If Bellator tried to put together a memorable night with its second pay-per-view offering in Bellator 180 at Madison Square Garden in New York, Saturday night was a success.
A vintage Chael Sonnen performance capped off the evening. The 40-year-old former UFC title contender put away former Pride and UFC star Wanderlei Silva in a unanimous decision that featured a whole lot of his smothering top game.
From the opening bell Sonnen was aggressive in asserting his dominance through his wrestling. Although the brief exchanges in the stand-up department had him in trouble, time and time again he could secure takedowns and win the round on position and ground-and-pound.
Bellator MMA showcased Sonnen's dominance:
The fight played out like many of Sonnen's best moments in his prime. It may have left Silva frustrated, but The American Gangster came away doing exactly what he wanted. Silva's inability to force the fight back to the feet was his undoing, as Bloody Elbow noted:
After the bout, Sonnen gave another vintage performance, going back to his antics of doing whatever he can to promote his next fight, calling out everyone from Tito Ortiz, Fedor Emelianenko and the host city itself.
Ben Fowlkes of MMAjunkie recapped Sonnen's performance:
With the second pay-per-view offering in the history of Bellator, the organization put together one of its most deep, interesting cards to date. From legitimate prospects to champions to legends, this card had everything.
And almost none of it went as planned. Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal summed up the thoughts of anyone watching this card live as it headed to the main event:
Here's a look at the complete results and a deeper look at each of the main card bouts:
Bellator 180 NYC Main Card
- Chael Sonnen def. Wanderlei Silva, unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
- Neiman Gracie def. Dave Marfone, submission (Round 2, 2:27)
- Matt Mitrione def. Fedor Emelianenko, knockout (Round 1, 1:14)
- Brent Primus def. Michael Chandler, TKO (Round 1, 2:22)
- Zach Freeman def. Aaron Pico, submission (Round 1, 0:24)
- Douglas Lima def. Lorenz Larkin, unanimous decision (50-45, 48-47, 48-47)
Bellator 180 on Spike TV
- Ryan Bader def. Phil Davis, split decision (49-46, 47-48, 49-46)
- James Gallagher def. Chinzo Machida, submission (Round 1, 2:22)
- Heather Hardy def. Alice Yauger, TKO (Round 1, 4:47)
Matt Mitrione vs. Fedor Emelianenko
"The Last Emperor" may have fought his last fight at Bellator 180 NYC. Taking on Matt Mitrione in the evening's co-main event, the Russian legend proved he might have pop in his hands, but his chin can't keep up with the sport anymore.
Meeting Mitrione in the center of the cage, Emelianenko let an overhand right unfurl that has crumpled many grown men in its day. The punch had a fraction of its usual effect, sending the former UFC fighter to the mat.
But Emelianenko also ate an overhand punch coming in and he, too, went to the mat. Unfortunately for Fedor, Meathead recovered first and took advantage of the double knockdown. Mitrione drew the finish in just over a minute with ground-and-pound.
Given the recent history of these two, the outcome wasn't all that surprising, as Aaron Bronsteter of TSN Sports noted:
Still, this marks the biggest win of Mitrione's career. The UFC veteran was never able to emerge as a serious contender in that promotion, but he seems to have found relevance in Bellator's shallow heavyweight division.
His record with the organization goes to 3-0, while Emelianenko's Bellator career appears to be dead on arrival. Dann Stupp provided context for just how long it's been since the fighter has won on American soil, and it might be time for the legend to walk away before taking anymore damage:
Michael Chandler vs. Brent Primus
It wouldn't be a fight night in New York without a little controversy.
Bellator staple Michael Chandler ceded his lightweight title to Brent Primus, but it wasn't under the most satisfying circumstances. While checking a kick by the challenger, Chandler's ankle landed awkwardly and was clearly injured.
The champion fought on and even rocked Primus, despite hobbling on the injured ankle. Then referee Todd Anderson called an injury timeout, which was not actually a thing. People such as MMAjunkie's Stupp were stupefied by the decision:
After getting the doctor to look at the ankle, and after Chandler stood to show he could fight on, he fell to the ground when the stool he was sitting on was moved.
That's when the fight was called. Iain Kidd of Bloody Elbow described the scene:
It was a comedy of errors for a fight that had potential to be a memorable scrap.
Aaron Pico vs. Zach Freeman
Those who follow MMA closely have waited a long time for Aaron Pico's MMA debut.
The payoff wasn't exactly what fans were waiting for.
Instead of the 20-year-old living up to the hype, 33-year-old journeyman Zach Freeman tagged the prospect with an uppercut, latched onto a guillotine choke and drew the tap.
Pico has drawn a lot of interest due to his unique background as an amateur wrestler and boxer, but making his professional MMA debut on a pay-per-view card against an older opponent with much more experience turned out to be a gamble the organization might have lost on.
All is not lost for the blue-chip prospect. Jordan Breen reminded fight fans that UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier didn't exactly start his MMA career on the right foot either.
This is a setback, but going undefeated is not the only path to MMA stardom. Conor McGregor suffered two first-round losses before becoming a UFC superstar. Pico will have the opportunity to come back.
As for Freeman, this fight should provide him the chance to prove his win wasn't a fluke. This was a big spot on one of the promotion's biggest cards. Pulling off the upset will make him a name to watch in the organization in the short-term.
Douglas Lima vs. Lorenz Larkin
Douglas Lima kicked off the main card by defending his Bellator welterweight championship via unanimous decision against former UFC contender Lorenz Larkin.
Larkin—who was making his Bellator debut off a 4-1 run since 2015 in the UFC—quickly found there's serious competition in Bellator. The reigning champion took the first two rounds easily as he was slightly quicker and utilized the jab and body kicks to establish the difference.
There was even a moment where it appeared Lima might get the finish after landing a clean left hook. Bellator passed along the highlight:
But Lima allowed Larkin back in the fight. The champion seemed content to coast as Larkin became more comfortable in the cage and increased his output.
In the end, it was enough for Larkin to steal two rounds on two scorecards, but not enough to convince anyone that he won. Lima proved he's a worthy champion and most likely set himself up to take on another former UFC fighter in his next title defense, per Bleacher Report MMA:
Although this bout wasn't the kind of firefight everyone expected, it was a display of what Lima can do in the cage and enough to generate interest in a title defense against Rory MacDonald. Look for Bellator to book that soon to capitalize on this pay-per-view.