By ReX “Go Panthers” Richardson
Well, Bellator rolled up into New Orleans on Thursday night, and there was incoherent speech, attractive women in small outfits, and some dudes got into a few fights. Bjorn Rebney made some interesting decisions for this one, since the show went off simultaneously with the first game of the NFL season, featuring last year’s SuperBowl Champion New Orleans Saints. At home. In New Orleans. This town is firmly behind their football team when they’re losing, and after a few winning seasons, it’s kinda impressive that more than a handful of people showed up at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre. (My guess is they’re either die-hard MMA fans or they hate America.) It’s pretty ballsy to put a card here this week, but Rebney’s father is the goddamn Winnebago Man, so if you don’t agree with him you can just fuck off. Also noteworthy is that there are no tournament bouts on the card, for the first time in 28 shows, but winners here will presumably show up next season in a bracket.
If you don’t mind listening to a play by play to something that went down two days ago, come on in and I’ll tell you about Bellator XXVIII. Special inside: the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu move you must try in bed!
The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu move you must try in bed: A simple elevator sweep. No need to try anything too fancy. Seriously, try it. What’s the worst that can happen?
“Insane” Georgi Karakhanyan versus Anthony Leone
Anthony Leone is a member of the emerging class of American Jiu Jitsu practitioners, which is to say he has a background in wrestling and a solid education in BJJ. He was released from the WEC after an armbar loss to Renan Barao in June, and he’s looking to bounce back and make a statement against Karakhanyan. Leone took the fight on short notice to replace Alvin Robinson (who was himself a replacement for Chas Skelly, but you don‘t care about that). Georgi Karakhanyan is one of Bellator’s stars, at least in my opinion. Being well-rounded and having good cardio will get you pretty far in MMA, and Karakhanyan has a strong game in all phases of the fight and a motor that will not quit. This is the guy that Joe Warren couldn’t wear down in three rounds, and the decision loss to Warren motivates Karakhanyan more than the opponent in front of him.
What follows is a three round jiu jitsu match with a dash of striking, which is as pleasing as it is surprising. While both guys are legit ground players and it shows, they had both made some noise about having a stand and bang. Instead, it’s a non-stop technical battle. Leone has great elevators from butterfly guard, and manages to sweep his opponent several times, but Karakhanyan spends most of the match in superior positions. Karakhanyan wins his fights by working harder, attempting more, and being technically sound. He also mixes strikes and grapples as well as anyone: when unable to sink a rear naked choke firmly, Karakhanyan slides his arms out and blasts Leone in the ribs with a knee. While trying to pass Leone’s guard, he’s quick to pound Leone in the face if he lets his guard down. It seems he’s attempting some variation of a guillotine or headlock choke most of the fight, and Leone can never get any meaningful offense going. Georgi Karakhanyan defeats Anthony Leone via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27×2), and presumably earns an invite to a featherweight tournament coming soon. For the record, I’m not averse to the idea of Bellator making matches for their the champions, but I would like to see them end the non-title stipulations. A five round Karakhanyan – Warren would be interesting if only to see how far those two cardio freaks can push one another until they suck all the air out of the room and the arena implodes. Leone looked good losing, but he looked underpowered, and I wonder how he feels about bantamweight.
Matt “The Zombie Hippie” Horwich versus Eric Schambari
Funny, seems like we just heard from Matt Horwich not too long ago….Oh yeah, his surprising submission win over former UFC #1 contender Thales Leites and post-fight interview. Horwich is fun. You tend to picture him training on a mountain somewhere, eating nuts and berries, training with boulders, and hanging out with Hungry Bear, where they talk about joint manipulations, the beautiful universe, and the possible emotional impact of a triple rainbow. (At least, I tend to picture him that way. Whatever.) “The Pasadena Space Cadet” is making his second appearance in the Bellator cage; the first was a decision loss to Bryan Baker. Eric Schambari has a pair of losses to that same Bryan Baker, so the two have something in common. Schambari spends significantly less time talking about dimensions, beauty, or string theory, however. Schambari admits in his pre-fight interview that he probably won’t be knocking out “The Jiu Jitsu Vagabond”, and he expects a long, grueling match.
