(The end of the Alvarez/Neer fight, via YouTube.com/BellatorMMA.)
By DL “Tank Abbot” Richardson
Some of Bellator’s biggest names were on the card last night at the Citi Performing Arts Center, for the first-ever major MMA show in Boston. Two semi-final matchups for the lightweight tourney were on tap, plus a 160-pound SuperFight between Eddie Alvarez and Josh Neer, and a heavyweight exhibition featuring one of Brock Lesnar‘s training
dummies partners. But not everything went as planned. A full rundown of Bellator 17 is after the jump. Prepare yourselves — some crazy shit went down…
Cole Konrad vs. Pat Bennett
It’s a battle of the XXL wrestlers, between Division III standout Pat “I Haven’t Come Up With a Good One Yet” Bennett and mammoth NCAA Division I champ Cole “Brock Won’t Let Me Have One” Konrad. Commentators Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock mention a rumored heavyweight tournament in Bellator’s third season, which begins August 21, while Bennet and Konrad wait to begin their matchup. The pre-fight hype surrounds Konrad, who compiled an impressive record of 155-13 at the University of Minnesota, and currently trains with Team DeathClutch (read: LesnarCamp). Thing is, the guy really needs to book a session with P.R. Cole and work out a plan — he possesses one of the most unimpressive physiques in all of sports. And yes, I know who John Daly is.
What follows is comparable to a battle between two bull elephant seals: there’s not much skill on display, just a lot of bulk moving around with occasional bursts of movement. Konrad scores a takedown in the first, and throws some strikes from top position. Bennett can’t get the behemoth off, and ends the first frame bloodied. The second round is uneventful: both fighters are totally gassed, sporadically winging punches at one another. Konrad manages to connect a few times with right hands that get through Bennett’s defense, but it looks like they both need to just sit down and talk out their differences. The fight just devolves from there: Hands continue to drop lower and lower, the pauses between action become longer and longer, and the crowd begins to boo louder and louder. Bennett can’t get off any effective striking, and Konrad manages to land enough of those right hands to make pretty fist patterns on Bennett’s facial area. Cole Konrad defeats Pat Bennett via unanimous decision.
Eddie Alvarez vs. Josh “The Dentist” Neer
In order to keep the Bellator champions in the spotlight and give them a payday, Bjorn Rebney and matchmaker Sam Caplan have set up non-title “SuperFights” to showcase the men who won last season. Tonight, 155-pound champ Eddie Alvarez fights a 160-pound catchweight bout with Josh Neer, a scrap apparently set up on the basis that both men have their last names tattooed on their backs. Alvarez took part in the 2008 Dream Lightweight Grand Prix prior to Bellator’s inaugural season, and he has never lost a tournament fight. Josh Neer has spent time in the UFC, but has been bounced twice because of losses. It’s a match that has “tune-up” written all over it.
The referee invites the two men to engage, and they are quick to do so. Alvarez overpowers Neer everywhere: he scores takedowns easily, works pounding offense on the ground, and, when swept in round 1, simply pushes to his feet and starts again. Neer does a decent job of protecting himself, but he has no answer for Alvarez. In the second round, Alvarez gets Neer’s back and slips in one hook. Neer pushes to his feet, but he forgets to protect his neck: Alvarez sinks a deep rear-naked choke and waits. The Dentist makes a feeble attempt to free himself, and then falls forward on his face like he’s been tased. Eddie Alvarez defeats Josh Neer via technical submission (Rear Naked Choke), 2:08 of Round 2.
Pat Curran vs. Roger “El Matador” Huerta
If you know anyone in Bellator’s 155-pound brackets, it’s UFC veteran Roger “El Matador” Huerta. One of MMA’s top 5 pound-for-pound pretty boys, Huerta has done the cover of Sports Illustrated as well as Hollywood movies. Pat Curran gained most of his experience in the Xtreme Fighting Organization, a Chicago-area promotion owned and operated by his cousin, Jeff Curran. Huerta is the odds-on favorite to run the table and challenge Alvarez, and he looked impressive in his dominating win against Chad Hinton. Pat Curran was also impressive in the quarterfinals, scoring a concussive knockout over Mike Ricci, but he seems a little starstruck going up against Huerta.
The bout starts off deliberately, with both men throwing leg and body kicks and trying to get a feel for timing. There’s some good striking exchanges, but no major damage. Curran throws a scary-looking head kick, and while it doesn’t seem to connect cleanly, Curran is beginning to look more comfortable. No damage done in the first, but it’s a moral victory for Curran and he takes the round. The second features a bit more action, with some clinch work and a knee exchange to start things off. Huerta is ready to mix it up, and the crowd is getting into it. More clinch work, Huerta utilizes knees against his opponent’s thighs and ribs, then punches to Curran’s thigh. Curran is holding his own, and lands a lunging punch just before the bell.
