Photo Credit: Bellator
Bantamweight Joe Taimanglo vs. Sirwan Kakai
The first round of this fight was fantastic. Anymore, the tendency seems to be a first round stoppage via some glaring mismatch or exploitation, or a slow and pacing decision battle. The proverbial game of inches. But the first round here had both men attacking each other in a variety of ways. Joe Taimanglo, historically a bit on the slower side, brought the pace early in this fight. He utilized his kicks to open up throwing lanes as Kakai attempted to work angles and counter. A right leg kick pushed into a series of punches, and towards the middle of the round Taimanglo landed a good flying knee setting up another round of one-two. Sirwan Kakai looked a little tight, as though he were overly wary of Taimanglo’s knockout power. But after getting pinged a couple times, he started timing Taimanglo’s kicks and landing solid counters. Baring the one knockdown (really a punch that became a push) that Kakai sprang up immediately from, the standup was a back and forth battle. But on the ground, the game took a turn towards Taimanglo. Securing an anaconda choke position out of a sprawl and scramble, Taimanglo managed the roll and to get Kakai’s head buried in his midsection. But Kakai battled and escaped—directly into a guillotine. Taimanglo had his arm in deep into Kakai’s neck and, a couple times, the Swede looked on the verge of tapping. But toughness or arm fatigue prevailed and Kakai broke loose.
Round two was a more subdued affair, with Taimanglo constantly pursuing Kakai around the ring. Taimanglo, never a volume puncher, trying to get an angle on the bouncing Kakai, looking for that one hit KO. Kakai, on the other hand, looked to counter one of Taimanglo’s punches with good movement and timing. Unfortunately, neither man could get a bead on the other. One concern from this round, and Kakai’s planning, is that to be a successful counterpuncher, you have to slip a lot of punches. Taimanglo threw enough out there to capitalize, but Kakai had almost static head movement. Body positioning and feinting in and out will not suffice at a high level.
This had to be a frustrating fight for Sirwan Kakai. Down two rounds, he came out in the third looking like the fighter that he should have been. His stiffness and pawing in the first two rounds cost him this fight, especially given the skill he displayed at the end. He switched up his countering style, without abandoning it, for leg kicks to pause Taimanglo and came in throwing. On several occasions, heavy hands landed. He also took Taimanglo down on a few times, including an attempt that sent Taimanglo over Kakai’s head and down into the mat. There’s a chance that “Baby Joe” was gassed in the last round, especially given his notoriously slow starting style, but Kakai dominated the third round. One good round does not a fight make, however, and Taimanglo took it on the virtue of the first two.
“Baby” Joe Taimanglo by Unanimous Decision, 3rd Round.
Featherweight Goiti Yamauchi vs. Bubba Jenkins
This first round was a nightmare for Bubba Jenkins. In the opening moments he was bouncing around, throwing at Yamauchi, who was stood arms wide and looking uncomfortable. But a couple of takedown attempts that were easily brushed away by former NCAA champion Jenkins, and Yamauchi jumped to his back. Working both his hooks in and attacking the neck, Yamauchi got back control while standing. The rest of the round was Jenkins looking desperately out of ideas and Yamauchi cranking his neck every time it got too far away from his chest.
Bubba Jenkins turned it around in round number two. Exchanging for a brief spell, Jenkins finally shot and took Yamauchi down. And this was the biggest question mark of the fight. Jenkins, champion wrestler, takes down Yamauchi, highly accomplished BJJ practitioner, and then what? In this case, Jenkins rains down ground and pound from the guard, never overcommitting and Yamauchi can’t lock in any submissions. Never risking a sweep by passing, Jenkins did an excellent job avoiding a kimura and triangle while working space with his fists. Perhaps the subtlest aspect of his ground and pound, if that technique can be called subtle, was his forcing of Yamauchi against the cage. Heavy pressure from the top and forcing Yamauchi into having his neck pinned against his chest, Jenkins created very little space for him to maneuver and attack.
Bubba Jenkins proved that his grappling is better in this final round. Now, many people who have watched this fight may disagree, especially given Goiti Yamauchi’s arm bar attempt. But grappling extends beyond BJJ, beyond passes and sweeps, beyond submissions. Bubba Jenkins took Yamauchi down and worked a considerable amount of ground and pound while staying as defensive as possible. Head typically buried into Yamauchi’s midsection, heavy but not committed hips, elbows hugging the sides, good posture, Jenkins was effective at not getting submitted. It’s a boring form of grappling, granted, but it is highly effective, especially for wrestlers. BJJ practitioners will continue to work for a sub or a sweep, while wrestlers like Jenkins quietly score points and do enough to not be stood up. And that’s exactly what happened. The excitement in this round was born of Yamauchi’s attempted arm bar, but that doesn’t negate the twenty punches he got hit with to get positionally where he needed to be. Nor does it diminish the good double leg from Jenkins. Although, I would like to point out to whoever the judge was that scored this fight 30-27 should have his or her license removed.
Bubba Jenkins by Unanimous Decision, 3rd Round.
Welterweight Fernando Gonzalez vs. Gilbert Smith
Gilbert Smith came into Bellator to make a splash and advance, and this first round showed. His hard slam of Fernando Gonzalez early in the round was a feat of strength, but his work on the ground was even more impressive. Gonzalez is a man who is always working. In his standup, he throws in volume. And on the ground, he takes every inch and lands a strike. On the ground, Gonzalez continued his habit, raining small accumulative blows, while Smith worked for a couple of guillotines and an armlock. Gonzalez turned the tables slightly in the latter half of the round, getting Smith in a guillotine of his own. A choke so deep that Smith actually had to take the last ditch out of rolling himself onto his back and breaking free of Gonzalez’s forearm.
The start of the second round was a contrast in striking styles. Gilbert Smith is a power puncher. He throws heavy shots, often hooks, and high. His game is predicated on athleticism and getting a punch in and around a shell. Gonzalez is a close the distance following a fist, volume guy. Both styles are valid and effective, but the stark difference makes for a lot of feeling out and covering up. The latter half of the round began with an overwrought takedown by Smith that went to the edge of the cage. Ineffectual blows were exchange and save one standup by Big John McCarthy, it was a Smith dominant, uneventful affair.
Gonzalez, acknowledging that he lost the last round, came out aggressively. He threw a handful of punches and looked ready to chase Smith around the cage. But right as he was coming forward, Smith dug in and threw a combination that saw a left hand tag Gonzalez clean on the cheekbone. The takedown that followed, as well as the next couple of minutes against the cage were the same active inaction from round two. But Gonzalez, showing his tenacity and body control managed to reverse the position and work to half-guard. From there an easy pass and he rested his chest on a gassing Smith’s face. Smith, winded, gave up his back. But again, other than shots from both men that were more work than damage, neither man capitalized. A last minute standup by the ref ended in a maelstrom of punches for both men, trying to get their hands raised. The fight, as a whole, was back and forth, neither man gaining much advantage. The split decision for Gonzalez conflicted with my personal card, but it’s a hard argument to make that Smith won outright. The old axiom “the only way to guarantee victory is to finish the fight” fits this fight perfectly.
Gonzalez by Split Decision, 3rd Round.
Bantamweight Joe Warren vs. Darrion Caldwell
The two fighters touched gloves and Warren, with a few bouncing steps, pursued the younger Caldwell around the cage. With a quick head dip, Caldwell wrapped up a single leg and worked the trip. Warren postured, and Caldwell circled to his back. Exploding upward, the two pirouetted into the cage, Caldwell doing well to keep Warren’s back. Caldwell threw a few halfhearted knees, causing Warren to turn before he changed levels and dragged Warren back down to the mat. Warren, showing strength and flexibility, once again worked into a turtled position. But Caldwell utilized the free space to rain punches down. In wrestling mode now, Warren did his best to cover up while Caldwell kept his hips heavy but didn’t commit to either hook. Working back up against Caldwell’s weight, Warren almost regained his feet before being tripped to his knees again. Stepping back and steadily increasing in confidence, Caldwell buried a knee into Warren’s ribs. Utilizing the momentary immobility from Warren, the young upstart snaked a leg in. And then an arm around his neck. Another hook to flatten him out. And smooth as silk Caldwell took the victory by rear naked choke in the very first round.
Caldwell, the upstart, by Submission, 1st Round.
Bantamweight Darrion Caldwell defeats Joe Warren Technical via Submission (rear-naked choke), 1st Round
Welterweight Fernando Gonzalez defeats Gilbert Smith via Decision (split), 3rd Round
Featherweight Bubba Jenkins defeats Goiti Yamauchi via Decision, 3rd Round
Bantamweight Joe Taimanglo defeats Sirwan Kakai via Decision, 3rd Round
Featherweight Treston Thomison defeats Aaron Roberson via Submission (guillotine choke), 2nd Round
Middleweight Jermayne Barnes defeats Derek Palmer via Submission by Punches, 2nd Round
Welterweight Neiman Gracie defeats Roger Carroll via Decision, 3rd Round
Bantamweight Ricky Turcios defeats Steve Garcia via Decision (split), 3rd Round
Welterweight Justin Patterson defeats Chance Rencountre via Decision (split), 3rd Round
Featherweight Ray Wood defeats Chris Jones via TKO, 1st Round