(Bellator Savings and Loans? I’m not familiar with that bank, Mr. Curran. We’ll have to put a hold on that check)
By DL “Colorful Prose” Richardson
As the second season of Bellator draws to a close, we get less of the tournament battles and more of the feature bouts and tryout fights. That’s not necessarily a complaint: fighters can put on some captivating performances when there’s a lot on the line, and we’ve seen it already this season. Tonight, the main event is the final of the 155 pound tournament, but there’s considerable buzz around the stateside return of Megumi Fujii. Fujii, who came in at 19-0, is considered one of, if not the, top pound for pound women’s fighters. Bellator rounds out the live show with a heavyweight bout with a potential invitation to next season’s tournament on the line.
Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly, and I’ll tell you what went down, what I think about it, and the secret ingredient to in El Famous Burritos.
The secret ingredient is love. Lots of hot, steamy love. And cilantro.
Steve “The Panda” Banks vs Mike “300” Hayes
Steve Banks seems like the cheerful fat kid that became popular after he started playing football. He has a smile on his face as he walks to the cage and says that staying positive helps in a fight. He’s doesn’t have the smoothest interview, but he seems nice enough, and we learn he’s played football and been a cheerleader. AND he can do a full split. Go ahead and joke if you want; homeslice is 6’5” and cuts down to 265. I’m just going to tell him his tats are cool and shaving your back is for girly-men. Mike Hayes is a pretty big fella too: 6’4” and 235 is an imposing figure in most people’s living rooms. He apparently really likes the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, although it’s possible he just made a bunch of “This is SPARTA!” jokes a few years back, and now he’s stuck with a numerical nickname.
The fight begins, and it looks like Hayes isn’t used to being the smaller guy. Banks looks to have a good reach advantage, and he’s using Thai-style leg kicks to keep Hayes outside. Hayes keeps his right hand cocked for a KTFO shot, but he doesn’t want to eat a whole cinderblock-fist on the way in. Two minutes in, Hayes manages to grab a clinch, but Banks works knees like he’s a Muay Thai guy. (This just in: Banks claims to be a Muay Thai guy. He’s a giant bear of a guy from North Carolina, and he walks around at almost 300 pounds, but apparently he digs the art of eight limbs. Maybe he fell in love with Ong Bak?) Round one closes out without any of that silly ground fighting stuff, just plenty of sweet, slow-motion heavyweight striking. They clinch a bit now and then, but most of the round was spent with exploratory striking, no major points scored.
Start of the second frame, and Hayes seems to have adjusted to fighting a bigger guy. The Panda is big, and he probably hits hard, but he’s slower than the guy that mops the floor at MacDonald’s. Hayes is starting to move in and out, throwing strikes and clinching and trying to wear the bigger man out. Halfway into the second, and it’s working: Banks is gulping air and his hands are dropping. With one minute left, Hayes finally scores a takedown and tries to work some strikes from guard. He runs out of time, but he takes the round, and he’s fatigued his opponent badly.
The fighters come out for round three, and Banks lands a beautiful head kick to start off the round. It has zero force behind it, but it looks like he’s technically proficient in kickboxing. Unfortunately, Panda Bear is all tuckered out. He wants to continue his offense, but he there’s no ass behind his techniques. Hayes is now scoring much easier, and he’s pushing Banks around. Hayes has developed a nice mouse under his left eye, and he’s obviously tired as well, but he’s in control of this fight. Hayes works some strikes in the clinch, and then they both lean on the cage, breathing and sweating. Banks throws a low leg kick that is comically underpowered, and Hayes goes for a single leg. Banks hops around for a while on one leg, and they spill to the floor. Hayes lands beside Banks—he’s not even holding him down anymore—but Banks can’t get back up. Hayes climbs on top of Banks, and they sort of wave their arms at each other until the bell, finally, mercifully, calls an end to the action. Judges rule in all their wisdom, and Mike Hayes defeats Steve Banks via unanimous decision.
