Bellator: Dynamite 1 managed to weather all the major concerns (injuries that kept out King Mo and Vassall from fighting Davis were saved by an alternate, the transition between promotions was fluid, and the fights themselves lived up to a lot of their hype) for the innovative promotion while maintaining the spectacle of a two ring arena. The fights were entertaining, with a good balancing of quick finishes and decisions. And with the buzz already starting for what’s next, and the matchmaking rumors roaring to life, this card was a success for both promotions.
PUSHING THE PRESSURE, ORTIZ FALLS IN MCGEARY’S TRAP
This was the fight that I expected to be most underwhelming coming into the card. Ortiz had already retired once, he’d taken some hard knocks in his career, and while he had the presumptive edge in standup, McGeary was a grappling workhorse. I fear two things: McGeary would push the pace in standup and Tito would be exposed to have lost a step, Ortiz would fall and Bellator would be stuck explaining why a forty year old man was lying motionless on the mat; or Ortiz would try and pin McGeary against the cage and hold him for five rounds and a split decision. But this fight did not lack for action, as it made its way to the ground early. McGeary’s camp will be overjoyed by the quick execution of their game plan; and Tito walks away with the best loss for an aging fighter, a quick and merciful submission.
The fight started out toe-to-toe, both men finding distance and range. Ortiz quickly tried to close the distance, trying for what looked like a clinch but McGeary threw an uppercut that backed the big man down. Ortiz, not slowing the pace, quickly shot for a takedown. Whether it was through tenacity, or McGeary wanting to get to the ground quickly, Ortiz put the Englishman on the mat. McGeary, not one to be caught sleeping, threw on a guillotine, but didn’t quite have the position to pull it out. Working constantly, both men went to their strengths: McGeary transitioned to a kimura attempt and Ortiz worked some ground-and-pound. Advancing to side control, but constantly working out of submission attempts, Ortiz threw out a forearm to pin the big Englishman to the mat. Seizing the overreached limb, McGeary tried for the arm bar. Ortiz, broke the grip and was free, but made his final mistake. Overextended, Tito tried to come back in for more ground-and-pound, and McGeary capitalized. With 19 second remaining in the first round, McGeary locked in the inverted triangle.
What’s next: I’ll admit my bias as an analyst; I watch and love fighting, but the tendency for hall of famers to try and hold on or relive their glory concerns me. While I am only accountable to my editor and the readers, I fear for every fighter’s safety, both in the moment and long-term. Tito, in his post-fight conference, put off the retirement question, instead, praising McGeary and his camp. While this fight ended without much damage, and admittedly with Tito controlling much of the round, I don’t particularly want to see him step back in a cage. 2-1 in Bellator, another loss may be required to officially close the door, but only time will tell.
McGeary, looking calm and collected throughout the fight, will being watching the tape on all of Phil Davis’ fights from Saturday night. He should take solace in submitting Ortiz quickly (and with Tito knowing full well that the triangle was McGeary’s most dangerous weapon). But that first round dismantling of Emanuel Newton by Davis should leave him a little weary. McGeary and Newton fought a war back in February, and if Davis’ performance is anything to go by, the Englishman will have his hands full. Look for this fight in the first part of next year.
PHIL DAVIS IS DOWNRIGHT SCARY, KNOCKING OUT ALTERNATE CARMONT IN FIRST
Francis Carmont must have drawn the shortest stick in the locker room on Saturday night. After Phil Davis ripped apart Emanuel Newton in less than a round, three fighters were up to face him in the tournament final: King Mo (the winner of the semifinal and first choice), Linton Vassell (the loser of the semifinal, and first alternate), and Francis Carmont. Carmont had fought a good fight against Anthony Ruiz, taking a decision victory without too much damage. Unfortunately neither Mo nor Vassell were cleared to fight, and Carmont was tapped to face Davis.
Carmont had a great strategy as soon as the bell rang and the men came to the center, he threw out some front kicks to keep Davis at range and then snapped off some leg kicks. The men went back in forth, neither overly committed, but with Davis landing a couple glancing body kicks. Ninety seconds in, Phil Davis made his only mistake of this fight, slipping while throwing a kick. Carmont landed a heavy leg kick, and then the fight hung for a moment. This was his moment, a brief opening in the armor against the heavily favored man still slightly off balance. And then the moment passed and Davis came in for the kill. Lunging forward Mr. Wonderful gave a slight nod right and threw a big hooking left that landed square. Carmont went down at the base of the cage, and Davis leapt on top of him. Throwing heavy rights, Davis was pulled off by referee Jason Herzog with 2:15 left in the first.
What’s next: Carmont looked good in his first fight against Anthony Ruiz, but fell apart against a much more talented fighter in Davis. Were I his manager, I’d be angling for a fight with one of the other “also rans” in King Mo or Linton Vassell. A good performance there could see him up in title contention.
Davis will face Liam McGeary, presumably early next year. His undoing of Emanuel Newton points to danger for the champ, but Davis has gotten to the cusp of greatness before and let it slip from his grasp. Look forward to this fight, because it’s guaranteed to be an interesting matchup with Davis looking to bang and utilize his wrestling, and McGeary looking more than comfortable winning from his back.
GLORY HEADLINER GOES THE DISTANCE
This was the fight to draw in the next batch of Glory fans from Bellator. A title fight, explosive fighters, and a rematch that ended in a spectacular knockout in its first iteration, this fight had a lot of draw. And while there some moments that would sink teeth into an MMA fan, the duration of the fight and Mwekassa gassing in the third left it a little more lackluster than what was hoped.
Cavalari opened the fight exactly how predicted: he threw thunderous kicks into Mwekassa’s lead leg. Mwekassa followed immediately with why he’s so exciting to watch, backing Cavalari into a corner and throwing a boxer’s heavy right hand into his ribs. After a quick replay of the exact combinations they’d just thrown (Cavalari leg kicks, Mwekassa body shot), Mwekassa works vertically up and down Cavalari going body-head. As the round came to a close we saw the left hook that everyone had been waiting for from Mwekassa, but it failed to land flush and the round ended with more leg kicks from Cavalari. At this point, it looks as though Mwekassa’s style is going to come away dominant, as he’s landing blows that recoil Cavalari and working the head and body.
Round two started and quickly ended Mwekassa’s hold on the fight, with Cavalari landing a left high kick and then a front kick. Mwekassa, eyes wide, clinched and Marcos Rosales broke up the fighters after some hugging. Cavalari came out hard, throwing another high kick that sent Mwekassa to the mat. Mwekassa bull rushed and Cavalari clinched. At this point, it’s hard to say if Cavalari was gassed from throwing hard at Mwekassa or why he would hold, but Rosales broke them up again and deducted a point from Cavalari for stalling. Mwekassa, still trying to close the gap to get his range ate another front kick and the round ended with an exchange. Cavalari took this round barely, but both fighters were starting to show fatigue with three rounds left.
Mwekassa, sensing that the fight was sliding away from him, resumed chasing after Cavalari in round three. When he got close, he threw heavy body shots to try to slow the Brazilian down, but Cavalari did an excellent job of keeping range with body and leg kicks. After an exchange Mwekassa ended up on the mat a second time, but the judge ruled it a slip. The round looks locked until the final minute, with Mwekassa still pursuing Cavalari around the ring. At that point, the “The Black Warrior” looked truly gassed and Cavalari snapped some right hands and another high kick into him to end the round. Cavalari was starting to pull away from his Congolese opponent. I was looking and hoping for the knockout.
Coming together, Cavalari allowed Mwekassa to close the distance without skirting away. An overhand right followed with a trailing uppercut led Cavalari in close where he tried to trip Mwekassa to the ground. Mwekassa threw his left effectively (for his primary tool to have only been used twice by the fourth round was a tactical error) before Cavalari landed another front kick to the man’s face. After exchanging, Cavalari caught a slow kick from Mwekassa and whipped out his back leg, but failed to get credited for a knockdown (again). Mwekassa looked outright exhausted, and Cavalari pounced again with a flurry of punches before dumping him on the mat.
