Last Friday night, Connecticut ’s’ Mohegan Sun Casino played host to Bellator 110, which is the first event of the 2014 season. The crowd looked to be average in size to start, but by the time the Featherweight Tournament fights began it appeared that every seat in the house had a fanny in it. I have worked dozens of shows at this venue and I have never seen a crowd that matched this one in both size and enthusiasm!
Referees Kevin MacDonald, Big John McCarthy, and Todd Anderson were keeping everything safe and legal inside the cage. Meanwhile, the area cage side was crawling with heavy hitters. Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez were on hand and making themselves very accessible to fans. Bellator regular Jeff “Scary Nickname” Nader was hanging with us, complete with two (not one) boxes of Oreo cookies (provided as a gift courtesy of Mrs. Old School) that he was sharing with everyone. Notorious Nick Newell sat with us in the press section when he wasn’t cornering, and he was enjoying the cookies as well. Some guy named Brennan Ward happened by more than once, and he is looking nasty.
The Press section was packed; I’ve never seen so much press at one event. I want to shout out to Reep, The Artist, Derek, Zach, Carter, and the rest of the press corps.
Let’s get to the action…
The first fight on the docket was to be a Light Heavyweight battle between Pat Schultz and Dave Roberts. Neither fighter had been in the cage in several years, and Dave Roberts missed weight by seven pounds and the fight was scratched at the weigh-ins. Someone needs to tell Roberts that you’re supposed to hit the all-you-can-eat buffet after the weigh-ins.
The night of action began with a Bantamweight fight between Bostonian Rico DiSciullo (Sityodtong) and New Yorker Marvin Maldonado (Bruno Tostes). Both of these 135ers are well known around the region. Very few in this weight class have the hitting power of Rico, and the Sityodtong Featherweight came out with both guns blazing, as he began lighting Marvin up with punches in combinations and leg kicks that dropped Marvin to the seat of his pants more than once. Nearly two minutes into the first, Mr. Cool connected with a powerful barrage of punches that had Marvin in deep waters with his back on the cage. Rico unloaded like a Wal-Mart stock boy with a series of knees that dropped Marvin, but the fight was waved off; the final knee or two from Rico landed after Marvin had a knee/hand on the canvas. Marvin was unable to continue, and the fight was ruled a No Contest at 1:52 of the first.
Rico left behind a 10-3 Amateur record before turning Pro last fall, and this was just his second Pro fight. Knees strikes are limited in Amateur MMA, so Rico is still getting used to the Pro rules. Mr. Cool just made a rookie mistake, and he felt really bad for it… He’ll be back sooner than later. He came by for an Oreo or two throughout the evening, and he seemed to be in great spirits.
The next fight featured Heavyweights Josh Diekmann and Manny Lara. Freight Train Diekmann, who lives right here in Connecticut, is coming off consecutive KO wins over Parker Porter and Chris Guillen, and would like to punch his ticket into next season’s Bellator Tournament with another highlight reel finish. The big boys came out pawing and circling, and before either one could engage, Lara clutched his eye and looked to be in excruciating pain, the victim of an accidental eye poke. Lara could not continue and the fight was ruled a No Contest after just 18 seconds.
So far we have had one fight that ended at the all-you-can-eat buffet yesterday afternoon and two others that ended via the NC in the Bellator cage here tonight. This is not feeling like a stellar start to the 2014 season for the good folks at Bellator. Fortunately, no one has been seriously hurt. This portion of the undercard is not being televised and the Mohegan Sun crowd is still filling in, so we’re all hoping the night will improve.
Brennan Ward happened by the press table at this time. Last season’s Middleweight Tournament winner is set for his title fight in just four weeks. Brennan is looking lean and mean and promises to bring the Bellator belt back here to his home state of Connecticut . He passed on the Oreo cookies.
Ryan Quinn and Andrew Calandrelli are two of the top Lightweights here in Connecticut . Quinn, now training out of ATT Fla, looks really lean and fast since dropping to Lightweight. The speculation around the press tables is that we are going to see a ground battle featuring Quinn’s college wrestling pedigree v Calandrelli’s BJJ. Ryan Quinn controlled the pace of the first round with his new and evolving striking game, keeping Calandrelli on his heels the entire time. The second round was just more of the same; Ryan Quinn pumping the jab and controlling the pace, distance, and timing. Calandrelli tried several times to get the fight off the feet, but Quinn’s anti-wrestling game was just too much. Round three was another five minutes of stand-up, albeit a much more evenly matched round than the previous two. In the end, it was Ryan Quinn taking the fight via unanimous decision. It was nice to see this new Ryan Quinn; for fifteen minutes he never even thought of taking the fight to the ground.
Ryan Quinn (10-4 overall) is now 6-0 in Bellator’s cage, including wins over Brett Oteri, Marc Stevens, and now Andrew Calandrelli. Perhaps a Lightweight Tournament berth is in order for the ATT fighter; we’ll just have to wait and see.
Egidijus Valavicius ( Lithuania ) and Atanas Djambazov ( Bulgaria ) faced off for the alternate spot in the Light Heavyweight Tournament. It didn’t take long for the Lithuanian Valavicius to connect with a jumping knee that dropped Atanas. The Lithuanian followed him to the ground with some requisite G&P, and ref Todd Anderson stepped in to stop the action. So shelled was Atanas that he locked up the leg of the ref and was executing a heel hook as the fight was called off… Good stoppage. The end came just 48 seconds into the first round, and Egidijus Valavicius is now the alternate in the LHW tourney.
Saul “The Spider” Almeida ( Framingham , MA ) and Andrew Fisher ( Sunderland , UK ) were next up, and this one would be for the alternate spot in the Featherweight Tournament. Saul is a fan favorite here and the crowd gives him a warm welcome. The Spider began his career at 12-1, but he has dropped four of his last five fights, but his losses are to some of the best; Matt Bessette, Calvin Kattar, Rob Font, and Goiti Yamauchi. Tonight, Saul enters the cage draped in a 13-5 record and his best 1977 hair style.
Round one was all Saul, as The Spider nailed a takedown early and had Fisher’s back for the whole round, complete with the body triangle. The Spider spent the first round looking for the RNC and Fisher spent the first round counting ceiling tiles in the Mohegan Sun event center. Round two was, again, all Saul, as he executed another early takedown into a rear body triangle, and then spent the remainder of the round looking for a variety of finishes from that position. The third round began as a back and forth stand-up battle and both warriors were connecting. Fisher got the fight to the ground and unloaded some of the best G&P of the evening, but it was too little too late. Both fighters were bleeding by the end of the third round, but Saul Almeida took this one by unanimous decision and punched his ticket as the first alternate in the Bellator Featherweight Tournament.
Colorado ’s Scott Cleve and Germany ’s Dan Weichel stepped into the cage next and began this season’s Featherweight Tournament. Weichel came in at 31-8, but make no mistake; this guy is the real deal. Most of his fights have been at weight classes well above the 145lb limit. He has lost to Welterweights Dan Hardy and Paul Daley and Lightweight Thiago Tavares. Dan also has a win over last year’s Featherweight Tournament winner Magomedrasul Khasbulaev.
Round one saw Cleve and Weichel carefully circling and gauging one another for several minutes before the German caught Cleve with two straight right hands. Cleve dropped like a deer out of season, and Weichel followed him to the canvas for some G&P. Cleve rolled to defend and the German ended this one with a RNC at 3:46 of the first round.
Keep an eye on Dan Weichel; he’s still in his prime (29 years young) with forty fights in the bank.
At 33 years old, Will Martinez (Philly, PA) entered the Featherweight Tournament as the oldest competitor, yet with the least amount of experience (8-2). He faced the youngest competitor in this years’ brackets in Goiti Yamauchi ( Brazil ), who checked in at just 21 years young with a record of 16-1. Yamauchi is young and exciting, and he is coming off a KO win over Saul Almeida last November.
Despite giving away age, experience, and apparent athleticism, Martinez dominated every facet of this fight. He scored takedowns, showed good top control, and landed effective G&P when on the mat. He scored the better strikes on the feet and dictated the pace and distance. This fight was all Martinez , all night, every which way…
Martinez punched his ticket into the semi-finals with a unanimous decision (30-27×3) win, putting the rest of the division on notice; the old man has a few fights left in him!!!
At 16-2 and just 21 years young, Yamauchi has a lot of growth in this game, so remember the name.
The next fight began the televised portion of the show. The crowd was deafening, and from where I sat in the press row, there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of empty seats. Dez “The Predator” Green ( New York ) and Mike “The Marine” Richman ( Minnesota ) squared off in the third fight of this 2014 Featherweight Tournament. Dez Green checked in tonight at 10-2, but the Bombsquad Featherweight has been fighting professionally for less than two years! Dez has fought around New England and is loved here at Mohegan Sun, and he seemed to have brought a small crowd down from Rochester , NY .
Mike Richman seemed to steal round one with cleaner striking, as he kept The Predator on his heels throughout. At one point in the first round Mike hurt Dez’s lead leg knee with successive leg kicks, and Dez was in a bit of trouble. In the second, Dez did what wrestlers do best; he nailed a takedown right away. Dez spent the rest of the round on top grinding and punching and generally making life miserable for Richman, while Richman spent the round counting Ceiling tiles. The third round was a close stand-up sparring match, and from where I sat, this one could have gone either way.
In the end, the judges saw the fight for Dez Green via unanimous decision. Mike Richman falls to 16-4 while The Predator improves to 11-2 and moves into the Featherweight Tournament semi-finals in four weeks!
Matt “The Mangler” Bessette is, without a doubt, Connecticut ’s favorite MMA personality. New England has seen Matt awarded “Fight of the Year” at NorthEastMMA more than once, and now a National audience will have the opportunity to watch The Mangler live on the Main Card. Matt is not great at one thing, but he is solidly versed in all things MMA. Diego Nunes is likely the pre-season favorite in this Bellator Featherweight Tournament. Coming in at 18-5, he has spent the better part of the past five years fighting in the WEC and UFC. He has the most big stage experience of all of this season’s competitors, and he is fully expecting to piss in Matt Bessette’s Wheaties, right here in Connecticut . Bessette had best friend and WSOF Lightweight Title Challenger Notorious Nick Newell cornering him tonight.
A huge roar welcomed The Mangler to the cage for this next fight. The sold-out arena got fully behind Matt, all except some drunken girl right behind my seat, and I really don’t think she favored either fighter; she just wanted to be different…
Nunes came out in the first round and stole the thunder from the crowd as he kept Matt on his heels, and he punctuated the round with two takedowns and some G&P for good measure. Bessette hates soggy Wheaties, and The Mangler came out in the second frame and stayed one step ahead of Nunes. Midway through the round, Matt dropped Nunes with a wicked good combination, but he couldn’t finish his Brazilian opponent. The final round was a very close striking battle; Nunes seemed to land more punches while Bessette definitely landed the harder strikes, and this fight went to the judges. Clearly this was our fight of the Night.
In the end, Bessette won a split decision, which is how I thought this one would go. One judge scored the fight 30-27 for Bessette, but I suspect he wasn’t actually watching the fight; he was likely guilty of texting and judging…
Mikhail Zayats travelled from Russia to face King Mo Lawal in the Bellator Middleweight Tournament. Both fighters had lost recently to Bellator Light Heavyweight Title Challenger Emanuel Newton. For three rounds neither fighter seemed overly willing to engage. Each of the three rounds was very close and difficult to score. But unlike, say, round three of the Bessette v Nunes fight, these rounds were very close and uneventful. In the end, this fight went to the judges, and all three went 30-27 for King Mo. I certainly didn’t see it that way, but it didn’t appear that Zayats really brought the action.
From the time I arrived at Mohegan Sun parking garage through the final fight, I met many people who came here to see one man, Rampage Jackson, and when the former UFC and Pride LHW Champ entered cage, Mohegan Sun erupted. Rampage claims to be fully healed of his injuries and on his way to becoming the first three-promotion champ. Virtually every one of the 7,000 plus fans in attendance was still here watching and cheering, as Rampage took the first step towards becoming the first fighter in any weight class to claim three major promotional titles. Christian M’Pumbu arrived here having not fought in a year, and cage rust was likely a question mark.
M’Pumbu came out for the first round suffering the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome, and he never seemed to get over it. M’Pumbo back pedaled as Rampage bore in on him like a full sized Chevy truck hell bent on putting the poor deer out of its misery. The end came at 4:34 of the first round when Rampage finally cut off the cage and blasted M’Pumbu with punches, dropping the African fighter like a bad Habit. A few Rampage flavored G&P strikes had ref Big John McCarthy stepping in and stopping this one before the cops had to get involved.
At the press conference afterward, Rampage and King Mo had some words, and while the verbal altercation was entertaining as all get out, it was also quite heated. Some folks in the seats were a bit agitated by the verbal sparring, but I guess Rampage just sold a few more tickets to his next event. King Mo is gonna have to bring a lot more than he did tonight or Rampage will just eat him for lunch.
In a most interesting night of fights, this Mohegan Sun crowd got everything it had paid for; wins from Matt Bessette and Dez Green in the Featherweight Tournament, a first round KO from Rampage, and a solid win from Ryan Quinn. The night started of looking like a promotional nightmare when one fight fell apart at the weigh-ins and two more came unglued in the cage, but in the end this was an outstanding start to the 2014 tournament season. Here is how one writer saw the fights stack up:
Fight of the Night – Matt Bessette v Diego Nunes
KO of the Night – Egidijus Valavicius
Submission of the Night – Daniel Weichel
SNAFU of the Night – Dave Roberts missing weight
Well, I’m all done here. Finish your reading, put the cat out, and lock up when you’re done…
Front-Page Photo Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports