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Bellator MMA on Saturday brought a champion-versus-champion superfight to the SAP Center in San Jose, California. With Bellator 206 came some good, some bad and some ugly.
Don’t let the boo birds distract you: Douglas Lima delivered a strategic masterpiece and once again proved he’s one of the best in the world at 170 pounds. His late technical submission of Andrey Koreshkov officially kicked off the opening round of Bellator’s welterweight grand prix. If the opening contest of the opening round is any indication, we can expect some high-level fisticuffs as the tournament continues.
Lima, who as the two-time former champion is expected to see the final, looked like a man greatly improved since Koreshkov grappled his way to a decision win to end his first title reign in July 2015. After evening the score to win the belt back almost two years ago, Lima was determined to not let himself fall victim to the chain wrestling that proved to be his undoing in the original contest. “The Spartan” struggled to get the fight to the floor, as Lima beautifully sprawled and balanced himself to remain on the feet. The subsequent clinch battles that Koreshkov initiated after the failed takedown attempts proved futile, as he couldn’t gain any real advantage against the fence. In fact, the positions were frequently reversed, leaving Koreshkov with his back to the cage.
“The Phenom” slowly chipped away at the Russian’s effectiveness with leg kicks that manifested themselves in the final rounds, where he began marching forward and exploiting his opponent’s compromised movement and diminished confidence in his takedowns. One final attempt at a single-leg from too far out with too little steam was all that was needed for Lima to impose his will, as he quickly battered Koreshkov with strikes before a seamless transition to a vice-tight rear-naked choke. Even if “The Spartan” intended to tap, there was very little time to make up his mind, and he was sleep in just a few seconds.
Lima now awaits the winner of Michael Page-Paul Daley in the semifinals. Either way, expect another display of technical brilliance.
We were so hyped to see a true superfight. Rory MacDonald and Gegard Mousasi definitely check all the boxes necessary to meet the criteria. Current world champions? Check. Shown continued dominance and excellence in their respective weight classes? Check. Intrigue beyond the limitations of the roster in Bellator? Considering that there is a strong case that either man would be atop of his division in the Ultimate Fighting Championship had they remained under its umbrella, check.
In all of our excitement, most of us neglected to seriously consider the possibility of a superfight not turning out to be all that super. This was a textbook case of when superfights go wrong.
MacDonald looked helpless against Mousasi. There was not a single moment in which he had control of the bout. However, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. While MacDonald is skill-wise one of the best fighters in mixed martial arts today, so is Mousasi. A technically skilled smaller man will typically have a rough time getting the best of a technically skilled bigger man.
In all of our anticipation of the event, we seemed to forget that Mousasi was a world champion at light heavyweight, as well, and could easily move back up and have success there again. Where the ill-advised Imanari rolls that were present in his loss to Stephen Thompson led to some puzzling flopping around the cage that was otherwise harmless, that same technique spelled his doom against “The Dreamcatcher.” B.J. Penn, Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier are the exceptions, not the rule. When all other things are relatively equal, size is a huge factor in the outcome of a fight.
If life were to simply carry on for MacDonald, this may not be the biggest deal in the long run. It may still prove to be a slight bump in the road when we have the benefit of hindsight. However, with the aforementioned grand prix now underway, what version of MacDonald will we see? His bloodied face was a disturbing reminder of the facial issues that plagued him after his rematch with Robbie Lawler at UFC 189. If his nose is broken, expect this to be a problem when he faces Jon Fitch. Fortunately for him, Fitch isn’t known for the consistent standup striking that puts his nose in immediate jeopardy. However, game plans and ground-and-pound do exist, and Fitch is a seasoned veteran. Let’s not be shocked if MacDonald steps out of the tournament, paving the way for the winner of Lorenz Larkin and Erick Silva to take his place. Going into the lion’s den of the grand prix in a compromised state is an obvious way to risk the title. At the same time, taking the title of out of the tournament greatly subtracts from the intrigue and stakes of what could be the best thing in the current MMA landscape.
Bellator 206 is the first event in the brief lifespan of this series to get a positive ugly award. It was very tempting to give the nod to referee Mark Smith. While his stoppage in the Aaron Pico and Leandro Higo fight was terrible, it wasn’t as bad of some of the other recent offerings in questionable officiating; here’s looking at you Brandon Pfannenstiel.
However, let’s give credit where credit is due. Pico is the real deal. While he has wowed us with spectacular finishes since the upset loss to Zach Freeman that began his pro career, the competition hasn’t been of the highest caliber. Honestly, it shouldn’t have been. Despite his highly touted background in wrestling and boxing, MMA is a different monster, and Bellator President Scott Coker has been smart to not push the 22-year-old too far and too fast.
The training wheels came off at Bellator 206, as Pico smoked Higo with yet another first-round stoppage. Higo is no slouch, was last seen challenging for Bellator’s bantamweight championship and has seen cage time with established veterans with respectable records. Pico dominating Higo can only mean great things for his future. What was most impressive was his fight IQ. Instead of charging in with reckless abandon while hoping to use his remarkable power, he played it patiently and set up the perfect opportunities to strike.
The reason why this wins the ugly stamp, is what this means for the other featherweights in Bellator. With legendary boxing coach Freddie Roach and Team Bodyshop head Antonio McKee in tow, Pico proudly proclaimed his intentions to dethrone current featherweight champion Patricio Freire. While that would represent another big step up in competition, it doesn’t sound far-fetched or overly ambitious. In his post-fight interview with John McCarthy, Pico estimates that he’ll be untouchable in three or four years. On his current trajectory, I’m inclined to think it will be much sooner than that.