Mwekassa was losing this fight and he knew it. Rushing forward, he took a front kick to the face that gave me déjà vu. And then, in what I’d been looking for the whole fight, Mwekassa threw a bomb of a left hook. Unfortunately for the fans and Mwekassa, Cavalari checked it with his glove and pushed forward. The rest of the round was spent alternating between clinching, leg kicks, and another slip by Mwekassa. Cavalari took the majority decision and the belt.
What’s next: Saulo Cavalari won this fight, fairly handily in my opinion, but with Mwekassa looking lethargic in the ring there will be some lingering questions. Both men raised their hands when the bell rang, but it’s going to be hard to give Mwekassa another rematch after losing two of his last three to Cavalari. My hope would be that Glory could put together a Cavalari/ Gokhan Saki fight, with Saki long rumored to be the world Light Heavyweight #1 (and having vacated his belt it’s hard to argue otherwise). We will see what Glory as a promotion can put together.
LIGHTWEIGHTS SHOW STAMINA, AND THE VETERAN THOMSON SINKS IN A VICTORY
This fight went almost to tee how predicted: Josh Thomson outclassing his opponent, utilizing his strong wrestling and pace on the ground, and Bronzoulis showing a kind of mental toughness to stick with him. I don’t mean to imply that Bronzoulis had no chance in this fight, but this was a mismatch from the beginning and had the Texan pulled off a win, there would be as much shock as elation.
A slipping and sliding first round (come on Bellator, this was going on all night, did you grease the mats?) started with Thomson tagging Bronzoulis with a hard uppercut, and then inexplicably letting him push distance and recover. Thomson was tagged by an inside leg kick that doesn’t look bad, but caused him to slip to the canvas. Regaining his feet Thomson pushed forward only to have Bronzoulis slip throwing a kick. Thomson, showing some killer instinct, used his opponent’s slow recovery to land a good takedown. The rest of the round saw Thomson and Bronzoulis battle for position and Thomson land some short, but persistent ground-and-pound.
Round two sees Bronzoulis looking well recovered from the first round, even trying to catch a kick from Thomson that floated in. But Bronzoulis failed and Thomson quickly threw a few more to off-balance him. Bronzoulis, looking to stop the kicks, closed the distance and clinched Thomson against the cage. But in another failed offensive effort, Thomson managed to get behind him and take him down. Hindered by the cage, Thomson couldn’t gain full mount and Bronzoulis rolled and attempted a single leg. Stuffed, but scrambling, the two men fought for position before standing up. With a little over a minute left, Thomson got Bronzoulis to the ground (his wrestling more than anything separated the fighters) and progressed to full mount, allowing him to throw a flurry of elbows and punches. Not much got through a tight guard from Bronzoulis and the round ended.
In the final round, it’s obvious that Bronzoulis’ corner told him to go out and win the fight, because the Texan quickly cornered Thomson in the fence and throws a high kick, knee to the body combo that looked effective. But once again, Thomson pushed the fight towards wrestling and took Bronzoulis to the ground. Landing in side control, Bronzoulis had a floating arm that Thomson bear hugged and worked into an arm triangle. Thirty-nine seconds into the third Bronzoulis tapped. A touch of class here at the end by Thomson, who noticed his red-faced opponent struggling to recover and was kind enough to lift Bronzoulis’ legs to try and get the blood flowing back into his brain.
What’s next: Thomson looked very good in this fight and will, most likely, take on the winner of the Marcin Held/Will Brooks title fight (depending on the outcome). There is a chance, depending on timetable, that he faces either Michael Chandler or Dave Jansen (with both men presenting interesting fights).
Bronzoulis is a different story, simply because of his past struggles. It’s hard to ignore his three fight win streak coming into this fight, but if Thomson is near the highest level of the division, this fight won’t make the case that Bronzoulis deserves to be up there as well. I think the Texan deserves a few more opportunities, but his next fight is far from assured.
A PAIR OF DECISIONS FOR PAUL DALEY AND KERI ANNE TAYLOR-MELENDEZ
The two Glory undercard bouts held such staggering similarities in Paul Daley and Taylor-Melendez’s victories, that it felt like one was the continuation of the other. Paul “Semtex” Daley, known for his monster left hand, is an MMA fighter turned Glory kickboxer. Keri Taylor-Melendez is a kickboxer and muay thai practitioner turning MMA fighter. Both fighters took kickboxing bouts in a kind of stall for their next MMA fights (and both are on the Bellator roster). Oh, and both outclassed their opponents to a unanimous decision.
The Daley and Gonzalez’s first round was, arguably, the only close round of the fight. Daley was throwing kicks by the dozen, but Gonzalez tried on a couple of occasions to close the distance and work from the pocket with his left hand. A good combination midway through the round was impressively executed, but Daley kept the strikes coming. Gonzalez tried to get the judges nod by throwing a handful of high kicks late, but Daley checked them all.
As impressive as Daley’s first round was, controlling pace and much of the striking, Taylor-Melendez look even more dominant against her opponent: Hadley Griffith. Working against a five inch height advantage, Melendez closed the distance and simply outpaced the taller woman. Griffith found herself eating punches just to try and stay out of the corners, before Melendez finished the round by shrugging off a counter and throwing a hail of fists.
Daley started off the second pushing into Gonzalez with quick combinations and leg kicks. Gonzalez’s counter quickly fell apart and Daley landed a right hand that rocked his opponent. Trading off blows as the round wound to a close, Gonzalez dipped and barely misses a knee to the face. As the round ended, Daley threw a hard body kick, only to look at a hook combination from Gonzalez as the bell rang.
Melendez, not one to be outdone, put another beating on Griffith in round two. All but chasing her around the ring, Melendez twice wobbled her opponent. A flurry of punches near the end of the round bent Griffith over at the waist in pain, and Melendez showed her sympathy with a knee to the face.
The final round for Daley and Gonzalez saw more of fight than what had been hinted at early. Gonzalez came charging out like a knockout was his only way to win, and backed Daley into a corner. Daley, staying cool under pressure, looped away and dug a right hand into the man’s ribs. The chase continues until the last thirty seconds, when Daley found himself caught against the ropes. Eating a left hand, Daley threw a hard leg kick to circle away before Gonzalez retaliated with an uppercut that snuck through. The fight ended with a quick exchange from both men.
And while the final round for Daley turned into a bit of a fight, Melendez used the third to run laps around Griffith. Landing with everything, and Griffith only throwing half-hearted jabs to keep her away, Melendez pushed the pace and used teep kicks effectively to keep Griffith moving backwards and out of range.
Both Daley and Melendez took unanimous decision victories.
What’s next: Paul Daley has options and that’s a good place for any fighter to be sitting. Four straight wins in MMA (2-0 in Bellator) and seven straight wins since restarting his kickboxing career in 2014 make him an exciting draw in either direction. He seems to enjoy kickboxing right now, and may hope for a bigger name in his next draw, but don’t overlook Bellator putting together a fight for him in the near future. I hear Josh Koshchek is available.
Melendez has already said she will be converting to MMA with Bellator in early 2016, so look out for her debut. If her ground game is half as good as her standup, she will rise quickly through the Bellator ranks.
Gonzalez will look to move back to MMA where he is still on a four fight win streak. From the early announcements of this fight, it seemed like a bad career move to make a sporting debut against someone as talented as Semtex. But he had his moments in their fight.
Griffith needs to find a different profession. There is nothing redemptive that can be said about her performance, looking outclassed in every minute of the fight. This move to kickboxing was supposed to be her big reinvigoration, but if the skills she displayed are her best—fighting is not her game.
FIGHTING FOR THE FINALS, MR. WONDERFUL TWISTS NEWTON
While the finals of this tournament were entertaining, thanks mostly to Davis’ explosiveness, this fight was probably what most people tuned in for. Emanuel Newton is an unorthodox, but effective fighter with a deep level of respect from the Bellator fan base (thanks, in part, to seven fight win streak and multiple title defenses prior to falling to McGeary). Phil Davis carried the drama of leaving the UFC in the wake of the Reebok deal and a slide out of title contention. But if this fight is any indicator of Davis’ ability against the Bellator stable, he will make quick work to a title.