Megumi “Megamegu” Fujii vs Sarah “White Tiger” Schneider
Megumi Fujii is tops pound for pound in women’s MMA, either number one or two, depending on whom you ask. She’s unbeaten at 115, and she has a nasty submission habit. She’s already the presumed champ for a tournament that hasn’t even started yet, and she’s strictly on the card to introduce her to the western audience. Or maybe it’s to give announcers some practice with her name; no two guys pronounce her name the same way. Her opponent is Sarah Schneider, whose 4-4 record belies her actual skill level standing. Schneider has faced some stiff competition, including Adrienna Jenkins, Sarah Kaufman, Tanya Evinger, and Kaitlin Young. Unfortunately, Schneider’s strength is the ground game. Coming in against Fujii, she’s bringing a knife to a gun fight. Schneider’s main advantage is her size: she’s cut down to 120 for this fight from her normal fight weight of 135—she could potentially overpower Megamegu.
Round 1 starts, and Fujii comes straight towards her opponent. Schneider looks like she may believe she’s fighting Cyborg Santos—she’s backing away from the standup. Fujii has good movement and hands, but her kicks are not all that scary. She lets a couple of front kicks fly, and Schneider catches the second, and shoves Fujii into the cage. It’s an opening, but she doesn’t pounce. Fujii resets, and keeps coming forward. She throws another kick, which Schneider blocks and answers with a couple of lefts, but she’s not committing to anything. Fujii darts in and gets her hands around Schneider, goes for an outside leg trip and then scores with an inside leg. Now it’s on the ground, where Fujii has scored submission victories in 84% of her bouts. Schneider applies a body triangle, which will keep Fujii close, but she’s not able to get any kind of offense going. Fujii punches, landing a few to the back of Schneider’s skull, and is warned. Fujii changes tactics, picking up her larger opponent and slamming her back to the canvas. It’s not quite a Jackson-Arona powerbomb, but it’s still pretty impressive. Still, Fujii isn’t able to mount any offense herself, and the ref stands them up due to lack of action. The ladies flurry briefly, and Fujii dives for a takedown when Schneider tries a spinning back fist. Fujii transitions to mount quickly, and Schneider worms her way back to guard. Fujii drops some hammers, opening a cut on the bridge of the White Tiger’s nose. The ref stands them up again just before the bell, and the fighters head back to their corners.
Round 2 starts and Schneider comes out like she ain’t scurred, homey. She throws a flurry, and then leaps to take Fujii’s back. Fujii lets that go on for a few seconds and then places Schneider on her back again. Schneider works a high guard, trying to stalemate Fujji. Megamegu stays busy, and they scramble a bit, then rest. Ref calls for stand up again, and Fujii is coming forward like the Teminator. Fujii again wades in with strikes, then scores a takedown. I’d make a joke about how much time Schneider is spending on her back, but her brother has my number and she might actually track me down and whoop my ass. Anyways, ref stands them up again, and Schneider is bleeding freely now. She goes for another back fist, and Fujii shoots. Schneider may have an opportunity for a guillotine, but she doesn’t have both arms in, so she works to peel Fujii off instead. Good luck with that, though. Fujii ain’t getting off of her until the ref makes her, and the bell sounds.
Round three: no matter what else you can say, Schneider is in shape, and she’s not thowing in a towel like a little girl. She rushes Fujii at the bell, and backs her up against the cage. Then, in a moment that she’ll replay in her head for a long time, Schneider backs off. She throws a kick, and Fujii catches it and shoots into a side control takedown. Schneider is great at regaining half guard, but she just can’t threaten Fujii from her back. Fujii works hard, looks for an armbar, and gains a full mount. She starts raining down hooks, nothing devastating, but they keep coming. And coming. Schneider bucks once, but it’s not enough. Fujii keeps the GNP going, and the ref stops it. Schneider doesn’t like the stoppage, but she wasn’t going anywhere. Megumi Fujii defeats Sarah Schneider via TKO (punches) at 1:58 of Round 3.
Toby “Master of TCSTESOY” Imada vs Pat “What’s My Nickname Again?” Curran
Ok, if you don’t know Tobias Imada, I’m not sure I want to be your friend. He’s got twelve years of experience in MMA and a highlight reel of submission victories you need to see. If you don’t know Pat Curran, however, I won’t hold it against you. Curran came out of Nowhere, Illinois to KO Mike Ricci and outpoint Roger Huerta, and here he is in the Bellator finals. With an excellent wrestling base and concussive striking, and trained by his cousin Jeff Curran, Pat has made a splash at 155, and now he’s one step from challenging from for the Bellator title. In the lead-in to the fight, commentator Jimmy Smith warns viewers to “be ready for a technical fight”, which is code for “sorry ahead of time if this turns boring”. I haven’t seen Imada be boring yet, so we’ll just see about that.
