(Scott "Bear" Barrett rocking the most ironic boxer-briefs in Bellator history. Photo courtesy of Bellator.com)
By DL “@ReXone3” RichardsonJr
Bellator FC rolled into Chicago this week, in the second stop of the season 3 tour. On the menu for the evening are two heavyweight tilts, one women’s featherweight bout, and a handful of showcase fights. Bellator has continued to sign talent, and they bring in a few UFC vets to fill out the card: Brad Blackburn (3-2 UFC) is matched up with Dan Hornbuckle, who came up short last season in the welterweight tournament. Brian Gassaway lost to Diego Sanchez back at UFC 54 when Diego was the next big thing, and he faces off against fellow one-and-done Zuffa employee Kevin Knabjian, who lost to Brock Larson in the WEC. And for those of you who enjoy the finer things in life — pimpin’, traveling the world, and spinning elbows, Bellator presents Mr International himself, Shonie Carter.
Bellator has done everything they can to ensure an entertaining show. Will the tournaments continue to be action-packed? Will one of these vets make a statement with their performance? Will Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock correctly pronounce “Megumi Fujii”? Will Cole Konrad come out in a singlet, bro-ssiere, maybe both?
Well, I have some answers for you. You may not like them, but I got them….
The truth is, Bellator XXV seemed a bit off before the first glove tap. Weigh-ins were an issue for several, including Zoila Frausto. Frausto normally walks around at 135, but she dieted down to hit the 115 tournament weight. Frausto reported that she woke up at 115 on Wednesday, and she was as shredded as an Illinois governor’s credibility at the weigh-ins. Dan Hornbuckle reportedly woke up at 205, but he must have spent all day in the world’s most powerful sweat lodge, because he weighed in that evening at 170.5. Of course, you’ve heard about Shonie Carter’s slight weight issue, and the pimptastic way in which Carter negotiated the situation. Add in some minor stuttering from referees and commentators, and a couple of uncharacteristically dull fights, and you’d be forgiven for crashing out early on the couch. Let’s go over the chain of events…
Jessica Pene versus Zoila “Warrior Princess” Frausto
You’ve met Jess Pene already (and by the way, she thinks you‘re a bunch of assholes), and we saw Frausto just last month, when she detonated a tactical knee-nuke in Dr Rosi Sexton’s face. That knockout was nasty enough for Bellator to place it in their opening’s highlight reel, and Frausto is confident coming off of the win. Pene weighed in at 114, but she looks willowy in the cage with Frausto.
Unfortunately, this match has none of the sizzle of the previous women’s division fights. Both fighters are cautious of their opponent’s strengths, and try to play a conservative game to avoid getting sent home early. Pene is a boxing coach, but she wants to exploit Frausto’s weakness in the ground game. Frausto’s plan is to stay standing and use kicks and knees to ruin Pene’s plans to win quickly, shower, and catch a late showing of Eat, Pray, Love. What results is a great deal of clinching and jockeying for position. Neither fighter wants to commit to their strikes, so there’s a lot of range-finding kicks and getting-to-know-you jabs. Pene shoots for takedowns, but those murderous knees are down there and Pene is gun-shy. She’s just wading in and clinching with Frausto, who has a significant strength advantage. The two really don’t even look like they’re in the same weight class. Frausto muscles Pene around the cage, and stays dominant enough to impress the judges. Zoila Frausto defeats Jessica Pene via unanimous decision. Frausto says she’s disappointed in her performance, but she’ll get another chance against Jessica Aguilar sometime soon. Aguilar will be looking for the ground game as well, so hopefully Frausto spends the next few weeks rolling with some BJJ black belts.
Dan Hornbuckle is back, and he’s ready to get back in the hunt in the welterweight division. He had no answer for the non-stop wrestling machine named Ben Askren, and lost in the finals last season. He gets a little choked up during his interview when talking about his family, but he’s an emotional guy and he never actually makes tears, so it’s totally ok. He meets up with “Bad” Brad Blackburn, whom I am nominating as a “Worst Nicknames” candidate. Blackburn is 17-11, with 9 KOs and 3 Submissions on his record. Blackburn earned three of those wins in the UFC, including one over Ryo Chonan, but was released after back to back losses to Amir Sadollah and DeMarques Johnson. Both men have declared that they will win via striking in this fight, and they both win want a win badly.
