On a weird night for Bellator, from double knockdowns to broken ankles, our MMA expert Alex Rea dissects a landmark event for the company
There is always a tinge of oddity to Bellator events but no one could have quite anticipated the weird narrative which played out in their big New York debut on Saturday.
From the bizarre fashion Michael Chandler relinquished his lightweight crown, to the extremely rare double knockdown exhibited by Matt Mitrione and Fedor Emelianenko, Bellator 180 was a showcase of strange.
But everything that could have went wrong, did so, and it couldn’t have happened on a worse stage as the event was supposed to be the crowning moment for a promotion snapping at the heels of the UFC.
Indeed, under stewardship of the well-respected promoter Scott Coker, the Viacom-backed company are quickly developing into a genuine competitor for an MMA landscape dominated by the UFC.
Big money free agent signings such as welterweight star Rory MacDonald and former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson has allowed Bellator to stamp their own authority on a MMA market which is beginning to gain mainstream notoriety.
What won’t have helped their cause, though, is how their maiden event in the Big Apple turned into a car crash.
Still, it was impossible to turn your eyes away, so we analyse the major talking points from Madison Square Garden after a fun night for the fans but a bad night for Bellator.
Chael Sonnen has long been considered one of the best trash talkers in MMA but his ability to cut a promo hasn’t always translated into success in the cage.
But after a decade of disagreement with Wanderlei Silva, Sonnen ground out a clean sweep on the judges’ scorecards in the main event to earn his first win since 2013.
It also went some way to banishing the memory of the former UFC star’s pitiful Bellator debut defeat to Tito Ortiz.
Fedor Emelianenko will forever be remembered as one of the best to do it.
Yet, the 40-year-old Russian is seemingly intent on tarnishing his legacy and his first-round KO loss to Matt Mitrione is further evidence of that.
It’s time to retire even if he came to close to an unlikely victory of his own following a freak double knockdown. Both Mitrone and Emelianenko were decked by twin right-hands but the former recovered quickest to apply the finish.
Sweet symmetry but not a sour ending for the Last Emperor.
They don’t make them tougher or more courageous than Michael Chandler and Saturday was justification of that sentiment.
Chandler lost his lightweight belt to Brent Primus in bizarre circumstances as after rolling his ankle in the first round, the ring-side doctor pulled him out of the bout.
It wasn’t without valiant effort, though, as Chandler incredibly nearly knocked out Primus despite his flopping ankle restricting him to fighting on one leg.
To add insult to injury, he was sent sprawling to the canvas after his stool was pulled out from under him as he stood up during the doctor’s assessment and roared to continue fighting.
No moment illustrated the narrative of Bellator’s night better than that.
The Aaron Pico train hadn’t even left the station but the hype has already been derailed.
The 20-year-old was labelled as a next generation superstar with ESPN profiling him and posing the question “Is he the greatest prospect in MMA history?”.
But just 24 seconds into his pro-MMA debut, some 31 months since signing a development deal with Bellator, he was tapped out by Zach Freeman.
The sequence was horrible. Pico ate knee, failed with a terrible clinch, attempted a wild swing, got caught with an uppercut then failed to protect his neck before the world-class wrestler was tapped immediately to a guillotine choke.
In a world where first impressions are everything, Pico gave nothing to shout about.
It wasn’t all bad news for Bellator. Gallagher, the rising Irish star and team-mate of Conor McGregor, produced a stunning first-round submission against Chinzo Machida to send the Emerald Isle contingent inside MSG wild.
The 20-year-old proceeded to call out Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire who responded on Twitter by saying: “I’ll fight you in Croke Park. Bring your daddy @TheNotoriousMMA to see you get beat up from the front row.”
Larkin followed the trend of UFC turned Bellator fighters who have lost on debut. Benson Henderson, Chael Sonnen and Josh Koscheck all lost their first fight under the Bellator banner and Larkin joined them as Douglas Lima cruised past him to earn a comfortable decision.
Larkin was dropped in the second and struggled to get past Lima’s long arms to land anything clean as the welterweight champ eased to victory to defend his belt.
In one of Bellator’s deeper divisions, Larkin will have to earn his way back up to another title shot.
At 37 years old and with the UFC middleweight belt wrapped around his waist, it’s fair to say Michael Bisping’s prime has come a little later than most, especially when you consider he debuted with the promotion 11 years ago this week.
Indeed, Bisping stopped Josh Haynes in the second round to be crowned the The Ultimate Fighter season three winner – a light-heavyweight tournament.
He fought at 205lbs for four fights before dropping down to 185lbs, the division he now rules.