Emanuel Newton struck first, if timidly, in this fight. He threw a couple of soft leg kicks in what seemed an attempt to say, “Keep your distance” to a fighter he didn’t want to wrestle. Davis snapped off a body kick and Newton tried to catch before letting it go and throwing a high kick that backed Davis up but didn’t land. Both men were finding the range and poking for holes. Davis spun and threw a backfist, but the small display of cheekiness cost him a right hand in the face. Davis, done throwing, shot a takedown and put Newton on his back almost immediately. Emanuel, working hard, almost got back to standing, but Davis laid him down with another takedown. A kimura by Davis failed and they scrambled, Mr. Wonderful landing a few punches in the fray. Another takedown (well, more of a roll to the ground) had Davis tightening down a guillotine. Newton in a panic dove forward, but Davis used his momentum to get him down against the fence. With Newton sitting up, Davis grabbed his arm in another kimura and rolled to north south, finishing the fight with: 21 seconds to go in the very first round.
What’s next: We already covered Davis getting his title shot after beating Carmont in the final, so here we will cover what’s next for Emanuel Newton. Sitting at two straight losses is a tough place to be, but both losses came to men streaking for the title. McGeary looked tough against Ortiz, and Davis was on a rampage. There’s no doubt his next fight will be high profile, and if I had to guess, it would be King Mo in the back half of this year/first part of next.
THE KING FIGHTS TO A DECISION, BUT CAN’T GO ON
In the first pairing on the main card, “King” Muhammed Lawal and Linton Vassall put on a brilliant showing. Their fight was indicative of both the good and bad in both men’s game, but especially for King Mo who took a brutal body slam in the second.
The fight started early in Lawal’s favor. Throwing a couple lackluster hooks, Lawal baited Vassall into a massive right cross that dropped him. A panicked takedown attempt was quickly stuffed and Mo landed another couple big shots. Vassall showed an almost inhuman amount of resiliency in not going down in this opening barrage. The fight slowed down, with both men exchanging ineffectual shots and Vassall trying for another takedown. A big left hand puts the Englishman in the fence with Lawal throwing haymakers from his waist, but Vassall survives long enough for the bell.
If round one was a lesson in what is great about King Mo (and Vassall with his seemingly iron chin), round two was a display of his biggest flaw: his mind game. Vassall came out looking to brawl and instead of jumping on him and pushing the fight against a dazed opponent, King Mo—taunted him. Halfway through the round, Vassall dropped low and lifted Lawal over his shoulder before slamming him deep into the canvas. Almost seceding his back to a resurgent opponent, Lawal escaped and manages to get a take down on the big Englishman. A thai clinch that saw some activity and another takedown by Lawal and the fight went to the judges. Lawal by merit.
What’s next: I think the obvious fights here are King Mo versus Emanuel Newton, with Vassall fighting Carmont. I can see Muhammed excusing himself from a fight, under the presumption that he will take the winner of McGeary versus Davis bout. But I doubt Bellator lets him rest on his laurels, especially given his inability to show up for the final tournament fight. Vassall should be able to put away Carmont and be back in the title conversation, but for right now Bellator is sitting pretty with would-be contenders.
FULL FIGHT RESULTS
- Light Heavyweight Liam McGeary def. Tito Ortiz by Submission (inverted-triangle) in the 1st round (4:41)
- Light Heavyweight Phil Davis def. Francis Carmont by KO in the 1st round (2:15)
- Light Heavyweight (Kickboxing) Saulo Cavalari def. Zack Mwekassa by Majority Decision (48-46, 48-46, 47-47)
- Lightweight Josh Thomson def. Mike Bronzoulis by Submission (arm-triangle) in the 3rd round (0:39)
- Catchweight-175 lbs. (Kickboxing) Paul Daley def. Fernando Gonzalez by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Women's Bantamweight (Kickboxing) Keri Anne Taylor-Melendez def. Hadley Griffith by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
- Light Heavyweight Phil Davis def. Emanuel Newton by Submission (Kimura) in the 1st round(4:39)
- Light Heavyweight Muhammed Lawal def. Linton Vassell by Unanimous Decision (No scores were announced)