Bellator XV Recap

Season two of Bellator Fighting Championships rolls on as the organization put on their 15th even on Thursday night. To their great credit, this was the best show thus far in the second season of action, as three fighters stopped their opponents in the first round and the lone decision concluded with no shortage of drama and intrigue. With that in mind, let’s get to the fight recaps.

Patricio Freire def. Will Romero via Submission (inverted heel hook), round 1.

The undefeated “Pitbull” lived up to his credentials, if not necessarily his own expectations. Freire said he would be looking to knockout Romero, a talented kickboxer. Perhaps it was merely gamesmanship on the part of Freire, whose black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under the Nogueira brothers was on put on display very early into the match. Freire was able to put Romero on his back and almost immediately looked for a leg lock. It’s a submission that seems less and less successful in the barefoot world of MMA, but Freire would not be denied. Though he initially tried for the heel hook, Freire ultimately attempted the inverted heel hook by trapping Romero’s left leg under his own right arm and twisting at the heel, forcing Romero to tap almost immediately in lieu of tearing ligaments in his knee. Freire will fight Wilson Reis in the re-seeded semi-finals of the Bellator season 2 Featherwieght tournament in what may turn into a stand up battle as each man’s superb Jiu-Jitsu may cancel the other’s out.

Ryan Thomas def. Jacob McClintock via Technical Knockout, round 1.

You can’t help but feel good for Ryan Thomas, who during last week’s fight against Ben Askren “lost” when referee Dave Smith prematurely stopped the fight when Thomas was caught, but fully conscious, in a guillotine. The misfortune of Jim Wallhead, forced out of the tournament as a result of the volcanic erruptuion in Iceland which is still limiting travel from Europe to the United States, worked to Thomas’ great favor, as he was able to step back into the tournament and salvage Jacob McClintock’s first-round match. In hindsight, McClintock may have preferred Wallhead as his opponent.

McClintock is a very good Jiu-Jitsu player who is trying to develop his wrestling and striking with the team at Arizona Combat Sports. Highlighting his Jiu-Jitsu abilities, McClintock was able to take Thomas’ back while both men were standing. Thomas, a UFC veteran, did not panick while appearing very close to being caught in a rear naked choke, and managed to work his way out of the position and into McClintock’s guard. This led play-by-play man Sean Wheelock to explain that, despite McClintock’s Jiu-Jitsu abilities, he does not like to fight off his back. Almost immediately, we saw the reason why, as Thomas was able to pass McClintock’s guard and pummel him unmercifully. Thomas appeared to have the fight won when McClintock was trapped in a crucifix position wherein he continually ate Thomas’ punches. To McClintock’s great credit, he was able to maintain some semblance of composure and work out of the position and regain guard. It was an effort that belied McClintock’s three-fight record and showed that he has some veteran savvy to himself. Unfortunately for McClintock, his escape was short lived, as even within McClintock’s guard, Thomas was able to pound away, ultimately forcing referee Dan Miragliotta to stop the fight.

Thomas will likely fight Dan Hornbuckle in the semi-finals. It will be a lot to ask of Thomas to beat Hornbuckle, but his ability to not only re-enter but win a match in this tournament may be a sign that fate is conspiring on the side of Thomas. There’s little doubt that Thomas would be thrilled to face Ben Askren again in the finals of the Bellator season two Welterweight tournament.

Dan Hornbuckle def. Tyler Stinson via Submission (Triangle Choke), round 1.

Stinson, who earned a spot in the tournament through a successful tryout with Bellator and as a result of an injury to Sean Pierson, appeared to have something for Hornbuckle very early in the fight. Stinson stuffed a Hornbuckle takedown and put Hornbuckle on his back. Ultimately, Hornbuckle proved why he is considered the favorite to win the Bellator season two Welterweight tournament. Hornbuckle, who is best remember for his devastating knockout of Akihiro Gono in Sengoku last year, showed his versatility against Stinson. While on his back, Hornbuckle attempted to catch Stinson in an armbar. When Stinson freed his arm, Hornbuckle immediately transitioned into the triangle choke. Though Stinson appeared able to shift himself around Hornbuckle and out of the immediate danger of the triangle, Hornbuckle wisely trapped Stinson’s free arm, preventing him from moving and further and ultimately forcing Stinson to tap out. Hornbuckle will likely fight Ryan Thomas in the semi-finals.

Steve Carl def. Brett Cooper via Split Decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28).

This was a match where you say to yourself “if this had been in Pride, the other guy would have won.” Of course, Bellator is not Pride, and Brett Cooper’s late push and apparent near knockout of Steve Carl earned him only one round on two of the three judges score cards. By no means was the decision a robbery, but it was somewhat unfortunate that the fighter who came the closest to stopping the fight lost an otherwise largely uneventful contest.

A brief aside: I am convinced that Gold Medal Greco-Roman Wrestler Jeff Blatnick is my judging surrogate. He and I scored the fight identically in favor of Brett Cooper, a decision which hinged on the interpretation of the second round, where I (and apprently Blatnick) felt that Cooper was the superior striker. Aside from this fight, I cannot recall even one example of a fight in which Blatnick has served as a judge where I have not agreed with his scores. Barring a sudden loss of vision or sitting to close to Cecil Peoples and absorbing his incompetence, I think Blatnick should judge every major MMA fight going forward. And now, back to the fight recap.

Steve Carl’s best attribute is that he goes with the flow of the fight. He was not particularly aggressive against Cooper (though he was slightly more aggressive for the most part), he doesn’t have a good takedown, and his strikes are neither particularly effective nor technical, but he seems to be reasonably comfortable in all facets on Mixed Martial Arts. At one point he was stringing together punches and kicks in a way that highlighted his lack of technical prowess but showed that he is not afraid to put himself out there in a fight. That may be a catch-22 in the semi-final round, as a tougher opponent will be able to exploit Carl’s lack of refinement and over commitment to certain techniques.

To that point, though it would appear Carl will face Ben Askren in the semi-finals, I don’t think it particularly matters who he faces, as I believe that Carl cannot win a semi-final match. Ben Askren will take Carl down almost immediately and Carl will not leave the canvas until the match is over. Dan Hornbuckle will pick Carl apart on the feet and, as we saw earlier during this event, is more than capable of submitting an opponent if the fight goes to the floor. Even Ryan Thomas poses a significant threat to Carl, as Thomas is an aggressive fighter with decent and powerful standup, no worse a takedown than Carl, and good ground and pound. Then again, upsets are part and parcel with MMA, and Carl certainly doesn’t lack the confidence necessary to compete in the semi-finals.

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