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The After Party – Bellator 39

It was the biggest Bellator card to date and unfortunately they were running on the same night as the NCAA Final Four and were in the same town that houses one of the four teams left in March Madness. The fighters took on the role of the UConn Huskies though, not letting things like “lack of viewership” (or in UConn’s case “The Kentucky Wildcats”) stop them from delivering some outstanding performances. One thing is for sure, unlike Charlie Sheen this past Saturday but like Taylor Swift on Sunday night, Bellator was definitely “winning.”

Eddie Alvarez defeated Pat Curran via Unanimous Decision (50-45, 50-45, 49-46) to retain the Bellator Lightweight Title

In the biggest fight of his career, challenger Pat Curran hung tough but champion Eddie Alvarez was too much for him to handle after 25-minutes.

Even though this fight went all five rounds, much of it was the same. For 25-minutes Alvarez used his speed, footwork, and movement to get in and out with his strikes while Curran kept looking for counter strikes. Alvarez even tried to mix in some takedowns but had very little success getting Curran down and when he eventually did, he couldn’t manage to keep Curran down for more than a couple of seconds. Not landing too many significant strikes to the head, Alvarez began concentrating on the body of Curran and that’s when the fight swayed drastically in his favor. Alvarez would often times get in, land two ripping body shots, and then get out. Curran had no answer for the body shots of Alvarez and as the fight went on, his counter punches became slower and slower. The most damaging strike Curran landed all fight was a jumping knee as Alvarez came in but Alvarez took it in stride and continued to press forward. The longer the fight went, the more Alvarez picked apart Curran with his hands, and strangely enough, the more frustrated he grew. In the fifth round Alvarez turned away from Curran on more than one occasion and also jumped in the air prior to going for a takedown. In a moment of weakness (or maybe karma) Curran put Alvarez on his back after the “jump then takedown” attempt by Alvarez. It was way too little too late for Curran though. Alvarez successfully made his first lightweight title defense and once again solidified his status as one of the best lightweights in the world.

While Sean Wheelock might not believe in morale victories, I think that this has to be a morale victory of sorts for Curran. Many, myself included, expected Curran to be finished before the championship rounds and he hung tough for all 25-minutes. I think his game plan was right at first but once the body shots started to take their toll, he got two rounds in the hole, and it was obvious that he wasn’t going to land his big right hand, he should have changed things up. I would have liked to see Curran go for more takedowns because the one time he did, in the final moments of the final round, he successfully got Alvarez down. Even if he wasn’t able to consistently get the takedown, just the threat would have allowed things to open up on the feet for him a bit more. I also would have liked to see him throw more leg kicks because Alvarez didn’t check the few he did throw but he didn’t use them often enough. Easily the most impressive thing about Curran was his takedown defense. I think Curran was a little overwhelmed by the moment and should he get another crack at the title down the line, those nerves won’t be as likely. Lets remember that Curran is only 23-years old. He has plenty of time to improve on an already solid base and really become a threat in the division in the coming years. I fully expect him to be back in next years lightweight tournament where he’ll likely make another strong run towards the title.

People seem to be down on Alvarez’ performance but I thought it was fine. He did a great job mixing his boxing and kept Curran off balance with takedown attempts. It had to be disheartening that he couldn’t put Curran away but lets credit Curran for being a tough guy and hanging in there. I do have to criticize Alvarez for how he acted in the fifth round though. I’m assuming that he was turning away from Curran out of frustration because Curran wouldn’t just get into a brawl with him but Alvarez had no one to be upset at except himself (and maybe he was). It’s not like Curran was running from Alvarez, he was just sticking to his game plan, which granted wasn’t working, but he wasn’t embarrassing himself either. I don’t really know what Alvarez wanted from Curran at that moment but I hope it’s not the start of Alvarez trying to show up his opponents if they don’t fight how he wants them to fight. Now Alvarez waits in the wings for the season four lightweight tournament winner and it’s a real shame that, as a top lightweight in the world, he has nowhere to go but down in Bellator.

Rick Hawn defeated Lyman Good via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27)

In the first welterweight semifinal fight of tournament, Rick Hawn took a close and somewhat controversial over former champion Lyman Good.

The first round of this fight was a little slow for the most part. Hawn pressed forward but didn’t really do any damage while Good tried to counter but missed for the most part. The most significant happenings in the round were Hawn’s control in the clinch and a right uppercut that wobbled Hawn. I thought Good won the first round but it was very close and I could see how Hawn won the round as Good didn’t land too many significant strikes while Hawn did spend plenty of time controlling the clinch. The second round was all Hawn, even though it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing round. Hawn got an early takedown and for the majority of the five minute frame he stayed in the guard of Good, landing flurries that were few and far between. To criticize Good though, he did absolutely nothing off his back and never really made Hawn work to stay busy or defend. The third round was much like the first although Good had more success with his strikes this time away. He pecked away at Hawn with the jab every time Hawn moved forward and also landed some good kicks and a solid right hand. Hawn managed to get a late round takedown but he ate a couple of up kicks for his efforts and didn’t have enough time to do any damage of his own to Good. It was another close round but another round I thought Good won as he did more damage, despite backing up the majority of the time. It was a close fight though and any time a fight is close, we’re bound to get six eyes who saw six different things. And that’s exactly what we got as two judges gave the fight to Hawn, advancing him to the finals of the tournament.