Round three begins and both fighters believe it’s tied one round apiece. They come out swinging, and it’s a good scrap that goes back and forth, up and down. Curran seems to be connecting first in the exchanges. Huerta scores a takedown. Curran sits out, and reverses. He’s got a good hold on Huerta’s head, and even seems to have a D’Arce choke set up with a minute left, but he inexplicably lets it go. They stand, clinch again, and now Curran scores a takedown, but Huerta works his way back up. They continue to trade blows until the bell. The judges give the nod to Pat Curran, in what is easily the biggest upset of the season. Huerta just didn’t have the eye of the tiger.
Toby Imada vs. Carey Vanier
If Toby Imada fought in Japan, they’d give him a nickname that translated to “The Master of That Crazy Submission Everyone Saw on YouTube”. Bellator airs highlights of his bout last season with Jorge Masvidal, including the inverted triangle that made him famous, and yes, it’s still awesome. Carey Vanier is a young wrestler with good boxing skills on a six-fight streak going into this match, including his ground and pound TKO over Joe Duarte last month. His pre-fight tape is a little lighter on highlights, but we learn that he worked at Best Buy to provide for his son. He seems like a nice guy; he’s quick and he’s got good power at 155, but he’s stepping up against Bellator’s submission machine.
They touch gloves to start off, and Vanier is bouncing around, striking at odd angles that seem to put off Imada. Vanier has some decent boxing, and he’s keeping Imada on his toes with his southpaw stance. He gets a successful takedown, and works toward mount, but Imada slides out and up to his feet. Vanier throws some good kicks, and they continue to circle, jabbing and feinting. Halfway through the first, they both go to the ground with Imada in a North-South sprawl position, and he seems to go for the same inverted triangle, but it’s not there for him. He switches and goes for a kneebar, but Vanier manages to roll out of that. They get back to their feet, and Vanier immediately gets another takedown, but they just as quickly get back to their feet. Knees and punches fly — these guys are bringing it, son. Vanier manages to get around behind Imada and pulls out a full-on belly to back suplex, straight back over the top. It’s impressive, and the crowd enjoys it, but Imada starts working a kimura before his vertebrae stop rattling. That leads back to the feet, and they finish out an exciting round with a bit more striking to the bell.
The second starts out with some kicks from both fighters, and then Imada begins to take over. He’s landing more punches now. They clinch, and Vanier tries to get a single-leg. Rather than let Vanier have it, Imada executes a beautiful body-scissor takedown to a kneebar. Vasnier rolls and pulls away, slipping out the back. Imada, holding onto one of Vanier’s heels, throws a punch between his own legs at Vanier’s face. It’s not clear if it lands, but it doesn’t matter: even the commentators are unabashedly impressed by this innovative maneuver. The two scramble, and Imada secures a kneeling side-control. He steps over Vanier’s head, and seizes his arm. Vanier knows what’s coming, but he can’t stop it. Imada wins by armbar at 3:33 of Round 2.
Analysis and Notes:
– Pat Curran and Toby Imada will meet up for the lightweight final. Curran would be a nice Cinderella story, but Imada has been impressing people with every bout. This one should be an entertaining scrap. I expect Toby Imada to attempt roughly eleventy-five subs, and go on to challenge Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight strap later this year.
– Expect to see plenty more of Carey Vanier: he kept a good pace and showed impressive skills in losing what was easily the fight of the night.
– It is highly doubtful that Bellator institutes a heavyweight field. The Konrad – Bennett fight was abysmal, while the lighter weight classes have been incredibly popular.
– A bantamweight tournament has been confirmed for season three starting in late summer, and it was also announced that top pound-for-pound women’s fighter Megumi Fujii will take part in a women’s tournament, probably at 115 pounds.
From the Undercard:
If you happen to live in the Boston area, you may know some of the local boys who got the crowd warmed up…
– Justin Torrey def. Lance Everson via TKO (knees), 3:55 of Round 2
– Greg Rebello def. John Doyle via unanimous decision
– Josh Laberge def. Dan Bonnell with the quickness, via TKO (strikes), 0:48 of Round 1
– Chuck “Cold Steel” O’Neil def. Damien Vitale via TKO (doctor’s stoppage due to cuts), 1:02 of Round 3