MMA Review: #646: Bellator 180

-So I found this one on my hard drive and couldn’t remember for the life of me why I downloaded it, then I realised it was SILVA vs. SONNEN and figured I better give it a look. This was of course a rare PPV effort for Bellator, their first show in New York too and inevitably it was pretty loaded with big names, including FEDOR in his Bellator debut.

Bellator 180

New York, New York

-Your hosts are Mauro Renallo and Jimmy Smith and suddenly it’s weird to hear Jimmy on Bellator and not UFC!

Bellator Welterweight Title: Douglas Lima vs Lorenz Larkin

Larkin had signed with Bellator after a long bout of free agency following his KO win over Neil Magny at UFC 202 almost a year before this show, and he was instantly granted a title shot at longtime Bellator champ Douglas Lima, who’d reclaimed the title from Andrey Koreshkov in late 2016. This was Lima’s big chance to show he could hang with a top (former) UFC contender and so it was a major fight for sure.

Round One begins and they circle with little action in the opening minute. Good leg kick lands early for Lima but both men are way out of range here. They both miss with kicks and Larkin narrowly misses a head kick. Both guys continue to come up short on their strikes as we’re halfway through the round now. Crowd sound quite restless with about 1:30 remaining as neither man has landed anything major. Decent one-two does land for Larkin. Body kick fires back for Lima. More shots come up short before Lima does land with a combo that sets up a clinch to end the round. I’d actually go 10-10 there as I don’t see how you could pinpoint a winner of that round.

Round Two and Lima uses his jab to back Larkin up early in the round, landing a leg kick for good measure. A couple of lead hooks force him back a little though. Combination lands for Larkin but Lima’s fine. Big overhand right glances for Lima. Nice combination connects for Larkin, ending in a head kick. Probably the best combo of the fight thus far. Another combo forces Lima back albeit not landing cleanly. Leg kick follows for the challenger. Good leg kick fires back for Lima and suddenly they wildly exchange with Larkin landing a hard right hand. Larkin looks to flurry and backs Lima up, but a HUGE COUNTER drops the challenger hard and he’s in trouble! Lima bashes him on the ground with some elbows as Larkin desperately gets full guard, and then a few moments later he scrambles up. Lead left hook glances again for Lima. Larkin appears to be recovered and swings some punches of his own, and suddenly Lima looks a bit gassed after pushing for the finish. One minute to go and another heavy combo glances for Lima, but Larkin fires right back. Seconds to go and it’s Larkin who’s more active, really throwing some heavy shots. Round ends on the feet. 10-9 Lima for the knockdown in a quality round.

Round Three and Lima stalks forward, backing Larkin up with a kick to the body. Nice front kick to the stomach lands for Lima. Lima is almost like Yoel Romero in his tendency to do very little and suddenly explode with a big shot. He’s not doing much at all suddenly now. Lot of movement from Larkin but he can’t seem to land cleanly on the champion. Stiff jab connects for Lima. Crowd are beginning to get restless again as there’s a lot of circling going on with little action. Big body kick connects for Larkin. He’s being more active in this round for sure. Body kick connects for Lima. Right hand catches Larkin coming in. He just can’t seem to land cleanly on the champion. Both men continue to largely miss and that’s the round. 10-9 Larkin I guess? He was certainly more active although it was a relatively close round.

Round Four and Lima opens with a couple of really good jabs. Nice inside leg kick connects for the champion too. Larkin continues to move around a lot but he still isn’t catching any clean shots. Big head kick is just about blocked by Lima. Hard overhand left from Lima connects as Larkin continues to bounce around on the outside. Lima’s a bit frustrating to watch with this style. Big left hook and a left body kick connect for Larkin as Lima backs out. Not long to go in this round now and Lima’s pot-shotting a bit, not too effectively though. Larkin tries to close him down but he almost eats a couple of big counters. Trip from Lima puts Larkin down into full guard, and he passes into half-guard and looks to keep him down. Larkin works to his feet though and the round ends inside the clinch. 10-9 Larkin maybe? It was another really close round to score.

