(Skip to 1:19 for the money shot.)
By ReX “Keep Fear Alive” Richardson
Let’s say that you were in Philadelphia last night, perhaps wandering around looking for the Philadelphia Doll Museum. Maybe you heard that Pagano’s had better cheesesteak than any of those South Philly stands, or you wanted to check out the (allegedly) wild party scene at Temple University. Well, while you were standing there shoving a pound of cheap steak, fried onions, and Cheez Whiz in your face, you might have heard a dull roaring noise coming from the Liacouras Center. That was the sound of Bellator XXXIII. Maybe you forgot with all the excitement around UFC 121 this weekend, but Bellator’s third entertaining season is ending, and they are going out shooting, son.
Erstwhile welterweight champ Lyman Good returned after a sixteen month injury layoff to defend the strap against Ben Askren, rising star Rick Hawn made his debut, and local boy Eddie Alvarez took on a legitimate super fight against Roger “The White Knight” Huerta. If you just facepalmed because you forgot to set your DVR, relax; I got this. Follow me in after the jump, and I’ll recap the televised fights and possibly crack some jokes. Keep in mind that I make no guarantees of quality, but if you don’t read on, you’ll probably hate yourself when the cool kids in the cafeteria start talking about it. Keep it in mind.
It’s always been charming that Bellator had a very realistic view of where it stood in the MMA world. Commentators Jimmy Smith and Sean Wheelock are willing to point out when their fights are not the most compelling or technically sound, and CEO Bjorn Rebney himself has acknowledged that Bellator is something of a minor league, a feeder organization for the larger promotions. So it was a bit jarring to hear the lead-in declaring that these fighters were the best on the planet; it was a lot like referee Sensei Professor Grandmaster Doctor Cecil “I Got the Glaucoma” Peoples calling the King of the Cage belt “the most prestigious title in the world.” Look, I love Eddie Alvarez, but calling him the best fighter in the world at 155 is laying it on a bit thick, right? The first rule of being awesome: don’t talk about being awesome.
Rick Hawn versus LeVon “The Mayn Man” Maynard
Rick Hawn made news when he signed with Bellator last month, crossing over after a successful judo career highlighted by a place on the US Olympic team in the 2004 Summer Games. Hawn made his pro MMA debut in January of last year, and has piled up eight wins with six KOs in less than two years. Hawn has not been officially confirmed for the welterweight tourney next season, but you know all he has to do is not fuck this up and he’s in there like swimwear. His opponent is 10-6 LeVon Maynard, a guy that fell in love with kung fu flicks in preschool and still yells “Hiiiiii-YAH!!!” with the best of ‘em. At 27, Maynard has five years of fight experience, while Hawn is a relative n00b at 34 years old.
The bell sounds for the first round, and the fighters meet in the center of the cage. It quickly becomes apparent that Maynard brought a gameplan. He wants to stay mobile, stay out of the clinch, and launch attacks from distance. Maynard stays on his toes, and never moves in a straight line. Hawn gets his hands on Maynard inside the first minute, and looks to tip Maynard over and drop him on his head. Maynard, to his credit, fights off the judo grip and goes back to his stick-and-move mode. Maynard jabs and hops back out of range, fires off a leg kick and hops back. Hawn gets his mitts on Maynard again, backs him into the cage, and mixes some dirty boxing into his clinch. He attempts a foot sweep, then strings together a few uppercuts when he can’t topple Maynard. Maynard avoids damage, and shoves Hawn away. Maynard wants room to work, but Hawn becomes more aggressive as the round goes on, keeping Maynard in striking range. Hawn must have some heavy hands with all those TKO wins, but so far he’s only throwing techniques at half-power, waiting for a good opening. Hawn follows his throw attempts with handfuls of punches, keeping Maynard off guard.
In the last thirty seconds, the two exchange high kicks, first Maynard, then Hawn. Hawn’s kick gets caught on Maynard’s blocking arm, and Maynard rushes in to capitalize on the rare occurrence of a judoka off-balance. Unfortunately for Maynard, he reaches across Hawn’s body with his left hand while trying to get a good grip on him. Hawn reacts on instinct, seizing Maynard’s arm and pivoting with the speed of ten thousand hours of training. It’s a beautiful shoulder throw, and Maynard is completely unprepared for it. He’s stunned upon landing, but not out cold, so Hawn races against the clock to pound out the win with hammerfists. Maynard defends himself intelligently, using his legs to push Hawn out of range, but Hawn lunges in and cracks Maynard with three rights and the referee calls it. Rick Hawn defeats LeVon Maynard via TKO (strikes) at 4:53 of Round 1. Hawn doesn’t even seem winded in the post-fight interview, and he’s a class act. Articulate and humble, he looks forward to the tournament next season. Somebody needs to tell that guy that if he ever wants to be a champ, he really needs to get in touch with his inner asshole.
“Funky” Ben Askren versus Lyman “Cyborg” Good
I just don’t know what to think about Ben Askren. He’s undeniably talented, and completely deserving of the “world-class wrestler” tag. He’s well-conditioned, tenacious, and incredibly strong. But he’s also frustrating at times to watch. Askren scored decision victories over Ryan Thomas and Dan Hornbuckle to secure the title shot, outpointing both men through positional dominance. Despite an eerie ability to transition from anywhere to sitting on top of you, Askren does not always work aggressively to finish fights, and he’s not usually a crowd favorite. Just throwing this out there, but he trained with Jake Shields for this fight. Lyman Good bludgeoned and choked his way through the first welterweight tournament, winning the title in June of last year. He then celebrated by apparently trying to tear his arm completely clear of his body, as a training accident left him convalescing for ten months. Good will definitely have some ring rust, but he’s not impressed with Askren’s trash talk or his wrestling. “There’s nothing championship about [Askren],” he says in his interview.
Good’s statement is either boasting or foolish, and I’m not entirely sure which. Askren’s wrestling is so championship that no one gets out from under it, and Good admits that he’s trained specifically to fight from his back. It’s training he’ll use too: Askren shoots for his first takedown in the first ten seconds of the fight, and Good is able to resist this Askren-enhanced gravitational field for maybe ten seconds more. Good immediately mobilizes his Surface to Air Missile Defense, throwing some pretty good punches with Askren in his guard. Askren works to pass, and Good works to put a crater in Askren’s afro. Good pulls off a nice sweep; Askren answers with armbar attempt. Good defends the armbar attempt, and pulls out of the ground engagement completely. They reset on the feet with two minutes left in the first. Askren has taken some solid hits, and he’s swollen and maybe bloodied around the eyes. He seems to hesitate for a second, and it’s here that Good has his opening. If he blasts the wrestler now on the feet, he’s got the round and control of the fight. The moment passes, though, and Askren closes in for some more of that wrasslin’. Good defends one takedown, but succumbs to the next. Askren mounts briefly, but Good works quickly to secure a half guard. Askren mounts again, and starts looking for a finisher as the last minute counts down, working for an arm triangle with an option for an Americana. Good reverses, rolling Askren onto his back with fifteen seconds left. Askren ties up Good’s hands to last out the round.
The rounds that follow are more of the same. Once Askren gets his hands on someone, they are going to go down eventually. Once on the ground, The Funky One achieves mount with unnerving ease, but once there, he seems mostly content. He makes multiple attempts at setting up an arm triangle, but he’s not committed to any of them. He mixes in some strikes, but they aren’t really a priority either. They do put a nice mouse under Good’s left eye, but realistically, he’s mostly working on maintaining top control. If he were a superhero, it would be the lamest power ever: he holds people down. By the third round, the crowd is booing (of course, this is Philadelphia, where they threw snowballs at Santa Claus), and by the fourth round, even the ref is bored. After calling for action, referee Kevin Mulhall calls for a stand up. The shocking thing is that Askren actually was in full mount at the time. Mulhall resets the fighters standing, with 2:25 left in the fourth. Askren seems a bit tired, and Good does his level best to put Askren out. Askren goes right back for a takedown, but Good is able to effectively sprawl and stuffs it. For a few moments, at least. Askren just keeps pushing forward, working to scoop up Good’s legs and put him on his back. Good maintains a good sprawl; he’s balls-deep in canvas (and if that reminds you of that freaky art student you met the summer you worked at Chili’s, I am sorry) but he cannot stave off the takedown forever. Good spends the majority of the fight on his back, where he does his best to outwork Askren. Both fighters have scored some decent hits and are showing damage going into the fifth round.