The bell starts the action, and Imada comes out quickly to claim the center of the ring. They circle one another, trying to find the range. Imada backs Curran into the cage, and they clinch. This sets off KneeFest 2009, as they trade knees to the legs and body. Imada hits a nice inside leg trip, but Curran immediately gets back to a vertical position. Imada keeps him pinned to the fence, peppering his thighs with knees. Currans answers with some knees to the gut, and back and forth it goes. With 30 seconds left in the round, Curran backs out and lands a nice hook, knocking Imada off balance, but he seems fine and keeps coming. The bell breaks them up.
They touch gloves to start the second, and they circle again. Curran lands a nice one-two combo, but Imada continues forward, forward, forward. Curran will sporadically land some strikes, but Imada is controlling the cage. He tackles Curran, but again they wind up back on their feet, up against the cage. Imada is leaning in on him, and he’s working those knees to thigh and torso. They clinch, Imada working the fight down to his home on the ground, Curran working to stay upright. It’s a stalemate, and the ref separates them. One of the cageside coaches calls for head movement, and both fighters obediently begin to jive and nod their heads like they just downloaded the new Eminem track. They finish out the round with some striking; it looks like Imada is getting in the better licks when the bell sounds.
Third round, last time pays for all. Imada is still the aggressor, coming forward and cutting off as much of the ring as he can. A minute in, fakes a right high kick, and as he slides forward on his right foot, Curran catches him with a short right, and then inexplicably backs away. It doesn’t seem to hurt Imada, but it tears up his eye pretty good. There’s a cut over his eye, but he’s still walking Curran down. He’s still moving well, and moving forward. Imada can’t get Curran on his back to submit him, but he’s not hesitant to engage on the feet. He tries another trip, Curran throws it off and backs away. Going into the last thirty seconds, Imada digs some knees from a Thai clinch, then pulls a nice head and arm throw, forcefully hip tossing Curran to the canvas. Curran scrambles to his feet one last time, and the bell sends it the the judges.
Well, fans, what do we know about leaving to the judges? That’s right, it’s announced as a split decision for Pat Curran over Toby Imada, much to the dismay of pretty much everyone not named Curran. The crowd boos. Eddie Alvarez says that it could’ve gone either way (meaning: “Bro, I can’t believe they gave you that fight.”). The commentators disagree openly. More than a few websites Tweet their disapproval. I curse and spill my beer. Even after watching the fight twice, I can’t see it. The only thing I can figure is that Imada bleeding swayed the judges. Whatever. I have a feeling we’ll see this rematch down the road.
The undercard guys tried to make an impression on the crowd and the boss:
Bantamweight Bout: Zach Makovsky def. Eric Luke via submission (kimura) – Round 2, 4:28
Welterweight Bout: Frank Carrillo def. Sabah Homasi via TKO – Round 3, 3:16
News, Notes, and Analysis
So it seems like Bellator is determined to initiate a heavyweight division, and it’s one of the few decisions they’ve made that I disagree with. I haven’t been impressed with any of the heavyweights I’ve seen thus far, and Banks vs Hayes doesn’t do anything to change my mind. Slow, no gas, no impressive technique…they can do better.
Fujii comes off ADORABLE in her post fight interview. She manages some response in English, and you just want to hug her, if she promised not to twist your foot off.
Eddie Alvarez provided some of the best entertainment of the night. Not the current Bellator 155 champ, his son. Little Eddie had a front lap seat for his father’s interview, and he mugged for the camera, flexed and posed, and could be heard pointing to Alvarez and saying “This is my dad.” His daddy just happens to be a top 10 (if not top 5) lightweight on the planet. Alvarez deserves a fight against Gilbert Melendez and an Aoki rematch ASAP. Little Eddie probably has a YouTube channel by the time you read this.
Bellator has announced that they have signed seven women to the 115 tourney next season. Confirmed as joining Fujii are: Rosi Sexton, Jessica Pene, Lisa Ward, and Elena Reid. Jessica Aguilar and Angela Magana are expected to take part as well.