Round Five and this could easily go either way. Again it’s Larkin pressing forward, but the best shot in the opening minute is a Lima leg kick. Hard right hand glances for Lima as Larkin pushes forward. Both men continue to glance on strikes and a spinning back kick narrowly misses for Larkin. Brief exchange sees both men land punches but neither one is stunned. Left hook lands for Lima. Big kick is caught by Lima but he can’t throw Larkin down. Lead left hook scores for the champ. More of the same follows for both and this remains almost impossible to score. Round largely peters out with both men continuing to glance on most of their stuff and that’s the fight. 10-9 Lima and I’d call it a draw personally.

Official scores are 50-45, 48-47 and 48-47 for Douglas Lima. Well, I wouldn’t have gone 50-45 for sure but I guess the right guy probably won as the only notable moment was the knockdown he scored in the second round really. I wouldn’t call this a boring fight as such because they were both active throughout, but it was definitely 25 minutes with little inspiration and I certainly wouldn’t want to watch it again. Lima has since lost his title to another UFC import in Rory MacDonald, and unfortunately Bellator is so thin at 170lbs that really you’re probably looking at one of these two guys to challenge Rory next.

Featherweight Fight: Aaron Pico vs Zach Freeman

Just 20 at this point, this was Pico’s professional MMA debut and he was garnering a LOT of hype coming in as perhaps the best prospect in the sport’s history, as he’d been an Olympic hopeful in freestyle wrestling but had also picked up experience in boxing and grappling and he’d been training with American Kickboxing Academy for some time, too. Basically the last prospect to get this much hype had been Cain Velasquez and well, we all know how that turned out. Bellator had clearly brought Freeman in as a hand-picked opponent for him, although he didn’t look like a tomato can – 8-2 isn’t a record you get if you’re totally useless. The obvious pick was Pico though.

Fight begins and Pico pushes forward, but walks right into a BIG UPPERCUT that drops him to his knees! He’s instantly in trouble and Freeman jumps right onto a guillotine and tightens it up…and Pico taps.

Well, that debut couldn’t have gone any worse basically as Freeman dropped and tapped Pico within 24 seconds. Realistically, I don’t care how good of a prospect you are, you probably shouldn’t be fighting a dude who’s 8-2 in your pro debut, especially with no amateur fights either. Pico’s won three fights since though so there’s probably light at the end of the tunnel, but wow, this blew up in Bellator’s face big time.

Bellator Lightweight Title: Michael Chandler vs Brent Primus

Okay, so this was probably Chandler’s least intriguing fight in a long time, but I guess them’s the breaks when you’re in Bellator and every division is quite thin. Primus was unbeaten to be fair though, 7-0 with 5 wins in Bellator so he’d definitely earned a shot, but I couldn’t see him beating Chandler who might still be the best 155lber outside of the UFC.

Round One begins and Chandler presses the action, looking really confident as Primus throws out some kicks that don’t land. Good leg kick lands for Primus though. Another one connects and Chandler might be having trouble with his left leg. A third kick misses, but Chandler’s leg buckles anyway and he hits the deck, desperately trying to scramble up instantly. Primus charges him and glances with a knee, but Chandler circles out and it’s clear something’s wrong. Looks like his left ankle is fucked as he can’t plant his foot. Couple of low kicks from Primus attempt to capitalise on the injury and I’m not sure why the ref hasn’t stepped in. Somehow Chandler stays up, but he looks like a sitting duck now as Primus continues to throw shots at him. Chandler looks like he’s trying to fight through it but his foot just keeps folding underneath him. He’s almost hopping now. Right hand counter somehow drops Primus anyway, but Chandler can’t follow it up and finally the ref steps in to check him over as he’s all over the place.

Doctors come in and sure enough they wave the fight off, awarding the fight and title to Primus. Crowd are totally disgusted but what can you do? Replay doesn’t seem to confirm what caused the injury although you’ve got to suspect one of those early leg kicks did it. Totally anticlimactic fight though and it’s unfortunate that Primus has been injured since so they haven’t been able to rematch. Hopefully Bellator can put it together soon because this was a total fluke really.