First round begins and Horwich, weirdly predictable, comes forward. Schambari spends a minute or so looking for his range, which involves skipping and sometimes jogging in reverse. Schambari lands a nice right, and the sound is a little league fastball into a catcher’s mitt. Horwich is knocked just a bit off balance, then throws a kick and keeps coming. Damn. They exchange: Schambari cleanly, and Horwich weirdly. Horwich throws strange, powered-down strikes, at one point he has a good clinch on Schambari and just sort of suggests that he might throw a knee. The fighters pummel on the cage, competing for a good hold. Finally, some stronger knee strikes from Horwich. Schambari drops down and tries to drag Horwich down by his waist. Schambari is significantly stronger, but he has to fight for every inch of a slow-motion takedown attempt. Horwich reaches over Schambari’s back, trying to grapevine his hands and apply a kimura. He can’t get a good grip, but he sees that an elbow or two would work. He tries an exploratory elbow, which lands. Horwich looks up at Referee Mark LeBlanc and makes an elbowing motion, as if asking for permission. LeBlanc presumably nods his assent, as Horwich drops another elbow. Schambari looks up, confused, and says, “Elbow?” Schambari is confused because Bellator tournament rules outlaw elbows, to reduce the likelihood of cuts and fighters with stitches. This, though, is not a tournament bout, and elbows are legal under the Unified Rules. LeBlanc can be heard at home: “Elbows are good,” he says, “keep going.” They ride out the round in this position, with Horwich’s elbows carrying noticeably less sizzle. Perhaps he feels bad for hitting Schambari with legal shots? The air horn goes off, and Horwich jogs in a circle to his corner.
Round two starts with a slow motion take down. Horwich works from guard to his feet, and all this motion is less explosive and more brute force and tenacity. They’re wearing one another out, even if it doesn’t seem like it to a casual observer. Schambari scores another takedown, and gets half guard. Horwich slides, shrimps on his hip, and stands up, while Schambari maintains a front headlock. Schambari comes with the knees, and Horwich escapes to standing. Horwich, predictably weird, comes forward and throws a kick. Schambari catches the kick, and tries to use it for a quick take down. Nope, another slow-motion, fighting-for-every-inch take down. They clinch and strain on the cage, and Horwich has decided that he wants to explore the infinite possibilities of Schambari’s left wrist. He keeps a firm baseball bat grip on it, and he initiates a kimura 78 times in the second round. Schambari just continues to push all his weight into Horwich against the cage, and try to manhandle him to the ground. The horn sounds, and Horwich’s eyes light up contemplating the beautiful perfection in a conch shell.
Round three. A brief exchange to start off, but Schambari is not the guy to knock out Horwich for the first time. Schambari tries again to simply wrap Horwich up and deposit him forcefully on the ground, but it’s not going to be easy. He sticks with it, and sets Horwich on his back once again. Three minutes in, and Schambari is trying to pass the guard. Horwich can’t mount an offense, but you figure if you ever met him in a real fight you’d just get tired and leave him alone. Schambari manages to get into half guard, then stands and tries to pass completely. Horwich launches an upkick that misses, backing Schambari off, but as Horwich tries to stand, Schambari lunges in with punches. He’s just working his way into half guard again when the horn goes off to signal the end, and Horwich does the saddest backflip you’ve ever seen and follows with a few equally sad push ups. The scores come back, and Eric Schambari defeats Matt Horwich via split decision, 30-27, 30-27, and 28-29. No word yet on if that third judge was drinking bathtub gin, fell asleep during the fight, or if he was watching the Saints on his new FloTV.
Carey Vanier survived 211 submission attempts from Toby “The LA Sub Machine” Imada at Bellator XVII in May. Unfortunately, #212 was an armbar that Vanier couldn’t escape. Still, he’s a solid competitor who stays busy in the cage, so he’s back to compete, with a tournament invitation on the line. Don’t let the baby face fool you: Vanier is a mature family man with a good deal of experience in four years as a pro. Across from him is veteran Rich Clementi, another stay-busy type with responsibilities at home whom you may have heard of before.
