It's time to make a return to the more rounded cage of Bellator MMA as they kick off their new weekly season of shows, beginning with the quarter-finals of the middleweight tournament at Bellator 98, shown this past Friday night on Viva here in Britain.
The broadcast began with lightweight action as Derek Anderson took on Patricky Pitbull.
When these two put each other on their backsides in the first few moments of the fight it looked like we were going to get one of those slobber-knocker type affairs. Sadly that never happened, but what we did get was an example of how a fighter can start off well and fade badly as the fight goes on.
After that initial double knockdown early on Pitbull put on a great display when the fight went to the ground. He did a great job of controlling the action as he went first for a triangle and then for an arm bar. Anderson tried to slam his way out at first, and it was only when Pitbull tried to change position that Anderson managed to escape.
But despite that showing Pitbull began to fade from the second round onwards. Anderson's striking looked top notch as he connected with a series of stinging jabs and leg kicks. They weren't overly powerful, but they were effective enough to cause damage. Of course it helped that Pitbull's foot work and head movement were pretty poor at times, making him a static target more or less, and the fatigue was so bad at one point that when a takedown attempt failed he lay on his back, inviting Anderson into his guard. It was an invitation that Anderson was reluctant to accept.
With no finish in sight it the outcome was put in the hands of the judges as Anderson took the unanimous decision.
Then it was on to the middleweight tournament. Quarter-final #1 saw Perry Filkins taking on Jeremy Kimball.
I liked this one. It began with some nice exchanges early on, and as the first round progressed Kimball began to really up his game with some strikes and kicks from unusual angles. It proved to be a sound tactic, and one that clearly frustrated Filkins as he began to voice his displeasure, as did Kimball's takedowns, although Filkins managed to get straight back to his feet each and every time.
Filkins only really came into the fight from the second round onwards. When he took the fight to the ground he did a good job of controlling the action as Kimball clearly looked uncomfortable on his back, and as the round entered it's final minute Filkins took his man's back and unloaded with the ground and pound, but as the old saying goes Kimball was saved by the bell, literally.
It was pretty much the same story in the third. Sadly my satellite signal broke up, which meant I lost the first couple of minutes of the round, but when it came back Filkins countered Kimball's takedown attempt with one of his own, and when Kimball tried to escape Filkins took his back, and when Filkins took his back for a second time in the final minute he quickly synched in a rear naked choke, with Kimball tapping out to give him the submission win.
Quarter-final #2 saw Justin Torrey taking on Brennan Ward.
These two didn't bother with the feeling out period. A couple of blows from Ward and a takedown from Torrey saw to that. Ward managed to pop right back up though, and a few moments later he took Torrey down with a head and arm throw.
By this time Torrey's left eye was beginning to close, probably from those opening exchanges, but that didn't stop him from taking control after countering Ward's heel hook attempt. It was a pretty effective display, but by the time the round ended that eye had now closed completely.
The referee and cage side doctor let Torrey carry on, so what we had was a one-eyed man in an ass kicking contest. Naturally Ward began to target the eye, especially when he took the fight to the ground, and although Torrey managed to escape from his clutches he was soon back on his back. Ward began to unleash with the ground and pound, going after the eye as the swelling popped and the blood flowed, and with Torrey offering nothing in response the referee stepped in to give Ward the TKO win.
Quarter-final #3 saw Jason Butcher going up against Giva Santana.
This was the proverbial game of two halves. After Butcher opened with a nice combination Santana took the fight to the ground and put on an excellent display of jiu-jitsu. Although Butcher showed some sound defensive skills Santana was able to transition at will as he looked for submission after submission, and it was only in the closing moments of the round that Butcher was able to counter and end up in top position.
It was a completely different story in the second round. Santana tried to take the fight to the ground once more, but this time around Butcher sprawled and then refused Santana's invitation to join him on the ground. A few seconds later a Butcher right staggered the Brazilian, with a combination sending him crashing to the ground. Butcher followed him down for a spot of ground and pound until the referee stepped in to give Butcher the TKO win.
Quarter-final #4 saw Mikkel Parlo facing Brian Rogers.
The only fight of the round to go the distance proved to be a very intriguing affair. The first round looked pretty even. Rogers got off some great shots throughout, but Parlo was more than capable of keeping up with him, getting in some good strikes on the counter. It really was a very close round.
But from the second round onwards Parlo took control. When the Dane scored with the takedown he put in a nice stint on the ground as Rogers began to run out of fuel. Parlo looked great as he went to work with the ground and pound, making Rogers look quite ordinary. It was much of the same in the second round, and although Rogers got back to his feet towards the end of the fight a knee to the head sent him crashing to the mat, and had time not been on his side the referee would have probably called it when Parlo went in for the kill.
As for the judges they agreed once more as Parlo took the overwhelming unanimous decision.
The main event saw Brett Cooper challenging Alexander Shlemenko for the Middleweight title.
I'd heard from some quarters about how good this fight was, and I have to say that those people got it spot on, because for 25 minutes these two put on one of the best fights I've seen this year. It may not have been filled with great technical action, but it was filled with heart.
Both guys put on great performances right from the opening bell. Shlemenko's striking was top notch. It was as if he was using some sort of guidance system for his punches, they were that accurate. It wasn't all one-way traffic though. Cooper had his fair share of great moments though, which was evident by the nasty cut the Russian suffered near his left eye.
There were times when this fight looked like it could end at any moment. They both had each other in trouble throughout the fight, but it was the champion who looked like he was going to get the finish when he dropped his man with a left in the fourth, and although Cooper was clearly fatigued Shlemenko just couldn't get the job done, and in the fifth round he stamped his authority on the proceedings when he scored with a series of takedowns.
As for the judges they agreed with each other once again as Shlemenko took the unanimous decision.
In conclusion - The premiere of Bellator's new season proved to be a very enjoyable show. Each and every fight delivered to varying degrees with a nice mixture of TKOs, submissions and decisions, and that was just the tournament quarter-finals.
As for my fight of the night no-prize after seeing that main event there was only really going to be one candidate, so this time around the award goes to the Shlemenko/Cooper main event.
So with all of that out of the way it's time to wrap this thing up by giving Bellator 98 the thumbs up.