Good didn’t really do anything wrong in this fight, he was just one of the many victims of questionable judging. He did a nice job countering Hawn as he came in and showed off the uppercut that I thought would be important for him to win this fight. He was way too complacent on the ground though and doesn’t seem to have improved his ground game much since the Ben Askren fight. He allowed Hawn to sit in his guard for essentially the entire second round and never once tried a submission, sweep, or attempt to get to his feet. I’m sure Good will be back in next years tournament but during his time off he really needs to develop a jiu-jitsu game in order to threaten top notch wrestlers who can put him on his back.

Hawn wasn’t overly impressive in this fight but he did enough to remain undefeated and move on in the tournament. He was aggressive and he controlled the clinch in the opening and closing frames and of course he dominated the control in round two, even if he didn’t do much damage. Hawn fought a smart fight, didn’t make any mistakes, and now he’s in the finals and one win away from a title shot. I think Hawn is a tough match up for whomever he ends up facing as well. His judo gives him a big advantage and he’s more than competent with his striking. Hawn will find out his opponent this coming Saturday at Bellator 40 as Jay Hieron takes on Brent Weedman.

Patricky Freire defeated Toby Imada via KO (Strikes) at 2:53 of Round One

Toby Imada once again came up short in his quest to win a Bellator world title, this time losing in the semifinals to Patricky Freire.

There’s wasn’t much to this fight. It started slow with both men just feeling things out and trying to find their range. Freire threw some good inside leg kicks to keep Imada off balance but otherwise it was just a lot of swinging and missing by both men. The Freire landed a jumping knee that put Imada on rubber legs and made him do the dougie. Freire followed that up with a flurry of punches that dropped Imada and knocked him out cold. It was a spectacular finish for Freire, who punched his ticket to the tournament finals.

Imada once again remains the “Bellator Bridesmaid” although he didn’t even get to stand next to the bride this time around. Imada always comes to fight and he’s going to beat a lot of guys but he’s also going to lose to the top guys. I think Imada would be very wise to take a lot of time off following this KO. Keep training, wait until the next Bellator lightweight tournament, and try and make another run at things. He doesn’t need to come back so soon after such a devastating KO because that’s a surefire way to shorten your career.

Freire has to be the favorite in the finals, no matter who he ends up facing in the finals. He knocked out former WEC champ Rob McCullough and he knocked out two-time Bellator tournament finalist Imada. The flying knee that Freire delivered was outstanding, as was his killer instinct to go after Imada when he saw him do the chicken dance. Freire is still a bit inexperienced but getting to fight three times in two months or so is great for fighters like him. Should he get a crack at the title next season, I think he could give Eddie Alavarez a run for his money.

Ben Saunders defeated Matt Lee via TKO (Doctor Stoppage) at 1:24 of Round Three

Needing a good performance to build his name back up, Ben Saunders delivered by putting a beatdown on veteran Matt Lee.

For just over 10 minutes, Saunders roughed up Lee with knees and elbows in the clinch, turning his face into a mess in the process. Lee’s biggest success came when he was able to create distance and pressure Saunders with strikes but in doing so, he got close to Saunders, which allowed Saunders to grab him in the plum clinch and work his mauy-thai. Early on in the fight Saunders would work knees to the body of Lee but as the fight went on he started going to the head along with throwing in some elbows. Even when the fight was at a distance, Saunders used his reach to land good straight punches on Lee. Lee hung tough the entire fight, kept pressing forwardm and took everything Saunders had to offer but it Saunders was just in another league on this night. After the second round it looked like the fight was going to be stopped as Lee had a busted nose and a nasty cut near his right eye but Lee’s corner talked the doctor into allowing the fight to continue into the third. As Jack Slater might say, “Big mistake.” Saunders continued to pour it on Lee, giving him a matching cut near his left eye. With another cut near the eye and more blood on his face than your typical Ric Flair match, the referee and doctor had finally seen enough and called a stop to the fight. It was a dominant performance by Saunders and one that showed the world just how dangerous he can be.

It might be time for Lee to call it a career. He’s almost 40 years old, he’s almost lost as many as he’s won, and he took an absolute beating in this fight. The guy is a warrior and I don’t think he fought a terrible fight but he’s just not on the level of Saunders. He pressed the action and tried to pressure Saunders but he spent too much time in the plum clinch against the cage and not enough time on the leg against the cage. I’m sure Lee can find work on the local scene but he’s never been the most consistent guy in the world when it comes to taking fights so it wouldn’t shock me to see him take a lot of time off, if not retire.

Saunders did what he needed to do in this fight. He dominated Lee and was able to put him away in the third round. Lee made him work but Saunders took care of business. I don’t want to overstate Saunders’ performance too much because Lee is a mediocre fighter at best. Saunders mauled him though and proved that he was clearly the better fighter. I’m sure Saunders will be part of Bellator’s next welterweight tournament and I’m sure he’ll be working extensively on his takedown defense during his time off.

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