Now, there was a bit of controversy here, so let’s talk about it. First, the set up: Clementi dominated the first round, having some form of mount for four of the five minutes. Vanier managed to squirm out of Clementi’s back mount into guard, almost got arm barred, and stood up just as the horn sounded to end the round. 10-9 Clementi. Round two was more back and forth, with Vanier landing a few decent strikes and battling for superior position on the ground. Could have gone either way, I saw it for Vanier. Round three was when Vanier really started to pull ahead. He started off with a roundhouse that whiffs, but when Clementi shoots for the takedown, Vanier sprawls and goes for a guillotine. No finish there, and Clementi works to his feet. Vanier catches Clementi with a good knee as he shoots, and the go down together. Vanier locks his arms around Clementi’s waist, and when they rise to their feet, Vanier starts bringing those knees up. Vanier has back control on Clementi, possibly looking for a suplex like the one that he landed on Imada. Clementi is standing on his feet, but bent over at the waist. His left hand is on the canvas, and then her brings it up to his face. Vanier throws two knees to the head, and they’re totally clean. Clementi puts his hand on the mat again, but otherwise doesn’t move. Vanier throws two more knees, and the second one catches Clementi right on the eyebrow, opening a cut. Clementi begins jawing at the ref, and he almost spits out his mouthpiece pointing out his grounded left hand. Referee LeBlanc calls time, separates the fighters, and Clementi’s cut is treated. There is no point deduction, and the action resumes standing. Vanier takes the round, and we wait for the judges.
It’s a split decision: Carey Vanier defeats Rich Clementi, 29-28, 29-28, and 28-29. Clementi is understandably pissed, since it seems like the ref let him down in that fight. Vanier couldn’t see Clementi’s left hand on the ground, and it’s hard to fault him for the knees. He doesn’t seem like a dirty fighter, and he threw two legal shots followed by two identical strikes that were rendered illegal due to actions he wasn’t aware of. The failing here was the ref, who failed to interpret and apply the rules competently in a close fight. Hell, Herb Dean even made it clear during Buentello-Kongo that the “three-point contact equals downed fighter” rule was weak sauce, and so was anyone who tried to use it to their advantage. Had LeBlanc made such a determination, Clementi probably would have rolled with it. But LeBlanc didn’t say anything, and now No Love has to get stitched up and everyone thinks Carey Vanier is an asshole. Don’t worry, Rich, Bjorn will probably stick you in the next tourney now.
Eric Larkin versus Marcus Andrusia
Eric Larkin is the next hot wrestling prospect. He’s piled up records and honors since high school, including state, conference, and national championships. A four-time All American at 149 pounds from Arizona State, Larkin now coaches wrestling for ASU and at The Lions Den in Scottsdale, Arizona. He’s got two first round stoppage wins so far, and he looks to get another one against Marcus Andrusia, who is apparently the sacrificial lamb at this bacchanal. There’s not much info out there on the interwebs, and he’s listed with one pro fight (a submission win in June).
There’s not much more information on him now, though: Andrusia catches a high roundhouse upside the head, and goes down. Larkin rotates around and doesn’t pounce on him as quickly as he could’ve, but he does get in and wrap an arm around Andrusia’s neck like a noose. Andrusia survives the guillotine, but Larkin has a whole bunch of glove he’d like to give to Andrusia. He lands some nice ones standing over Andrusia’s open guard; a left turtles Andrusia up and it looks like a stoppage any second. Andrusia continues to cover up, and rolls to his back to sit up and move out. As soon as he sits up, though, Larkin wraps up that guillotine again. He settles into mount to control Andrusia’s hips, and it’s all Andrusia can do to tap. Eric Larkin defeats Marcus Andrusia via guillotine choke, 2:46 of Round 1. It’s an impressive victory, and I imagine we’re looking at the next lightweight tournament starting to shape up. One of the things that is often overlooked about wrestlers is how well they’ve adapted and assimilated techniques for MMA competition. As more and more wrestlers pick up submission skills like this, I’ll quit my bitching about boring wrestlers.
Undercard on tap for New Orleans:
– Tony Roberts defeats Kelvin Doss via submission (punches) in Round 1.
– Jonathan Mackles defeats Brock Kerry via split decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28).
– Charlie Rader defeats Josh Rafferty via TKO (strikes) at 1:14 of Round 1 (damn, son).
– Scott O’Shaughnessy defeats Gabe Woods via submission (armbar) at 2:11 of Round 3.
One quick note: Apologies for it taking an extra day to get this out. Are you missing your Bellator? Get in touch with the folks at FSN at tell them to quit airing replays of grandfatherball when MMA is on. Threaten them, if you have the cojones. If not, mention getting a lawyer or your mom involved. Kidnap their teddy bears, sign them up for junk mail, and fax them black sheets of paper. I love my Bellator, but not at midnight. Help a brother out? See you kids next week!