Showcasing the semifinals of their very first lightweight tournament as well as the promotional debuts of future UFC fighters Joey Beltran, Waylon Lowe, Dave Herman, and inaugural Invicta FC flyweight champion Jessica Penne, Bellator’s fifth event was truly stacked for it’s time and featured just one decision on its 9-fight card. But none of the finishes held a candle to the moment when Toby Imada choked out Jorge Masvidal with an inverted triangle choke in the evening’s headlining fight on May 1st, 2009 — five years ago today.
A little background: After securing tournament quarterfinal victories over Alonzo Martinez and Nick Agallar, respectively, at Bellator 1, veteran journeyman Toby Imada was set to face off against rising up-and-comer Jorge Masvidal, who in addition to being a rather prolific street fighter had already scored stoppage victories over Joe Lauzon and Yves Edwards in his young MMA career. After two rounds of fighting, Masvidal looked every bit the dynamic striker (and gambling favorite) he had been billed as, having punished Imada with hard shots and vicious ground-n-pound for the majority of the contest.
But for every ten Jones vs. Teixeiras, there is one Russow vs. Duffy, so to speak. As such, when Masvidal dove on a single leg midway through the third round, Imada found the only window of opportunity he would need to pull a rabbit out of his ass in the form of a mid-air inverted triangle choke. Before Masvidal knew what was happening, he was flopping lifelessly to the canvas with Imada’s legs around his throat. It was as incredible a victory as it was disturbing, hence referee Greg Franklin’s Herb Dean-esque exclamation of “Oh shit!” upon seeing Masvidal’s sheet-white face.
The submission earned Imada “Submission of the Year” honors at the 2009 World MMA Awards (Journalist of the Year that year: Somehow not Ariel Helwani!) and a fight with Eddie Alvarez for the promotion’s inaugural lightweight title at Bellator 12. Although Imada would lose that fight via second round submission and would more or less spend the rest of his career toiling in mediocrity/ending up on Patricky Freire’s highlight reel, there’s no discrediting the thing of beauty that was his come-from-behind submission that night.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Imada’s inverted triangle, along with Yahir Reyes’ spinning backfist that took place the following week at Bellator 6, pretty much put Bellator on the map. And for setting into motion a series of events that would eventually culminate in Tito Ortiz vs. Alexander Shlemenko, we thank you, Mr. Imada.