Heavyweight Fight: Fedor Emelianenko vs Matt Mitrione

After returning from retirement in 2015, the initial rumours had the legendary Fedor finally heading to the UFC, but to the surprise of nobody that didn’t happen and instead he beat Jaideep Singh and Fabio Maldonado before moving to Bellator for this fight. Mitrione meanwhile had moved to Bellator from the UFC in 2016 and had picked up two knockout wins since. I was hoping Fedor would win this because who wants to live in a world where Matt Mitrione beats Fedor?

First round begins and man, if this were 2005 then Mitrione would already be unconscious or something like that. Instead Mitrione dances around on the outside while Fedor just seems to stare at him. Couple of punches glance for Mitrione and then we suddenly get the ultra-rare DOUBLE KNOCKDOWN as both men land big rights at the same time and go flying! Unfortunately though Mitrione is first up, and he dives on Fedor with some more punches and knocks him senseless. MEATHEAD HAS DONE IS as Mauro shouts just doesn’t sound right. God damnit.

Fedor has of course come back from this to beat Frank Mir and he’s facing Chael Sonnen next but he really ought to have just stayed retired, while Mitrione has since beaten Roy Nelson, but will likely get beaten up by Ryan Bader in his next fight. Still don’t like the guy or rate him highly, sorry. And I don’t ever want to think about this fight again even though it was exciting!

Welterweight Fight: Neiman Gracie vs Dave Marfone

Announcers call this a “bonus fight”, I guess because the last three went so quickly. Gracie was coming in still unbeaten with three submissions in Bellator to this point while Marfone was a basic unknown with a 5-2 record.

Round One begins and Marfone fires some punches, but Gracie easily level changes and dumps him to the ground. Marfone works back to his feet, but Gracie takes the back standing and he’s all over him like glue. One hook in for Neiman and he drags Marfone around the cage but can’t get him down. Marfone manages to separate, but Gracie lands with a good right hand. He slips on a head kick but Marfone calls him right back up. Easy takedown from Gracie and he lands in Marfone’s guard before moving right into half-guard. Too easy really. Full mount follows and Marfone is in trouble. He manages to hip escape into half-guard though which is impressive. Great job from Marfone to scramble up to his feet, and he lands a knee in the clinch as Gracie keeps him pressed on the fence. Two minutes to go and they break off and again Gracie tags Marfone with some punches. Takedown is defended by Marfone and he glances on some hammer fists before forcing Gracie up. Seconds to go and Marfone stalks him before stopping another takedown. Incredibly he actually jumps for a guillotine, but the bell sounds before he can really squeeze on it. 10-9 Gracie.

Round Two and Marfone looks pretty confident in throwing punches early on, but he takes a body kick from Gracie. Exchange continues and Gracie glances on a head kick. Big takedown attempt from Gracie is stuffed by Marfone, but Gracie gets him to the fence anyway and manages to secure a rear waistlock. Pretty blatant fence grab stops Gracie from getting Marfone down but he keeps trying anyway and then just jumps into a body triangle with Marfone standing. Marfone tries a weird roll to escape, but it puts him in danger on the ground with Neiman on his back. Punches and elbows soften Marfone up and unsurprisingly Gracie follows by slapping on a choke for the tapout.

Fight was a lot of fun as Marfone really went for it, but he was overmatched by Gracie who – as I said in the review of the Mir/Fedor show – needs a proper step up now. I reckon he could be a legit title contender in Bellator in this division.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Chael Sonnen vs Wanderlei Silva

So yeah, it was weird to see one of the hottest rivalries in UFC history coming to a head in Bellator, but I guess that’s what happens when one promotion uses USADA and cracks down on doping while the other seems to turn a blind eye to it somewhat. Not that it matters really as both guys were clearly way past their primes even in the latter stages of their UFC runs. I’m just glad SOMEONE put the fight together as they couldn’t just leave it at the TUF Brazil 3 brawl, really. My pick was Chael as he took Silva down so easily in that brawl, ha. Plus even in his prime Silva always struggled with wrestlers.

