Photographs courtesy of Darktide Media / Russell Johnston
In November, Bellator MMA capped off an epic season of fights and organizational changes that left MMA fans yearning for more in 2015. At the helm of the Bellator ship is long-time fight promoter and internationally-known advocate for the sport, Scott Coker. When Coker took over Bellator operations in 2014, he made a promise to his fighters and the fans that Bellator would be reinvigorated with a new “buzz” in 2015. On Friday night, live from the Pechanga Casino Resort in Temecula, California, Coker, the Bellator organization and the fighters inched closer to that promise with an exciting night of MMA featuring some of the sports best.
In the main event of the evening the Featherweight title was on the line as Brazilian fighter Patrico Pitbull (10-2, 5 KO’s, 1 SUB) took on dangerous striker Daniel Straus (22-5, 4 KO’s, 5 SUB). The buildup to the fight gained steam at the weigh-in and both fighters carried that energy into the cage on Friday night. Straus pushed the action often and early in round one landing vicious strikes on the smaller Pitbull. The first round provided decent back-and-forth action with Straus earning most of the striking points throughout the round. In the second round, a barrage of low blows occupied the majority of the clock as both men were warned by Big John McCarthy.
At the halfway point of the fight, the animosity between both men was at its highest level as an apparent eye poke from Pitbull caused Straus to look towards the referee. Straus turned that anger into motivation as he bloodied Pitbull causing a cut over the Brazilians right eye. Straus continued to use his striking and footwork well into round four landing several body shots and high kicks. Late in round four, Straus sent Pitbull back into the cage with a hard punch before Pitbull reversed their position to his favor.
After a brief break in the action, Pitbull was able to secure a single-leg that he quickly turned into side control. As a black belt in jiu-jitsu, Pitbull finally brought the fight to his strength and secured a rear naked choke at 4:49 in round number four. It was a valiant effort by Straus as most people had him ahead in the fight, however, the grappler was able to take the fight where he wanted and in the end proved that he is still the Bellator Featherweight champion.
With the main event looming, a grudge match broke out in the third fight of the night as Bubba Jenkins (8-1, 3 KO’s, 3 SUB) squared off against Russian brawler Georgi Karakhanyan (23-4-1, 4 KO’s, 13 SUB) in a featherweight match. Both men were ready early and often as Jenkins landed a slam from the rafters that put Karakhanyan in a perfect position for a guillotine chock. Jenkins successfully escaped and landed a nice combination before a second takedown was quickly turned into a tight guillotine that saw Karakhanyan walking away with a submission victory at 1:49 in round one. During the post-fight interview, Jimmy Smith announced that Scott Coker will be offering a title shot to Georgi Karakhanyan where he will face the winner of the main event Patricio Pitbull and Daniel Straus.
The local crowd was on their feet in the second fight of the night as Virgil Zwicker (12-4-1, 9 KO’s, 2 SUB) took to the cage with a hometown cheer against journeyman Houston Alexander (16-10-1, 11KO’s, 1 SUB). A slow first round went to the ground at the midpoint as Houston secured a sold takedown on Zwicker. The fight remained on the ground until late in the round when Zwicker felt the crowd’s presence with a hard right hand that sent Houston into a stagger. Going into the third and final round the fight appeared to be for the taking as both men cautiously waited for the other to make the first move. A slow third round became interesting at the midpoint as Zwicker stunned Alexander, but failed to capitalize. A late flurry by Zwicker forced Alexander against the cage with seconds remaining in the fight, which ultimately led to a split decision victory for hometown fighter Virgil Zwicker (29-28, 29-28 Zwicker, 30-27 Alexander)
With production, sound and lighting leading the way for a memorable night of fights, the first bout between local welterweight Fernando Gonzalez (22-13, 9KO’s, 6 SUB) and Marius Zaromskis (20-8, 13 KO’s, 1 SUB) kicked things off with some exceptional striking and non-stop action. Gonzalez displayed textbook boxing with a high guard and swift left that he threw from the pocket with lethal force throughout the bout. Conversely, Zaromskis came on late with an awkward elbow and solid leg kicks that seemed to hurt Gonzalez. A late takedown by Zaromskis put an exclamation point on a stellar comeback, however Gonzalez walked away with a unanimous decision victory (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
After a great night of fights to kick off the new year, Bellator certainly cemented their place as a promising promotion and ideal place for young fighters to develop and veteran journeyman to keep their dreams alive. One of those veterans appeared on the big screen Friday night, as Kimbo Slice (Kevin Ferguson) announced his comeback to the cage. As always, Coker seems to have a plan. And 2015 may be the year where that plan come to life in front of our eyes.