The fighters come out and begin trading immediately; Hornbuckle scores a takedown and Blackburn reciprocates with a guillotine attempt. Hornbuckle escapes and works back to his feet, and catches a sharp right on the jaw that sends him down on his ass. He’s not rocked, though; Hornbuckle immediately starts working his guard. He looks for a submission with those stilts of his, then abruptly remembers that he wants to stand and bang in this fight, so he shoves Blackburn back out of his guard and the two stand for some boxing. Blackburn has great movement, and he’s bobbing and weaving around many of Hornbuckle’s punches. Hornbuckle mixes a liberal dose of kicks into his offense, but Blackburn defends well.
The second frame is a kickboxing match, with Hornbuckle beginning to come off better in the exchanges. He’s finding his range and doing a good job blocking Blackburn’s punches with his gloves and forearms. Halfway into the second, Blackburn hauls off and kicks Hornbuckle in the junk. As Hornbuckle lets loose with another left head kick, Blackburn tries a right front kick and lands firmly against Hornbuckle’s cup. Hornbuckle actually jumps a bit just before the kick lands, and goes down in a heap. Naturally, we see it from three different angles in slow motion. Hornbuckle takes a moment to will his testicles back down toward his lower abdomen, and they restart. With fifteen seconds left in the round, Hornbuckle knocks Blackburn down with a push kick to the chest. He rushes in, and tries to follow up by launching Blackburn’s dome piece into the third row, but he misses and time runs out.
Last round, and both fighters are content to stand and trade. Hornbuckle has got his offense dialed in, and he’s able to use his reach advantage to avoid getting hit. He’s still looking for another head kick KO win, and he does a good job mixing in kicks. Blackburn seems to have slowed a bit, and he can’t get inside on Hornbuckle and work him over. With ninety seconds left in the fight, Hornbuckle turns up the heat, now adding knees to the rotation. Hornbuckle runs out the clock throwing kick combinations, and he gets in some good shots, but he’s unable to finish the fight before the clock finishes it for him. Dan Hornbuckle defeats Brad Blackburn via unanimous decision.
Scott Barrett is a six foot slab of jock, weighing in at 263 pounds. He wrestled in college, but he doesn’t have the usual athletic look you expect in MMA fighters. Alright, look, Barrett’s a big guy. He’s fat, ok? He’s fat. There, I said it. His torso looks like a stack of pancakes, which I’m assuming he loads up on at every opportunity. He does have Todd Duffee in his corner, so there’s that. Across the cage from him is Damian Grabowski, an undefeated fighter out of Poland who is fighting in front of an American audience for the first time. With twelve wins and twelve stoppages, Grabowski looks significantly better at a leaner 240. Grabowski does seem to have the crowd on his side, apparently because the Chicago Theater is in Little Poland.
Grabowski starts off getting some good strikes in, scoring on Barrett but not doing any major damage. One minute into the first, Barrett lifts Grabowski and gets him on his back. Grabowski, to his credit, stays active from his guard, keeping Barrett occupied with hammerfists from the bottom. Barrett works into half guard, and briefly appears to consider an Americana, then abandons it. Halfway into the first, Grabowski reverses, rolling into Barrett’s guard. The fighters work to their feet, then go back to the mat, and Grabowski again is actively striking from his back. He lands a stiff upkick with time running out, throws up his legs for a triangle, and pushes out and regains his feet. Barrett clinches as time runs out in the first.
Round 2 features a heaping helping of the Polish Pitbull getting laid on. Side note: “Heaping Helping” would be a great nickname for Scott Barrett. Grabowski stays busy on the bottom, to his credit, but Barrett keeps his head down and avoids serious damage. He also avoids actually doing anything effective for most of the round, but whatever. With 1:40 left in the second, Barrett finally sneaks his legs out guard and gains a full mount on Grabowski. Grabowski rolls to his stomach, giving up his back in an effort to escape, but Barrett sinks his hooks in deep and flattens him out, looking to end this with some ground and pound targeting Grabowski’s ears. Grabowski rolls with Barrett still on his back, then snaps around into Barrett’s guard. Just like that, he went from a possible stoppage situation to being back in the driver’s seat. He finishes out the last thirty seconds attacking Barrett’s ribs and cranium with hammer fists.
Third round, and it’s anyone’s guess who’s winning on the judges’ scorecards. The fighters come out and it’s evident that Barrett is spent. His hands drop down around his waist, he’s completely flat-footed moving around, and his general movement speed could be described as molassesesque, but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue and technically isn’t a real word, but you get the idea. Grabowski, on the other hand, still has gas left, and he’s just firing at will. Nothing fancy or tricksy, this is just like target practice. Grabowski lands punches all over Barrett’s head and neck, but Barrett keeps taking shots and stubbornly refuses to go down—if that sounds like your experiences with that one chick with the Pooh Bear tattoo at the bar, sorry to bring it up. At any rate, while I’m thoroughly unimpressed with Barrett’s cardio, I give him props for his heart and chin, as the guy just keeps coming forward. Grabowski inexplicably tries a takedown late, which Barrett is able to avoid and then answer with a takedown attempt of his own. Barrett scores with a tackle, and spends the dying seconds of the fight attacking Grabowski’s ribs in a less-than-terrifying manner.
We go to the judges, and you just sort of assume that Barrett gets the nod for takedowns and being on top a lot. Well psychadilly, son: judges unanimously uphold Damian Grabowski as the winner of all three rounds. It’s surprising, but I couldn’t agree more. Grabowski was far more active, and was ready to go as many rounds as it took to push Barrett into a coronary event. It’s encouraging to see judges ignore a fighter’s takedowns and top control if he’s unable to do anything with it.
Rogent Lloret versus Cole Konrad
The last fight of the night (for us) is Cole Konrad and Rogent Lloret. Lloret is a BJJ specialist out of Barcelona, Spain, and he looks good at 6’3” and 250 pounds. Cole Konrad had a feature bout last season, where he used positional control to score points, pull out a decision win, and ruin my damn appetite. For real, Konrad was so fat that the guys at Brock Lesnar’s house did laps around him for warmups. He looks better tonight — his moobs are definitely smaller — but he’s still plenty fluffy, if you can dig it. Konrad is four fights into an undefeated career, after graduating from University of Minnesota as a decorated wrestler. He has the pedigree, but does he have the gas?
Well, no, not really. Konrad is an undeniably skilled wrestler, but he’s not impressive in any way. His striking and cardio have improved, but that’s really not saying much. You’ve seen this movie before: large wrestler scores takedown, plants weight on opponent, and fantasizes about January Jones. He’s not completely ineffective, but Konrad is essentially doing enough to be dominant and ride out the decision. Lloret tries to work some magic, but he just can’t do anything with the 300-pound behemoth. Cole Konrad defeats Rogent Lloret via unanimous decision. Konrad joins Grabowski and Neil Grove in the semifinals, with one quarterfinal Heavyweight matchup left. I’m holding out hope that Konrad will try to stand and bang with someone next time, but odds are he’ll continue to use what he knows best to ride out decision wins. He may win the tournament, but he won’t win many fans.
On the undercard:
– Kenny Robertson defeated John Kolosci via Submission (Keylock) at 2:41 in Round 2 (See? Stoppage!)
– Brian Gassaway defeated Kevin Knabjian via Unanimous Decision
– Torrance Taylor defeated Shonie Carter via Unanimous Decision
So there’s a lot not to like about this card. We had some legitimately interesting undercard action that we were unable to see, but it didn’t matter because the undercard was just as lackluster as the televised portion. I suppose I shouldn’t whine too much, but I expect more from those young and hungry up-and-comers I’ve been pushing so hard lately. Oh well, as a very wise sage once said: “These things happen in MMA.” Tune in next week for the last quarterfinal matchups in the 115 and 265 tourneys, plus the kickoff of the bantamweight field. Crom willing, there will be ample blood and tears to amuse us all. ‘Til then, you bastards, I’ll be practicing my Boston accent.