It’s in the fifth that Good gets one more window of opportunity to put Askren away. Working from his back (of course), Good clocks Askren in the face with an upkick and it looks like he may have bagged a ‘Gator, but Askren isn’t out cold. He is stunned, and Good has a golden moment in which he could have gotten out to his feet, guillotined up, slid in an omaplata, or even hooked a gogo in there. He does none of these. Instead, he slaps on a triangle at the last moment, and combines that with an armbar with ninety seconds left. It’s a Silva-Sonnen finish, a championship performance. Or not: Askren manages to stack Good up and slips out from his legs. Askren mounts once more, and rides out the last minute on top. The bell rings, and damn if both these dudes didn’t catch an ass whupping. Good’s left eye is completely shut, and Askren’s got something broken in his face and it’s making him swell up like Rocky Dennis in Mask. (Seriously, his face is wrecked. Google is your friend.) The judges do some quick math, and hand in their decision. Ben Askren defeats Lyman Good via unanimous decision, and the scores are rather interesting: 50-45, 49-46, and 48-47. Two of the judges bucked the general wisdom that the guy on top automatically wins the round, and I’m sure there will be plenty of discussion about the fight and the scoring today. Askren makes his usual boasting pronouncement in his post-fight interview, although I guess if he has the belt, he can suck his own dick all he wants. I hope Askren continues to develop his submission game. I think fans are hungry for a good American Jiu Jitsu/submission wrestler, and if Askren starts putting together some unorthodox subs to match his funky scrambling, he’ll gain plenty of fans. Askren is fun to watch—until he gets on top and stops moving.
Roger Huerta was supposed to be Bellator’s ace free agent, come in and run the table in the lightweight tournament, and meet up with Alvarez for a marquee fight. Pat Curran threw a monkey wrench in that plan, taking a decision from Huerta at Bellator XVII, then defeating Toby Imada in the finals to win a shot at Alvarez’s title. When Curran was forced to postpone his title bout due to a training injury, though, Bellator went ahead with the matchup. In case you haven’t heard, Bellator runs video telling us that Huerta had a rough childhood and made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Across the cage from him, Eddie Alvarez is a bad, bad man. With only one loss at 155 (a submission loss to Shinya Aoki two years ago), he’s a solid top 5 lightweight. If you haven’t seen his war with Joachim Hansen at DREAM.3, drop your TPS reports and hit up YouTube. (You’re welcome.) Alvarez is stoked for this fight, where he hopes to make a statement in his hometown and maybe (just maybe) push the case for a Melendez-Alvarez co-promotional super fight.
Bell rings for the first stanza, and there’s no time wasted. The talk is all about the punching power of Alvarez, but he starts the fight with some stiff leg kicks. Huerta doesn’t expect them, and he’s slow to react. Alvarez is so jacked up on adrenaline that he attempts to kick Huerta’s ACL, MCL, PCL, DSL, SOL, and everything south of his knee into the parking lot. An inside leg kick — only his third strike of the fight — is immediately and obviously effective. Huerta grimaces and hobbles, unable to put his full weight on the leg and retreating into the cage. Alvarez wades in, lighting off a flurry of strikes to the head and body of Huerta, just pouring it on. Huerta weathers the storm, but he’s forced to switch stance to protect his injured leg. Alvarez, taking confidence from his early success, clinches with Huerta against the cage and digs some shots into Huerta’s ribs, and is pushed off. Huerta advances with punches of his own, but Alvarez weaves around the incoming traffic and answers in kind. Alvarez slips a bolo-style uppercut in under Huerta’s hands, which sets off another exchange of flurries. Alvarez lunges in and executes a single-leg; Huerta goes down and bounces quickly to his feet. Alvarez is getting straight cocky, holding his hands high and wide, taunting Huerta. I’m guessing he didn’t see how Joe Soto lost his last fight.
Alvarez is picking shots now, lunging in and striking, then he bobs and shimmies away from any counter Huerta can put together. Alvarez is quicker and he hits harder, and Huerta is coming off second best in the exchanges. Huerta is still ginger and not putting full weight on his right leg. Alvarez shoots in, bulldozing Huerta against the cage, and brutalizes Huerta with a high knee on the exit — Huerta’s chin is still in good shape, at least. Alvarez is starting to land more and more, including a couple more of those bolo punches. Huerta is completely off his game at this point, catching another knee in the face before sneaking a hard right hook that puts Alvarez on his ass for half a second. Alvarez recovers his feet, and he doesn’t seem worse for wear. Huerta tries to put a few dozen knuckles in Alvarez’s grill, but Alvarez answers immediately. Huerta tries again to launch an offensive, which Alvarez dodges easily just as the bell rings.
Round two starts with a shot of Alvarez’s training partner for this fight, some cat in the audience named Frankie Edgar. (He looks a little small for 155, but he’s won a belt in some promotion based out of Nevada, so he’s probably decent.) Alvarez comes out again leading off with leg kicks, and Huerta tears up a little and contemplates his acting career. Alvarez backs Huerta into the cage, and again scores with a takedown, although again Huerta moves quickly back to standing. Alvarez continues to fire off combos, most of them ending in four or five hooks meant to temporarily separate Huerta from this plane of existence. He moves quickly in and out, getting his strikes off and then moving out of range. He lands another brutal leg kick that folds Huerta’s leg at the knee. Huerta is still hanging in there. With one minute left in the second, Huerta catches an Alvarez kick, throws a punch, and pushes Alvarez down onto his back. Alvarez shrimps out, and gets to his feet (with a little help from the cage), but Huerta has a firm hold on Alvarez from behind. Huerta muscles up for a high-amplitude belly to back suplex, but Alvarez is quick to regain his feet as well. Alvarez again lands the uppercut, followed by one more leg kick before the bell sounds.
Between rounds, the doctor is concerned with Huerta’s condition. His left eye is swelling shut, his face is a general mess, and his right leg is getting gimpier by the minute. Taking a look at Huerta’s eye, he calls the fight. Eddie Alvarez defeats Roger “El Matador” Huerta via TKO (Doctor’s stoppage) at 5:00 of Round 2. While it’s easy to argue that Roger Huerta is not the same fighter he was a few years ago, Alvarez looked impressive in a devastating victory over a tough, well-conditioned veteran. I may have cringed when Bellator claimed their champions were the best in MMA, but I’m willing to take Alvarez against pretty much anyone at 155 right now, dude was just that vicious. Alvarez can enjoy this victory, and then go back to training for Pat Curran. Or Gilbert Melendez. Right now, there’s no fight at lightweight that I would rather see.
On the undercard…
Luiz Azeredo defeated Eduardo Guedes via unanimous decision (30-27 x3).
Tim Carpenter defeated Jamal Patterson via split decision (29-28 x2, 28-29).
Kenny Foster defeated Lester Caslow via unanimous decision (29-28 x3).
Nick Cottone defeated Tuan Pham via unanimous decision (29-28 x3).
Francis Evans defeated Lewis Cassner via submission (triangle choke) at 3:20 of Round 1.
Rick Hawn was officially added to the field for next season’s welterweight tournament, which is no huge surprise, but I’m willing to say on the record that Bellator now has a deeper class at 170 than Strikeforce.
Open letter to Bjorn and Scott: Fellas, get it together. If you two manage to iron out a crossover PPV, fanboys like myself would cry tears of joy and the buy rates would be bananas. Do it for the kids!
I looked, but I did not see Potato Nation OGs Perdew and Old, Bald, and Irish on camera, so I cannot report that the Cage Potato HoF shirt got the exposure we were hoping for. It’s possible I missed them, though, so send your photographic evidence of P-Money and OBI 1 to HoFWatch@break.com/justkidding and we (meaning Ben) will send you an autographed handwrap that still bears stains of the blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into training Muay Thai (stains could also possibly be Buffalo sauce).
Lastly, join me next week for the last show of the Bellator third season. Megumi Fujii and Zoila Frausto meet to determine the world’s #1 women’s fighter at 115, Hector Lombard defends his middleweight title against Russian striker Alexander Shlemenko, and Serbian prospect Dragan “Dude, my NAME is DRAGAN” Tesanovic makes his Bellator debut, plus an undercard stuffed to the gills with guys hungry for a win on television. Should be fun, right? Until then, you bastards, enjoy the fights this weekend.