Pre-fight we get the national anthems of Brazil and the USA – the latter played on guitar by Dave Navarro which is AWESOME. Can’t fault the presentation here, this shit is fantastic and should be copied by the UFC.

Round One begins and Sonnen shoots pretty much from the off and puts Silva on his back in guard easily. From there he stacks him up to drop some punches and Silva’s in closed guard too meaning he’s probably not going to be getting up any time soon. Really good top work from Chael and he’s making this look easy thus far. Two minutes to go though and Wanderlei manages to scramble to his feet. Sonnen keeps him pressed into the fence and works him over with some knees, but Silva manages to break. Combination from Silva but Sonnen stalks forward, only to get dropped by a right hand! Wanderlei charges in but Sonnen manages to tie him up from guard before he can really go for the finish. Man, in PRIDE that would’ve been soccer kick central. And sure enough Chael reverses to his feet and tackles Wanderlei onto his back again. He shrugs off a guillotine attempt and looks to hook up a kimura from half-guard before giving that up for more control. Couple of elbows land for Chael as he tries to get to full mount, but the round ends before he can do it. 10-9 Sonnen for sure, but it was a surprisingly fun round.

Round Two opens and Chael comes out swinging and clips Wanderlei, but smartly decides to take him down again when it looks like Wandy wants to trade. Silva goes for a guillotine from the guard, but Chael looks pretty calm as it looks like Wanderlei is breathing heavily. Crowd begin to boo the fact that neither man’s moved for a while, and finally Big John McCarthy stands them up. Big double leg from Sonnen follows the restart and Silva’s on his back in guard again. Action slows down from there as Chael continues to work ground-and-pound but he’s clearly a bit gassed at this point. Round ends in the same spot with Chael just doing enough to keep the fight on the ground. 10-9 Sonnen and realistically Silva needs a KO to win.

Round Three and they exchange some strikes to begin before Chael once again hits a double leg down into side mount this time. Silva’s takedown defense looks non-existent. Sonnen tries to mount this time but gets caught in half-guard instead, not that it appears to matter. From there we get little action as Chael looks gassed, although he does go for a straight armbar that Wanderlei manages to defend. Time is running out though as Sonnen continues to just do enough with his ground-and-pound to keep the fight on the floor. Wanderlei tries pleading with Big John for a stand-up but it doesn’t work and Chael ends up working into full mount with one minute to go. He drops back into side mount from there and continues to smother the Brazilian, and nothing else really happens as Chael chips away at him some more and then mounts him to end the fight. 10-9 Sonnen for a 30-27 whitewash.

Judges indeed have it 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 for Chael Sonnen. And that really should be it for Wanderlei. Post-fight Chael cuts a proper heel promo saying he hates New York which is hilarious, and then he CALLS OUT FEDOR and somehow that fight is actually happening later in 2018 and I can’t wait. I feel ashamed for saying that but it’s true!

Silva meanwhile looks furious with the fight but realistically he should’ve known Sonnen would come in with that kind of gameplan, and it wasn’t like he had any answer for it whatsoever so he only has himself to blame. There was just no takedown defense from him at all. Some people would claim prime Wanderlei would’ve won but I’ve always argued that even prime PRIDE Wanderlei always struggled with wrestlers (Ortiz, Arona) and so Sonnen would always have been a horrible fight for him. For two guys way past their prime this was alright I guess, lot of slow points but that was always likely. At least Bellator managed to get the fight done in the end!

-Show ends there as Chael’s comical country music song plays in the background.

Final Thoughts….

Hard show to rate as Larkin/Lima was somewhat disappointing and Chandler/Primus was a total anticlimax, but the main event worked, the Pico upset was cool and Mitrione/Fedor delivered as best as could’ve been expected. It’s a thumbs up for this one then just about.

Best Fight: Fedor vs. Mitrione
Worst Fight: Lima vs. Larkin

Overall Rating: ***1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: