Alexis Vila, Shinya Aoki Impress In Non-UFC Events Saturday

Shinya Aoki (photo courtesy of Esther Lin / Strikeforce)

Bellator 51 and Dream 17 deliver excellent events

Alexis Vila already has the Olympic medal Joe Warren desperately wants. Saturday night, he also took his place in the second round of the Bellator bantamweight tournament, knocking out the self-proclaimed “Baddest Man on the Planet” in just 64 seconds.

The two had been engaged in a heated war of words throughout the build-up to this bout, and Warren had made it known he wanted to retain his featherweight title while adding the bantamweight belt and then Olympic gold to his mantle.

While he’s still the 145 pound champion and the Olympics are more than a year away, Vila ended his bantamweight tournament dreams quickly and emphatically. The Cuban defector caught Warren with a booming left hook, starching him. With the win, Vila moves his record to a perfect 10-0, and stamps himself as the tournament favorite.

Brazilian youngster Eduardo Dantas might be his stiffest competition. The Nova Uniao product pushes his winning streak to four with a second round TKO victory over Bellator tournament veteran Wilson Reis. Dantas has now won nine of his last ten fights, the lone loss coming to Shooto featherweight champion Masakatsu Ueda last September. Also advancing to the semifinal round were Ed West and Dantas’ Nova Uniao teammate Marcos Galvao.

The day of fighting began with Dream 17 at the Saitama Super Arena.

Just like Bellator 51, the event featured an eight-man bantamweight tournament, but unlike their North American counterparts, Dream also delivered a full line-up of exciting action outside of the tournament bouts.

In the main event, Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki made quick work of “Razor” Rob McCullough, forcing the former WEC lightweight champ to submit via neck crank at 4:57 of the opening round. It was Aoki’s sixth consecutive win since losing to Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez at Strikeforce: Nashville in April 2010.

Tatsuya Kawajiri was successful in his first bout as a featherweight, collecting a third round submission win over Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen. Former Shooto lightweight champion “Lion” Takeshi Inoue scored an impressive first round knockout of Japanese veteran Caol Uno, while UFC vet Gerald Harris made his Dream debut a successful one, coming away with a split decision victory over Kazuhiro Nakamura.

In the Bantamweight Grand Prix, WEC and UFC veteran Antonio Banuelos, former Dream featherweight champ Bibiano Fernandes, Masakazu Imanari, and Rodolfo Marques advance to the second round.

The lone sour note of the night saw MMA legend and Japanese icon Kazushi Sakuraba fall to Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Yan Cabral, submitting to a arm triangle choke at 2:42 of the second round. It’s the 42-year-old Sakuraba’s fourth consecutive loss, and his sixth over his last eight fights. He last earned a victory in October 2009.

Friday night at Strikeforce Challengers 19 in Las Vegas, light heavyweight Lorenz Larkin remained undefeated, scoring a unanimous decision win over a game Nick Rossborough; the Riverside, California native is now 12-0, with three consecutive wins in the Challengers series.

In other action at The Pearl at The Palms, heavyweight Shawn Jordan submitted Lavar Johnson, Ryan Couture dominated Wand Fight Team’s Maka Watson, and Jason High earned a second straight solid, but unspectacular decision victory.

Two fighters hoping to make their way back to the big leagues were dealt crushing bows at Titan Fighting Championships 20. Heavyweight Brett Rogers dropped a split decision to UFC veteran Eddie Sanchez, while Jamie Varner lost a unanimous decision to Dakota Cochrane.

The loss pushed Varner’s record to 1-4-1 over his last six fights, prompting the former WEC lightweight champ to tweet a retirement announcement after the bout, though it was deleted shortly after.