We talk about a lot of fighters as MMA OG's, the men and women who helped create this sport we know and love. Normally that's just hyperbole—many so-called pioneers came along well after the road had been both cleared and paved.
Melvin Manhoef is different.
When the striking legend made his debut, Toy Story had just completed its first week in theaters and Bill Clinton was the U.S. president. The man has been in the game for almost 25 years and has plenty to show for it. The 44-year-old has more than 100 bouts between MMA and kickboxing, including wins over men like Kazushi Sakuraba, Mark Hunt and Remy Bojansky.
None of that mattered for a single second, however, once he stepped into the cage with former UFC light heavyweight Corey Anderson (14-5) on Thursday. In his first fight for Bellator, Anderson wasted little time establishing his presence on the CBS Sports Network as one of the promotion's top 205-pound fighters.
Anderson, who left UFC after winning four of his last five fights, took down Manhoef easily, finishing the bout with a series of slicing elbows that left the kickboxer covered in his own blood.
As debuts go, it doesn't get much better than that.
Promotional talking head Chael Sonnen immediately started positioning Anderson as a potential title contender, and the announce crew played him up as someone to watch in the light heavyweight division.
"I thought he fought a wonderful, strategic fight," announcer Josh Thomson said after the fight. "He didn't take chances that he didn't need to take and he came out with a dominant performance."
Anderson, of course, wasn't the only winner on the night, and Manhoef doesn't get the only red mark on his ledger. The night, filled with plodding action, mostly disappointed. What follows are the moments that stood out and made everyone watching take notice—for better or worse.
For most of his short MMA career, Austin Vanderford has been best known for his good-humored, goofy social media videos. His co-star and wife, the much more famous Paige VanZant, might have had a little something to do with all those clicks.
But with a few more fights like the one with Vinicius de Jesus, Vanderford will soon establish his own distinct identity.
Taking advantage of an apparent size advantage over the former welterweight, Vanderford imposed his will on the fight and displayed the kind of well-rounded skills that will take him far in the Bellator cage.
Winner: Legal Technicalities
Everyone, including Derek Anderson, thought he had thrown away the fight after struggling through two rounds with Brazilian Killys Mota. His right shin collided with Mota's chin while it appeared the Brazilian fighter was still on the ground. That would have been an illegal strike and a disqualification in Mota's favor.
But slow-motion replay put a halt to that line of thought. It turns out that Mota's knee had lifted off the ground milliseconds prior to the fight-ending blow. That tiny, seemingly inconsequential difference in his position turned Anderson from a loser into a winner.
His blow, illegal when thrown, was legal by the time it landed. It was a dangerous gamble—but one that paid off for the welterweight contender.
Winner: International Swimming League
Did you know there was an International Swimming League? I sure didn't. But thanks to an ad read by Bellator announcer Mike Goldberg, I do now.
A team-based professional sport with competitors all over the globe, the league, according to its website, has a robust mission: "We aim to create new groundbreaking projects, new in both form and content, which would explore the full potential of competitive swimming and secure sustainable commercial growth in the sport."
What, exactly, does that mean? Who can say? That's the beauty of marketing-style writing. It can mean whatever you want it to. But I'm intrigued enough to find out!
Winner: Old Dogs
Bellator mainstay Georgi Karakhanyan seemed to be on his way out of the promotion's main mix. He had lost three of his past four fights and was relegated to the streaming preliminaries on a card without much in the way of name recognition.
His win over a tough Bryce Logan was the best, most competitive bout of a long evening. Hopefully next time we see the lightweight standout he will be back on the main card—where he showed he still belongs.
- Corey Anderson beat Melvin Manhoef (TKO, Round 2).
- Tyrell Fortune beat Said Sowma (unanimous decision).
- Austin Vanderford beat Vinicius de Jesus (unanimous decision).
- Derek Anderson beat Killys Mota (TKO, Round 2).
- Georgi Karakhanyan beat Bryce Logan (split decision).
- Julius Anglickas beat Alex Polizzi (unanimous decision).
- Janay Harding beat Jessy Miele (unanimous decision).
- Ali Zebian beat Piankhi Zimmerman (unanimous decision).
- Jaylon Bates beat Joe Supino (unanimous decision).
- Sumiko Inaba beat Jessica Ruiz (TKO, Round 1).
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report. He is the author of the Amazon bestseller Shamrock: The World's Most Dangerous Man.