his feet once more, but Warren scored a double leg takedown as the fight ended.
Joe Warren won via split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29), got a check the size of my coffee table for $100,000, and earned a title shot against reigning champion Joe Soto.
"I feel tired, but I'm very happy now," Warren said after the fight. "I fought a great fighter in Pitbull and now I'm the champion. I'm the baddest man on the planet!"
Bjorn Rebney agreed, saluting Warren's resilience and his will to win, even in spite of his illness.
"He showed up tonight with a sickness that would have put a lot of people in the hospital and beat a world-class fighter and put on the kind of performance that you just can't script," Rebney said. "What he did tonight was just epic and very, very impressive."
In the final televised fight of the evening, in what was billed as an "Eliminator Bout" to determine the latest entrant in to Bellator's upcoming Season Three Bantamweight tournament, Nick Mamalis (10-3) scored his second consecutive Bellator victory to punch his ticket in to the tournament's eight-man field.
Mamalis used an aggressive attack to neutralize Albert Rios (12-4) and win via TKO in the first round.
Afterward, Rebney said that Mamalis had more than earned his place in the Bantamweight tournament.
"That's what Bellator is all about," Rebney said. "It's about giving a guy like Nick who hasn't had a chance on the big stage the opportunity to that and then he takes that opportunity by the throat."
In the the four non-televised local feature fights, Brent Weedman defeated John Troyer by first-round submission, Daniel Straus defeated Chad Hinton by unanimous decision, Stoney Hale beat Mike Fleniken by second-round submission, and Kurt Kinser beat David Overfield via TKO in the first round.
Bellator will return in August for its third season, which will feature the Bantamweight, Heavyweight, and Woman's 115-pound tournaments.
Don't forget to set your DVR, as Season Three is sure to have just as many surprises in store as Season Two had.
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